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how to love yourself

How do you love yourself unconditionally?

This is the question I’ve been asking myself for the past year.

For the last 12 months, I had written 44 articles on self-love as part of my 2016 Self-Love Project. I started this project soon after I recovered from a two months period of depression. That incident made me realize I was too focused on my work and vision that I neglected myself as a result.

Having depression was also a shock to me. I thought I already recovered from low self-esteem. From the time I was a teen to my early 20s, I didn’t like myself very much. But for the past few years with the help of books and resources, I had grown in terms of confidence and self-esteem.

I thought I had overcome the lack of self-love.

But I didn’t. The feelings of unworthiness and unloving never left me. It was just buried deep down by the success I had in my career. With both my accounting and animation careers gone, the feeling resurfaced and it felt as strong as it was in the past.

Why Is It Important to Love Yourself?

Why should you love yourself? The simple reason is a lack of self-love will sabotage other areas of your life.

Lack of self-love will sabotage other areas of your life.

Personally, my work life had turned 360 degrees as I learned to love myself first. Prior to depression, I was feeling lost with respect to my career. After I reconnected with myself, I was more in touch with what I was meant to do and my purpose. And it just gets clearer, the more I dig deeper. I also feel happier and fulfilled with what I’m doing currently — teaching and sharing my insights with others.

In terms of health and well-being, I also experienced a change. Firstly, I had a better understanding of my emotions and that improved my overall physical health. Emotions have an impact on our physical bodies. How could one be healthy when they are always feeling stressed, angry, and miserable? Secondly, I’ve been taking good care of my emotional well-being by checking in daily. This allows me to return to the peaceful state at the end of each day even when external circumstances aren’t favorable.

For others, it may be the relationship. There is this quote by Leo Buscaglia, “To love others you must first love yourself.” You have to love yourself in order to love others. Loving yourself doesn’t just make you happy. It takes the stress off your partner to love you. Not that being loved by others is any wrong. It’s just that not being totally dependent on another person for love makes you a healthy individual.

What Does It Mean to Love Yourself?

What is self-love? Does loving yourself means finding things to love about yourself or loving yourself no matter what? Can self-love be excessive and narcissistic?

In these 12 months, my perception of self-love had somewhat changed. I began the project by understanding my personality and accepting my strengths and weaknesses. Even though understanding my personality is important, I discovered that loving myself is less about who I am to the physical world, but more about who I am inside. In other words, loving yourself is an inside-out job, not an outside-in job.

Loving yourself means uncovering the love within yourself.

In essence, we are love. We all have this loving nature residing within us. If you want to find love, find love within yourself first because it’s permanently there and the most readily accessible.

Loving yourself for who you are is not about loving your personality, identity, or self-image which your mind has created for you. This is secondary. What’s most important is connecting with the loving nature we all possess internally. Once you connect with that part of you, you will accept all aspects of yourself naturally. You can then easily connect with others externally and love life as it is.

And self-love can never be excessive, it can only be in abundance. It only appears to be excessive when we are overly concerned and protective of our ego and self-image. Again, that’s not the true essence of self-love and loving yourself. It shouldn’t be confused with self-love.

Below is a recap of what I have learned about self-love this year.

Here’s how to love yourself completely in 12 simple ways.

1. Know more about yourself.

Knowing about yourself is about knowing your personality, strengths, and weaknesses. Even though I mentioned above that this is secondary, it’s still a good starting point for most of us. It’s not abstract. It’s easy to understand and for most of us, our quirks are visible to us.

My definition of personality is how the mind prefers to operate.

 So when I say I am an INFJ, what I mean is:

  • Introversion (I): My mind prefers reflecting on its own to brainstorming with others.
  • Intuitive (N): My mind prefers being imaginative to being down-to-earth.
  • Feeling (F): My mind prefers making decisions based on personal impact than logic.
  • Judging (J): My mind prefers closure to keep options open.

