- Research suggests that having positive feelings about yourself may be a crucial ingredient for happiness and success.
- Self-love can feel uncomfortable at first. Gradually easing into self-love strategies can help.
- Practicing self-compassion, loving kindness, forgiveness, and self-gratitude can help people learn to love themselves.
Have you ever struggled to love yourself? If so, you’re not alone. When we love ourselves, we have an appreciation for our own worth or value. We don’t need affirmation from others and we don’t need them to tell us that we are good enough, smart enough, attractive enough—we simply know. As a result, we tend to have higher levels of self-worth, self-esteem, and self-confidence.
When we don’t love ourselves we have more negative feelings and self-focused emotions. For example, we may feel:
- Driven (to prove ourselves to others)
- Guilty (Wegscheider-Cruse, 2012)
We might also compulsively use things that make us feel better in the short term but hurt us in the longer term (Wegscheider-Cruse, 2012). For example, we might use alcohol, drugs, sex, food, shopping, or workaholism to reduce our negative emotions.
Why Loving Yourself Is Important
If you don’t love yourself, you might be more critical of yourself. You might engage in behaviors like negative self-talk—for example, “I’m worthless,” “I could never succeed at this,” or “I’m not smart enough.” These thought patterns can generate feelings of anxiety, sadness, or hopelessness.
On the flip side, studies have shown that having positive feelings about yourself may be a crucial ingredient for happiness, success, and popularity (Crocker, & Knight, 2005). So self-love may be key to living a good life.
Luckily, self-love is something we can improve over time.
How to Love Yourself
Although increasing our self-esteem and learning to love ourselves is not the easiest thing to do, we do have the power to increase the number of positive feelings we have about ourselves. There are many science-backed strategies that you can use to start loving yourself more. But keep in mind that these may be hard at first. You may not feel comfortable treating yourself with the level of kindness and respect you deserve. So take your time and ease into self-love strategies slowly if you need to. Here are some ways to get started:
1. Be Self-Compassionate. Self-compassion involves being compassionate (showing sympathy and concern) towards yourself. According to self-compassion expert, Dr. Kristin Neff, self-compassion includes self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness (Neff, 2003).
2. Practice Loving Kindness Toward Yourself and Others. Loving-kindness meditation is a type of meditation that is used to help cultivate unconditional kind attitudes toward ourselves and others. It involves repeating phrases, such as “may you be happy” or “may you be free from suffering” toward specific others and yourself (Zeng et al., 2015). To start loving yourself more, focus especially on the part of the meditation that has you imagine love coming towards you.
3. Forgive Yourself. A study showed that adults who completed six weeks of forgiveness training reported lower stress, anger, and hurt than people who didn’t undergo the training (Harris, et al., 2006). They also felt more optimism immediately after the training and four months later.
4. Practice Self-Gratitude. One type of gratitude involves feeling grateful for who we are and the things we’ve done. For example, we might tell ourselves "thanks" for taking care of our health. Or, we might give ourselves a pat on the back for making someone else smile. Or, we might be grateful for our cute cheeks, our calm demeanor, our ability to cook the best cookies. So, try taking a moment each day to notice the things about yourself that you’re grateful for.
5. Show Yourself That You Love Yourself. Taking actions to show ourselves that we love ourselves is super important. It’s just like if we were in a relationship. Our partner might say they love us, but if they don’t show us, then we might not believe them. So show yourself that “you love you.” You might do this by taking the afternoon off from work, buying yourself something that helps you achieve your goals, or standing up for yourself against a workplace bully. Any kind action you take that shows self-love can help you start to see that you love yourself.
Many of us struggle to just love ourselves for who really are. Luckily, we can do things to build up this love and create a life where we’re truly happy. Hopefully, these ideas will help you get started.
This post is also published by The Berkeley Well-Being Institute.
Facebook image: Rido/Shutterstock
Crocker, J., & Knight, K. M. (2005). Contingencies of self-worth. Current directions in psychological science, 14(4), 200-203.
Harris, A. H., Luskin, F. M., Benisovich, S. V., Standard, S., Bruning, J., Evans, S., and Thoresen, C. (2006). Effects of a group forgiveness intervention on forgiveness, perceived stress and trait anger: A randomized trial. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 62(6), 715-733.
Neff, K. D. (2003). The development and validation of a scale to measure self-compassion. Self and identity, 2(3), 223-250.
Wegscheider-Cruse, S. (2012). Learning to love yourself: Finding your self-worth. Health Communications, Inc.
Zeng, X., Chiu, C. P., Wang, R., Oei, T. P., & Leung, F. Y. (2015). The effect of loving-kindness meditation on positive emotions: a meta-analytic review. Frontiers in psychology, 6, 1693.