So much popular self-help advice suggests that we must "learn to love ourselves." It’s good advice, but how exactly do we do it?

It's not so simple: We often believe that we do love ourselves, and yet our actions and reactions, and our lives, suggest otherwise. Yet loving yourself is essential to your personal growth, to the fulfillment of your dreams, and to developing healthy, happy relationships with others. Instead of trying to just talk yourself into believing you have self-love, foster compassion for yourself with these three practical steps:

  1. Care as much about yourself as you do for others.

    It sounds simple, but many of us simply don’t do this because we think we are being selfish or that our own needs are not important. They are. It is not selfish to care about yourself. Compassion for yourself means showing concern for your own feelings as well as for others. Treat yourself the way you would treat your children or your best friend—with gentleness, concern and caring.
  2. Maintain your boundaries.

    Write a list of the things that you need emotionally, things that are important to you and that upset you or hurt your feelings when they are ignored or violated. They could include being listened to; getting sympathy when you’re hurt; being celebrated when you succeed; receiving love and tenderness without asking for it; being cared for; and knowing you can rely on someone. Whatever is important to you is important. And when someone ignores what’s important to you or crosses your boundary, you’ll know—because it hurts. Don’t ignore that. Your feelings are there to tell you what’s right and what’s wrong.

    Let people know what your boundaries are and what you will and will not tolerate. If they apologize, you can forgive them. If they do not, or continue to ignore your boundaries and needs, you need to create consequences. For example, if you tell your partner that you need him to listen to you and to acknowledge your feelings when you talk about something, but he continuously ignores you or tells you to get over it, you should respond with appropriate action, such as finding someone else to confide in. You may also need to reconsider the relationship. Relationships are meant to be a two-way street and you should be getting your needs for love, acceptance and respect met as much as the other person's. Being assertive and taking action to get your own needs met will build your self-esteem because it will reinforce the belief, in yourself and others, that you deserve to be loved and cherished.

  3. Do what you need to do to be you.

    First, figure out what makes you feel good. It doesn’t matter what it is, but become aware of how you feel when you do things. Do you feel exhausted at work, but exhilarated when you’re in the garden? Do you feel joyful reading to your children? Fulfilled when you are writing poetry or volunteering? Find out what makes you feel good and do it, as often as you can. Feeling good is all the permission you need to do what you love to do. And the more you do those things, the happier you will be. If it means you have to give up something else, so be it. Perhaps you need to spend more time on your own or schedule an hour every weekend to visit an art gallery to recharge. Maybe you need to save up some money to buy paints and brushes, or ask your family to look after themselves for a few hours while you take a stress-relieving walk. Perhaps you need to join a club to meet like-minded people who inspire you. Do what you need to do to be you and don’t let anyone blame you, criticize you or talk you out of it because they think you are being selfish, silly, or delusional. Ignore them. You will feel better, you will be better able to really be there for others—and you will like yourself more. You may even love yourself.

All of these things will help you to develop a sense of accomplishment, a sense of pride in what you are doing and who you are, and a realization that you are a worthy, talented, capable, lovable person who deserves to be loved. And the most important person to believe that is you.

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