Do the above represent who I am as a person? Not really, but it represents the preferences of my mind. Our minds can affect the decisions we make and the actions we take, but we shouldn’t let these traits define us because we are not our minds. Ultimately, we can overwrite our mind’s preferences. I can be down-to-earth and logical too when I needed to. We do have a choice.

Knowing about ourselves is a good first step to loving ourselves as it helps us understand our mental preferences. It increases our awareness of our mind and the behaviors it triggers. Once you understand these preferences, you can better appreciate yourself and the actions you have taken.

Read these blog posts:

2. Overcome negative self-talk and self-criticism.

Negative self-talk and self-criticism are what low self-esteem people have to face on a regular basis. One reason why many of us find it difficult to develop self-love is that we can’t stop the negative thoughts in our heads. Again, this is caused by our minds.

Negative self-talk is none other than a mental habit we developed in the past.

Who is the one talking negatively to you? Your mind. Most of our minds are conditioned to think in a negative way since young. Once it became a habit, it became automatic. Self-criticism became second-nature. We need to be aware of this mental habit in order to change it or break the habit.

But it’s not just the thoughts which are making us upset. We are upset because we believe the thoughts to be true. If we don’t believe these old, conditioned thoughts, then there wouldn’t be a problem. Plus, there’s a feeling component attached to the thoughts. The emotions associated with the thoughts are part of the conditioning too. So when someone says “you’re not good enough” or “you’re stupid”, even if you don’t think it’s true intellectually, your body still reacts to these statements.

Read The DIsbelief Habit on how to make peace with your inner critic.

There are different ways to change this self-criticism habit. You can use:

  • positive affirmations to replace the negative thoughts,
  • change the way your inner critic speaks to you, or
  • even tools such as hypnosis and NLP (Neuro-linguistic programming) to reprogram your subconscious.

I find the best way to love yourself is to be aware that you are not your thoughts. Create space between you and your thoughts and let go of thoughts whenever they arise. Maintain a level of doubt when you have new thoughts. This helps me tremendously.

Read these blog posts:

3. Learn to accept everything.

The third step on how to love yourself is to learn to accept everything. You can love yourself right now no matter what if you can accept everything about yourself.

Having negative thoughts? No problem, I accept that my mind is conditioned in this way. Not wealthy and successful? No problem, I accept whatever wealth I have right now. Not attached? No problem, I accept being single right now.

Acceptance and resistance are just one fine line away.

People find it difficult to love and accept themselves because they don’t understand the true meaning of acceptance. Accepting doesn’t mean giving up on life. Some people argue, “How can we accept ourselves when we aren’t perfect? Isn’t accepting anything less of what we desire means that we are giving up on growth and life?”

The truth is most of us confuse acceptance for resistance. Every time we are chasing that perfect image, we are actually resisting our current state. There’s no acceptance when you are trying to get somewhere else desperately, running away from your current state. If you can’t accept yourself right now, then you have no love for yourself right now. You can’t love yourself unconditionally until you have full acceptance for the present moment.

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4. Develop trust in yourself and the world.

Believing in yourself and your capabilities are important in achieving self-love. But what should we believe? Didn’t I suggest in #2 that we should maintain a level of doubt?

Developing trust in yourself shouldn’t be confused with trusting your thoughts. There are many voices in your head. Most of the thoughts are based on past conditioning. These are the thoughts that we need to be doubtful with. Then, there is a voice that comes from our intuition and inner guidance. This voice is the voice we need to trust. However, the intuitive voice isn’t easily heard because it is covered up by all the random thoughts in our head.

Our job is to differentiate our intuition from our random thoughts.

It’s not easy to tell them apart. It takes awareness and practice. The more you observe your thoughts, the more you can tell their differences. From my experience, intuition voice is strong, clear, definite yet soft. It doesn’t fight for attention. Usually, we need to be peaceful and relaxed enough before we can hear it clearly.

Building self-love also requires you to have trust in the world. Reflect on this: how can you love yourself when you think the whole world is against you? This love residing in us is connected with a bigger love from the Universe. It’s up to us to stay connected.

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5. Set personal boundaries.

