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What Self-Love Isn’t

Four concepts that you're confusing with self-love.

Leszek Glasner/Shutterstock
Source: Leszek Glasner/Shutterstock

All too often we seek love from others, before looking within. However, many are beginning to turn that focus inward as they contemplate the meaning and purpose of self-love. Although not a new term, the concept of self-love has been gaining popularity in recent years. Many are beginning to recognize the relationship between self-love and mental wellness. Further, people are questioning the circumstances in which we may even need love from ourselves as much, and perhaps more, than we do from others. Oftentimes during this assessment self-love criticism arises. However, these appraisals are based on misunderstandings. To help clarify, let’s be clear on what self-love is not.


When a person has a sense of entitlement, they may believe they are unconditionally owed something regardless of efforts, merit, or context. This should not be confused with the idea of recognizing your worth. Depending on your perspective on humility and deservingness, you may find it difficult to assert you are worthy of self-love. If this is the case, it may be helpful to consider basic human needs. One could argue that compassion, care, and acceptance are as fundamental as water, food, or shelter. Therefore, recognize that your worth and need for self-love overall is not that ridiculous to seek. Self-love isn’t about why you deserve a billion dollars, a fancy yacht, or a mansion. It isn’t an overtly ambitious jump. It isn’t elite or exclusive, but a core aspect of humanity.


Focusing on self-love is not the pathway to obsession. Although self-love is a reflective process in which one turns their energy inward, the benefits are not selfish. In actuality, in order to care for others effectively, one must first care for themselves. Prior to taking off on an airplane, the flight attendant assures flyers that in case of an emergency, regardless of who is nearby, it is critical to first put on your oxygen mask before helping others. We wouldn’t dare tell someone who abides by this regulation that they are truly selfish. Similarly, you can’t pour from an empty cup. Self-focus is not egocentric; ultimately, self-focus helps you and others.

In addition, whereas narcissism may be superficial and vain, self-love is quite the opposite. Self-love delves beyond the surface and isn’t all rainbows and unicorns along the way. Along with recognizing your worth, needs, and goals, self-love requires the courage to distinguish your weaknesses, challenges, and obstacles. Therefore, self-love necessitates humility, empathy, and concern for the self as well as for others.


A sin is an act that is not only inappropriate, but often violent. Self-love is just the opposite. Self-love isn’t meant to go against a principle or moral grounding; it is the enlightened journey to care for yourself in order to prompt a domino effect of care and compassion for those around you. Nevertheless, due to varying concepts of what self-love truly entails, from time to time individuals may view self-love as being against their values and beliefs. Just as everyone is unique, their interpretation of scripture may vary as well. If you are struggling with differentiating self-love from sin, it may be helpful for you to research and reflect on whether or not a conflict truly exists.

Regardless of your faith or belief system, it may be worthwhile to consider the commonalities in various world religions. Oftentimes, the tasks encapsulated with being a moral person include benevolence, forgiveness, and personal growth, all of which align well with the practice of self-love. More specifically, the golden rule of treating others as you want to be treated is the essence of self-love. From this common adage, we often jump to the lesson to treat others kindly, but we should not forget the implication that it requires being kind to ourselves as well.

An excuse

Self-love is an active, engaged process that evokes a wealth of positive benefits. Nevertheless, the journey is not always an easy one. A critical component in self-love is recognizing your limits, needs, and worth, and asserting intrapersonal and interpersonal boundaries as needed to uphold them. While this all-encompassing process may include mental health days, massages, and indulging in your favorite home-cooked meal, it is not an exploitation of all things good. Ironically, perpetual pampering could actually be neglectful and, hence, distinct from self-love. The full process of self-love includes the good, the bad, and the ugly. Beyond the stereotypically positive perks, self-love also includes the decision to recognize your areas for growth, tailoring a potentially difficult yet necessary plan of attack, and bravely tackling it head on. To an outsider without context, self-love could appear as an excuse; however, it is critical that you not use self-love as your hall pass to escape responsibility, accountability, and difficult situations in general. In contrast, true self-love can be enacted by taking accountability and responsibility as you courageously embark on arduous paths.

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The process of self-love begins with the mere task of being able to appreciate you for you. It is crucial to be kind and considerate toward yourself; however, self-love is more than a sentiment. Beyond your ability to tend to yourself, you must remember that self-love is an intentional practice to learn and cultivate. Self-love provides you with the opportunity to see yourself completely, to recognize and value your strengths and weaknesses, triumphs and challenges. With an emphasis on the self, this journey is ultimately an independent one. Although it is helpful to unite with others who are on a similar path, at the end of the day, self-growth is predominantly dependent on personal effort. The process of loving oneself is a subjective experience. Just because a tip has worked for many does not mean it will work for all. Honor your individuality as you find your definition of self-love.

This is an excerpt from The Self-Love Workbook.