Self Love - do I really need it? And how do I get it?
Updated: Mar 15
I always thought of myself as a good person. The kind who looks out for others, does kind acts, serves other people - someone who was forgiving and understanding. Yet I was anything but kind to myself. My inner voice was harsh, even cruel at times. What did it matter if I didn’t love myself? I loved other people, didn’t I?
To be completely honest, even the idea of self love triggered me. I remember receiving advice to try affirmations - and the first time I looked in the mirror and tried it, saying I love myself - I felt nauseous and angry.
So I left it alone.
And then I witnessed my child’s harsh inner critic, berating themselves in much the same way I did - even though they had never once heard me actually say those things out loud. It broke my heart and filled me with guilt. And it gave me new resolve to try this self love thing after all.
It was awkward and even painful to recover from a lifetime of self criticism, self betrayal - even self hatred. But little by little, over time, my self love grew. It is still growing. My relationship with myself is like any other - trust and love grows over time, through small and consistent acts. And that ever expanding self love has impacted every other relationship in my life. It means that I am more present, loving, and capable of more goodness in every relationship that is meant for me. It also means I have the clarity to recognize when some relationships are expired, or in need of evolution to continue. Self love allows us to act in our own best interest.
Research shows that people with healthy self love experience fewer mental health issues, and a lower risk for many health complications like stroke, heart disease, and more. In my experience, self love has had a significant impact on my mental and physical health. Learning to act in my own best interests after years of subjugating my own needs to the perceived needs of others means that I also make better choices for my own well being.
So what is self love*, really? It is defined as high regard for one’s own well being and happiness. How do we develop it? The answer is the way we develop it in any relationship - over time, through small acts that build trust. We build trust with others through consistency, through small acts that show we care and that we look out for their best interests. We do the same with ourselves.
I don’t believe in love at first sight. Except perhaps for some parents in the instant your child arrives earth-side - but even that “love at first sight” with all it’s spiritual and biochemical magnifiers requires consistency and action for the love to steadily grow. Love with depth is love built by trust. Self love is built by small actions that build trust:
meeting yourself with compassion (giving grace & forgiveness for perceived failings)
meeting needs not wants (acting for your highest good vs gratifying wants that conflict with needs)
protecting yourself (boundaries)
communicate with self to know what you need and want (sometimes we are so out of self love that we don’t even know & we need to connect to ourselves anew)
Let’s focus on self compassion - kindness & understanding when faced with perceived personal failings.
Self love, as I stated, is a high regard for one’s own well being and happiness - and it is built up over time. No love at first sight, remember? So then, we build self love by engaging in acts of self compassion consistently, over time. We learn how to meet ourselves with kindness. We can choose to engage in small acts of self compassion every day.
Self compassion is treating oneself with:
What does this self compassion look like in practice? (and it truly is a practice- it requires repetition and consistency to develop. And as you’ll see in the examples below, the old ways of being are ingrained and familiar).
I am frustrated with my toddler. I lose my temper and I raise my voice at her. She cowers and shrinks and cries.
Instantly, I feel guilty. I am tempted to berate myself for being a terrible, impatient mother who is wounding my child. Instead, I take a deep breath. “I made a mistake. I’ve had a hard and overwhelming day. I’m a loving mom who did something wrong. Nobody’s perfect and everyone makes mistakes sometimes.”
I’m able to sincerely apologize to, ask forgiveness of and hold space for my child. Whereas berating myself usually resulted in hollow, hastily expressed regret. Over time, losing patience happens far less often.
I make a clerical mistake that results in a financial loss of several hundred dollars at a time where there isn’t a dime to spare. The temptation - “What a stupid thing to do. Ugh I’m such an idiot. I can’t even get it together for important things.” Plus I experience extreme anxiety about the possible repercussions.
Self compassion - “Wow that was a significant error. I must have been pretty overwhelmed that day. Actually, there was so much going on. I may have made this mistake but the kids are alive and healthy. I’ll do better next time. I make mistakes just like everyone else.”
I’m able to sleep instead of the usual tossing and turning all night, creating more scarcity and anxiety with every movement. Without any energy devoted to criticism and castigation, the next day, I’m actually able to see a different way to close the budget gap - and to prevent the issue from happening again.
I try on my pre-pandemic pants only to find the seams cutting into my flesh, zipper straining to close.
The old programming - “Disgusting. I’m so fat. I look awful.”
“I love and accept myself no matter what I look like. What an amazing body I’ve been gifted. How wonderful this body has been to me for all these years.”