Again, this seems like a contradiction to the previous point. In #4, I suggest to stay connected with the Universe, and now I’m asking you to set boundaries. Can you do both?

Yes, you can. When I say connecting with the Universe, I’m talking in the spiritual sense. When I talk about setting boundaries, it’s more for the mind. Our mind thrives when it has a separate identity with others. Even though we are not our minds, but if we don’t satisfy the needs our mind has, it starts to create trouble for us.

Take me for example. I’m an INFJ with an Enneagram Type 4w5. My mind’s preference is to stay introverted. I could definitely go out and spend most of my time socializing with others. But my mind doesn’t like it. It’s used to staying introspective. Constantly forcing it to do something which is not part of its habit not only exhausts my mind, it will get pissed off and refuse to cooperate with me.

Loving yourself completely includes loving your mind too.

The best way to keep a healthy mind is to set personal boundaries. Learn how to say no to others and your mind will thank you for that.

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6. Learn how to give and receive.

If you have trouble giving, you may believe that you have nothing worth giving. On the other hand, if you have trouble receiving, you may believe that you are not worthy enough to receive. Both are signs of low self-esteem and lack of self-love.

Giving and receiving circulates the flow of love. 

Learning how to give and receive is one way to love yourself. Finding self-love starts by uncovering love within you, but it doesn’t stop there. Love works better when there’s a movement. Possessing love or rejecting love stops the flow of love. When you are comfortable in giving and receiving love, you let love pass through you and it would increase self-love more than you imagined.

Some of us give too much, but we never want to receive help from others. Helping others make us feel good monetarily. It increases our self-esteem but it doesn’t last. The way to fill yourself with love is to learn to be comfortable in receiving love from others and then pass it on.

Read these blog posts:

7. Learn to forgive and let go.

Forgiving someone or yourself is also part of self-love. Most people can see how forgiving oneself helps in self-love. But what about forgiving others? How does that help us to love ourselves?

When you have hatred, there’s no room for love.

I’m sure you have heard this quote before, “You can’t love others until you love yourself”. The contrary is also true. It’s difficult to love yourself when you have no love for others. When you hate someone, not only are you withholding your love from them, you are holding onto to the emotional pain you think they cause you. So when you can’t let go, you are essentially blocking the love within you.

First, you are resisting what they had done (this goes back to point #3 about accepting everything). Second, you are blocking a natural pathway of love when you withhold love from them (this goes back to point #6 about circulating love). You don’t feel good about yourself when there’s hatred within you.

I know it’s hard to forgive someone who did you wrong. But the only way to be free is to let go and forgive them.

Read these blog posts:

8. Practice gratitude.

Practicing gratitude is one of the self-love exercises which I started in 2015 and still doing it daily till today. My morning self-love ritual includes writing three things I’m grateful for. This has helped me appreciate life and myself more.

Gratitude leads to acceptance.

When you practice gratitude regularly, you are also increasing your ability to accept things and circumstances around you. One of the keys to my recovery from depression is when I started becoming grateful for my experience. If I didn’t have depression, I wouldn’t have gotten back to a path that aligns with my heart and soul. And if it wasn’t for this experience, I wouldn’t have written my memoir, The Emotional Gift.

When I was able to be grateful for my experience, my perception of having depression change and I became more accepting of it. I was no longer fighting against it or resisting it. And I naturally feel better and connect with the love within me.

Also, being grateful includes being appreciative of yourself. There is a lot about yourself you can be grateful for. You can be grateful for your breath, your functioning body parts, and your gifts, just to name a few. Self-appreciation increases self-love too.

Read these blog posts:

9. Have no expectations in life.

One tip to love yourself is to have no expectations in life. When you have no expectation, you would have no disappointment. If you don’t expect yourself to be perfect, you won’t blame yourself when making mistakes. If you don’t expect others to act or love you a certain way, you won’t be shocked or hurt when they do something out of your expectation.

Having high self-expectations especially could easily lead to frustration, disappointment, anxiety, and even depression when your expectations aren’t met. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have goals. But sometimes, expectations can be easily mistaken as goals.

