Learning to Love Me, Myself, and I

6 min Article Meditation & Mindfulness
Learning to fully accept yourself through the act of self-love can boost happiness and promote emotional resilience.
Learning to Love Me, Myself, and I

Imagine walking through life without an inner critic yammering on about how you’re failing at your job or don’t measure up to your friends and colleagues. What if you woke up each day recognizing your strengths, honoring your feelings, loving your home and body—confident that you’re pursuing what matters to you without mental interference or second-guessing.

If this already sounds like you, congratulations, you are a master at self-love! If this sounds like a distant dream, don’t fret: It’s hard for most of us to imagine a day without self-judgment or criticism. The good news is that self-love is a practice we’re all capable of learning. And once we do, we can live healthier and happier lives.

What Self-Love Is 

When used wisely and compassionately, self-love is a vital wellbeing tool. But the first step is understanding what it is and how you can manifest it in your daily life.

“Self-love is what the body, mind, and heart need in the moment,” says Roundglass Living mindfulness and meditation teacher Valerie (Vimalasara) Mason-John, who teaches students to release toxic thoughts and fully embrace who they are—“imperfections and all.”

Neuroscientist and mindfulness expert Rebecca Acabchuk, Ph.D., agrees: “I think of self-love in three parts: knowing yourself; accepting yourself, including all your contradictions; and being good to your body. It’s about following your authentic bliss and treating yourself to things that you know are truly good for you.” 

It’s important to remember that, yes, self-love is about radically accepting and honoring yourself and your beliefs, but not at the expense of your compassion and mindfulness toward others. True self-love should amplify those feelings by spreading goodwill, inside and out.

Self-love is rooted in the Buddhist practice of metta, or loving-kindness: the idea that we must first learn to accept and be kind to ourselves (that is, show loving-kindness) before we can truly express the same to the people in our lives. “If you don’t love yourself, you’re going to love others badly,” says Vimalasara. “That’s because we love others through the filter of our own experience with our self.”

It’s true that learning to love ourselves takes practice. “Look at the messages society perpetuates about how we should look, what we should eat, what we should wear,” Vimalasara says. “But we can break that cycle by making a conscious choice to do so.”

You can start by treating yourself to simple daily meditations and practices aimed at boosting self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-worth. One such exercise you might try is combining the Buddhist meditation practice mudita, or appreciative joy, with the more recent emotion freedom technique, also known as tapping. In Buddhism, mudita is one of the four perfect virtues, and it’s the state of holding joy in the good fortune or accomplishments of others. You can repeatedly tap certain acupuncture points (also known as meridian points) on your body, such as your sternum, as you meditate on and celebrate the accomplishments of others in your life. This allows you to release self-harming emotions, such as jealousy or insecurity, and instead fills you with love for others and, ultimately, for yourself.

Mindful Practice: Positive Affirmations and Self-Care Rituals 

One of the first steps in practicing self-love is learning how to talk to yourself with love and compassion. Remember the Golden Rule: Do to others as you would have them do to you. Think of self-love as that in reverse. Would you criticize your friend if they gained five pounds or were 15 minutes late for a meet-up? No, you would still think they looked fabulous, and you would probably forgive them for being late. Now, if you were that person, would you treat yourself the same way? If you can honestly say yes, then great—you’re well on your way to self-love! 

However, if you know your inner critic remains loud in your ear, then there’s no time like the present to learn how to let go of negative self-talk and embrace practicing positive affirmations and self-care. Positive thoughts can create positive feelings, which is why affirmations are such a powerful tool. You might begin by closing your eyes and saying to yourself, “I feel more positive each and every day” or “I am releasing stress and anxiety as I bring more positivity and happiness into my life.” (For help, try a two-minute positive-affirmation meditation.)

Self-love is also closely tied to self-care. So what do we mean by the latter? Self-care is all the actions you take to live your best life—from exercising daily to practicing meditation and deep-breathing to moments of relaxation and bliss to eating the right foods for the health of your body. 

Imagine waking up in the morning and doing a three-minute breathwork practice to ground and energize you to face the busy day ahead; then, in the afternoon, going out for a walk in the fresh air or practicing yoga in the comfort of your home to help focus your mind; in between, eating healthy meals or snacks mindfully so you enjoy and appreciate each bite fully; and, in the evening, preparing a meal rich in vital nutrients that will promote a good night’s sleep.

Also, don’t forget to take time away from constant scrolling, which has been found to lower self-esteem. But that doesn’t mean spending your screen breaks wishing for your phone: Whether it’s 13 minutes, 30 minutes, or three hours, the key is to do something that’s fulfilling and makes you feel good about yourself, body, and mind. Whatever you choose to do, remember to treat yourself kindly, without judgment or critique.

Try this: Take a two-minute break and try this mini-meditation for positive thinking that packs major results. Or if you have more time, listen to Vimalasara’s 11-minute mindfulness practice for cultivating positive self-talk and greater self-love.

