Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Do You Want Good Self-Care? Love Others

As you love others, you learn to love yourself as a person of worth.

Self-care is any activity undertaken by an individual for the purpose of physical, psychological, and relational health. Adequate nutrition and sleep are examples. Emotional regulation is part of self-care. Some emotions such as anger, when in large doses over long periods of months or years, can get in the way of self-care not only of the emotions but also of physical and relational care as the person has little energy and focus (Enright & Fitzgibbons, 2015).

Jacqueline Song
Source: Jacqueline Song

One under-emphasized area of self-care is the daily practice of loving others. Some would raise the red flag on this with the question, “What about love burn-out?” My answer is that “love-burnout” is not caused by loving others but by striving with resentment until a psychological tipping point is reached. It is a confusion of genuine love with serving others in grim and resentful obligation or serving others without realizing that one has to balance this with time-out for rest and refreshment.

Love, in the ancient and medieval uses of the word, encompassed four meanings: to love a child as in motherly love, to love a brother or friend who loves you in return, romantic love which also implies reciprocation, and service love, the kind in which one extends affection, effort (but not imbalanced effort that neglects the self), and genuine concern for the welfare of others. This latter form of love in the Greek is agape. For it to be effective as care for others and for the self, agape love has to be willingly (not grimly ) chosen, understood as service to others and not slavery to others, and is for the others’ good.

We are talking about a paradox here. Do you want to take better care of yourself? Then consider extending your love to others.

Do you want to recover more quickly from a physical challenge? Then add love to your rehab workouts.

Do you want to recover more quickly from others' insensitivity or deliberate ignoring or even cruelty? Then choose love over resentment.

Theories of love abound in psychology but are too often not given the attention they deserve. Yet, it was Sigmund Freud (1962), whose theories so often imply self-satisfied need-fulfillment, who plainly said: the mark of good psychological health is to work and to love—to love, not to have one's needs met first or exclusively. Of course, Freud was not talking about work and love as the exclusive pathway to health, but important ingredients in that process.

John Bowlby's (1988) research on attachment emphatically showed that we are born to love and be loved. In fact, those who are loved most deeply in infancy have the healthy foundation of loving their partners better, and being loved, in adulthood (Hazen & Shaver,1987; Monteoliva & Garcia-Martinez, 2005).

The science of forgiveness (Enright, 2012) is clear: Do you want to recover from emotional wounds that could crush you? Then engage in the paradox of forgiving and struggle to love those who will not love you, even if you have to give that love from a distance when reconciliation is impossible. This should not be grim obligation, but freely chosen.

The indigenous people of South Africa, despite all of the grave challenges of living in a cruel political system, have preserved the theme of love through "ubuntu:” I am a person through other persons. As I love, I become more human (Tutu, 1998).

Do you seek self-care because of a recent health issue or a psychological or relationship challenge? Then try these exercises:

1) Recall a time from your childhood in which you were deeply and unconditionally loved. What was that like? What did it feel like? Be conscious of this love now because love never dies even if you are not with the person who gave you this love.

2) Now, offer that love to someone in the present. Maybe it will take the form of a text to that person or a hug or a kind word about that person to others. Be creative.

3) Is there someone from your distant past at whom you still are angry? Now offer the kind of love you did in #2 above.

4) Is there someone in your life now who could be more closely connected to you, and should be, but you are somewhat distant? Forgive that person by offering the kind of love in #2 and 3 above.

5) Now offer that love to yourself if you need self-forgiveness. Discover that you, too, are a person worthy of receiving love.

International Forgiveness Institute, Inc.
Source: International Forgiveness Institute, Inc.

After all, when you love, you are loving persons, and you are a person. And since all persons have worth, when you love others then you discover your own intrinsic worth.

Learn to love more consciously, more deliberately, more deeply.

It is good self-care.


Bowlby, J. (1988). A secure base. New York: Basic Books.

Enright, R.D. (2012). The forgiving life. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Enright, R.D. & Fitzgibbons, R.P. (2015). Forgiveness therapy. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Freud, S. (1962).Translated by J. Strachey. Civilization and its discontents. New York: Norton.

Hazan, C., & Shaver, P. R. (1987). Romantic love conceptualized as an attachment process. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52, 511-524.

Monteoliva, A. & Garcia-Martinez, M.A. (2005). Adult attachment style and its effect on the quality of romantic relationships in Spanish students. Journal of Social Psychology, 145, 745-747.

Tutu, D. (1998). Without forgiveness there is no future. In R.D. Enright & J. North (Eds.), Exploring forgiveness, (pp. xiii-xiv). Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.

More from Robert Enright Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today