Disappointment is inevitable in expectation.

Unless you are able to control everything in life, disappointment is unavoidable when you have expectations. My trigger for depression was I expected people to follow through everything they said. But the thing is people are unpredictable and uncontrollable. And sometimes, they change or break their promise, not because of malicious reasons.

Even I have broken my own promise from time to time, so I don’t expect people to do what they said anymore. And when I don’t demand so much out of myself and others, I feel much happier.

Read these blog posts:

10. Take care of your body, emotions, and yourself.

Showing yourself love by taking care of your body and emotions is one thing you can do to love yourself. However, everyone knows that taking care of themselves is important, but not everyone remembers to love themselves or find time for it.

Most of us are very focused on their work. Being accomplished makes us feel good about ourselves. But without health and emotional well-being, how do we enjoy the fruits of our labor? Plus, how do we stay focused on our work when our body doesn’t function properly and emotions are distracting us?

I love this analogy from The ONE Thing by Gary Keller. He took it from the book, Suzanne’s Diary for Nicholas, by James Patterson. The author says we are juggling five balls at the time.

“Work is a rubber ball that can bounce back when dropped.”

“Family, health, friends, and integrity are glass balls. Once dropped, it’ll be shattered.” This analogy always reminds me to check in with other areas of my life, especially when it comes to my health and emotions.

I find the best way to take care of oneself is to do a daily routine check. At the end of each day, I would take 15 minutes to review my day and see how I felt during the day. In this way, I could resolve any problems before it becomes too big to resolve or harvest any learning for the next day. In this way, I could remain focus on my work, without losing track of my health and emotional well-being.

Read these blog posts:

11. Learn how to relate to others.

Practicing self-love is much easier if we just have to give ourselves love. But the reality is we have to live with others and for most of us, other people’s perception and action affect how we see ourselves.

Rejections, disagreement, misunderstanding and etc. These are the things we have to deal with when we interact with others. What we need to learn is to relate and communicate with others better. But at the same time, we need to disassociate these events from our self-worth. 

People’s perceptions and actions have nothing to do with how good we are.

It’s very easy to take it personally when others reject us or disagree with us. When someone rejects us, we may wonder what’s wrong with us and why do they reject us. When someone misunderstands us, we lose the love and connection with others, and sometimes with ourselves. Yes, we have to take responsibility for the situation, but not to the extent of pushing the blame to ourselves.

To really love yourself, learn to deal with different and even opposing opinions from others.

Read these blog posts:

12. Be authentic and be yourself.

Being authentic is part of loving and accepting yourself. When we try to be someone else instead of ourselves, we aren’t respecting ourselves. We all have our unique gifts and weaknesses. There’s nothing to be ashamed of.

Being yourself is more than showing others your personality.

As mentioned in point #1, personality is how the mind prefers to operate. Being authentic is the alignment of your mind, body, and soul. Your authentic self is the awareness behind your thoughts, actions, and behaviors. So when you take an action or make a decision, there is no blockage or conflict within you.

If your mind wants to go left, and your heart wants to go right. No matter which path you choose, it’s not going to feel good because there’s no agreement and alignment of your mind, body, and soul. You are suppressing one part of you.

When you are really true to yourself, the path of action is very clear. You are in touch with the present and the love within you. No matter what the outcome is, you know that’s the path to take. This is what I called authenticity.

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What’s Next for Me?

Even though my Self-Love Project has come to an end, self-love is a daily practice or ritual for me now. Self-love shouldn’t be treated like an end goal we need to achieve. It’s something we get better at, the more we do or be mindful of it.

So what’s next for me in 2017?

My focus will be directed to write more books next year. There are a few self-love topics written here which I want to expand and explore further.

For the blog, I’m looking forward to exploring the self-love topic from a different angle, from the perspective of someone who has low self-esteem. Possibly, infusing elements of psychology and spirituality from the books I had read.

So see you in the new year! And thanks for reading my post.

Featured Photo Credit: Tuesday | Lana Del Rey Inspired / Mike Monaghan