Result: I buy new, larger pants. Revolutionary, right? ;)
Note that self compassion is not self esteem. It’s not - I am beautiful at any size, or still smart or a great mom no matter what. It’s not confidence. Not that that is bad - but if I build my resilience and coping mechanisms on confidence in my looks or abilities - what happens when those inevitably change? Self esteem can be an enjoyable side effect, but without self compassion that house of cards will eventually collapse. If I have self esteem around my intelligence, what happens if I start experiencing a loss in brain power? If I am confident in my beauty, what happens if I get a scar across my face?
Self compassion is that I love and care for myself and give myself grace and tenderness no matter what changes. It’s an important distinction. Lots of people have high self esteem and yet grace and tenderness are not there - for themselves or others. Lots of bullies have self esteem - it’s self compassion that’s missing.
Also note that self compassion is not comparison. It’s not “well at least I’m not as bad/heavy/impatient as ____.” That’s narcissism, not self compassion. It can be self compassionate to note your progress though - to lovingly compare yourself to the old you and recognize your growth.
Self love is also not attained by reserving it for some future time when you meet your erroneously set standards. For example, telling yourself that you’ll be worthy of or earn self care & self love when you’re two sizes smaller. I used to literally think I’d love myself more when I was thinner. And I didn’t. I reasoned with myself and put off self care until I “deserved” it.
But the Truth that I discovered was this:
It is in the consistent acts of self compassion & self care - that is how you fall in love with yourself.
This is how we grow our self love. Yet that that harsh inner voice may feel so powerful, so overwhelming. It felt nigh impossible to change. Yet I now love myself more than ever, and it happened more quickly than I ever imagined.
Two tools in particular accelerated the process. Affirmations and essential oils.
The scientific research on both of these is considerably expanding, and that is exciting! A quick internet search shows us study after study. Yet like so many modern discoveries, we can look to ancient and indigenous wisdom to see that our ancestors knew and appreciated both the power of words and plants for holistic health. My personal experience with affirmations in conjunction with essential oils** has been life changing.
How to use affirmations:
Choose a time of day when you will be consistent. I prefer first thing in the morning
The process doesn’t need to be long or involved. Simple is best. Place a drop of the oil in your palms and over your heart, and inhale deeply several times while repeating the affirmation 3-5 times.
If you can, look in the mirror while repeating the affirmation.
Optional: to reinforce the affirmations and anchor in the new neural pathway, you can journal about it, you can write it on the mirror, you can even record yourself stating it with music in the background and play it back to yourself. You can also do it more than once a day. DIffusing your chosen oils frequently throughout the day is also really helpful.
Some of my favorite affirmations & essential oil combinations:
Bergamot - oil of self acceptance - “I accept myself.”
Rose - oil of divine love - “I am loved.”
Beautiful - oil of self respect - “I respect myself.”
Melissa - oil of light - “I am divine.”
Magnolia - oil of self compassion - “I love myself as I am.”
Lavender - oil of communication - “I am seen and heard.”
Dr. Kristin Neff, a research pioneer in the area of self- compassion, has illustrated some key findings that show that self-compassion has a significant positive association with:
Happiness (I feel happier more often and to a greater degree)
Optimism (I am far more glass-half-full than I’ve ever been)
Positive affect (I express positive emotions more frequently)
Wisdom (I apply knowledge and have better judgement)
Personal initiative (I take independent action more easily - I’m braver)
Curiosity and exploration (I explore in the face of uncertainty instead of holding back)
Agreeableness (I am easy to be entreated)
Conscientiousness (I don’t half ass things)
Extroversion (I am friendlier and more comfortable being social)
From my experiences, I wholeheartedly agree with these observations!
Without self love and compassion, we can survive, but with it, we can thrive! Love and compassion are such basic human needs that when we don’t have them for ourselves, we may look for it from others in highly detrimental ways. Every single interaction we have is influenced by our level of self love. It is foundational to how we interact with other people.
As my self love increases, I am able to love others more, accept them and their wounds and projections more easily, yet create the boundaries I need to protect my time and energy. I am able to hold space for myself and others. And I notice the positive influence of my energy on the people I love most - my children.
Self love is not a destination. It’s a continuous journey, and the further I progress, the more curious and playful I feel as I watch it play out.
Comment here or message me with your thoughts. I would love to hear from you!
*As with everything I share, I am not an expert. I am simply a woman on her own healing journey sharing my ever deepening and expanding Truth.
**My suggestions and recommendations are based on doTERRA essential oils. Here's why.