Mindful Practice: Reach Out to Others 

Let’s face it—it is entirely human to struggle with loving ourselves. One day we can be on top of the world, and the next we’re feeling like a failure. While the tenets of love that comes from within (self-care, self-kindness, and self-acceptance) can help buoy us during low moments, part of a healthy self-love tool kit is knowing when to reach out to others for connection and a reminder that you’re not alone.  

Research has shown that having the support of friends and loved ones boosts mood and self-esteem. People who maintain social connections also have lower rates of anxiety and depression and a greater sense of wellbeing. All of this lays the foundation for self-love.

Call a good friend and ask them how they’re doing—before letting them know what’s going on with you, says Vimalasara. Or try a gratitude practice with friends and loved ones, where every day you text one another things you’re grateful for, Vimalasara says: “When you start lifting yourself and helping others do the same, you’ll be amazed at the positive energy that comes back to you.”

Don’t be afraid to admit to others that things aren’t perfect. Research has shown that while we see vulnerability in others as a strength, we’ll identify it as a weakness in ourselves. Treat yourself the way you’d treat a friend—with compassion and kindness. And if you need an assist that’s greater than what a friend can give, there are support networks, such as co-counseling groups, plus any number of trained therapists who can help. 

Try this: Feeling negative? Take five minutes to cleanse yourself through detoxifying self-reflection. If anger, fear, or hatred toward yourself has blocked your progress or reaching out to a friend, consider going on this mindful journey to release all three.

Mindful Practice: Understanding Boundaries and Identifying Negative Self-Talk

Part of self-love is knowing who and what serves you and releasing the people and actions that do not. Friends and partners who lift and support us, who have our back, are vital to our wellbeing. Remember that even the best relationships have bumpy patches, but the good ones always find a way to smooth themselves out.

But friends, family, or even partners who sit in negativity and want you to join them there are called energy vampires for good reason. Try as you might not to, you may feel a need to commiserate and start to share your own negative self-talk. Your mindfulness practices may take a hit when negative people are around. Step one is recognizing that this is going on, and step two is knowing that you have the power to create a protective boundary around yourself. That might mean politely declining a hangout or, if need be, voicing your concerns with the other person. Many of us avoid doing so for fear of confrontation, but speaking up for yourself is simply another form of self-love. And it can be done so with love. 

If someone is stuck in a negative place, they may be unaware that you feel they’re trying to bring you down along with them. Encourage them to reflect on where they are at and urge them do their own work on manifesting self-love. (You both can benefit from cultivating positive self-talk—that is, speaking to yourself with love, kindness, and compassion and allowing your inner voice to tell you how unique, warm, and kind you truly are.) In the meantime, you may need to limit the kinds of interactions you have with a negative person, but remember that creating boundaries is not a rejection of them but an act of love to yourself.  

Try this: We all need tune-ups, so reinforce all the positive work you’ve done on yourself with this mini-meditation on boosting positive self-talk. Then try this affirmation practice to remind yourself of all that you have and will accomplish.

Mindful Practice: Meditation

Meditation is like a superpower for cultivating self-love. In fact, both meditation and mindfulness have been shown to boost self-esteem, self-compassion, and self-acceptance. We recommend Vimalasara’s 15-minute class for developing the heart’s four basic needs: attention, affection, appreciation, and acceptance. It’s a simple, straightforward meditation that anyone can do. 

“When I first started meditating, I found it quite difficult to understand and express the concept of loving-kindness to myself,” says Vimalasara. “So I developed this meditation to unpack the basic needs that are key to self-love and living a full and happy life.”

“Outside people can give you all the love in the world, but until you learn to pay attention to yourself, give affection to appreciate and accept yourself, their love won’t have any real impact,” Vimalasara says. It’s only when you can truly say, “I love myself”—meaning all of you, flaws and all—that you know you’ve achieved self-love.

Try this: Struggling with body image or issues around race? Vimalasara teaches guided meditations for silencing critical self-talk and loving the color of your skin     

Key Takeaways

  • One of the first steps in cultivating self-love is recognizing it’s OK if you don’t love yourself at the moment. Take conscious steps toward identifying things you do love, and start there.
  • Learn to have gratitude for your body. Add gratitude for yourself as part of positive self-talk to start cultivating a new self-love routine.

About the Teacher

Naomi Barr

Naomi Barr

Naomi Barr is a freelance journalist specializing in science, health, wellness, nutrition, arts, and culture. She has over 15 years of experience writing for leading print magazines and digital sites, including Real Simple, Martha Stewart Living, The Week, Barron's, Oprah Daily, O, The Oprah Magazine, Everyday Health, SELF, 1stDibs, and others. In addition, she is the former research director of O, The Oprah Magazine (2011- 2021).

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