In our previous article about the self-love myth, we insisted that self-love isn’t necessarily the best way to conceptualize the road to better mental health and wellness. That’s because being in a constant state of loving oneself completely may not be a reasonable goal, especially for those who struggle with emotional regulation and those with a poor and unstable sense of self resulting from years of unmet needs and adverse childhood experiences that affected their socio-emotional development .
Self-Love Isn’t Easy
Even for those who got through their childhoods and adolescence relatively unscathed, self-love can still be challenging, since we live in an era in which there is pressure to meet a number of idealistic goals. Such pressure results in a culture of always doing and chasing at something, and we become anxious about whether we’ll ever ‘make it’, equating the things we accomplish to who we are. Mistaking the work we do as our self-worth in turn leads to a sense of helplessness, worthlessness, and low self-esteem .
Another thing that makes self-love hard is that when we face challenges that don’t have a quick fix (due to their nature of mostly being outside our control), instead of trying to understand (with love) what underlies our dissatisfaction and what can still be done, our first instinct might be to blame ourselves for the dissatisfaction we feel i.e. if only I were; if only I could, especially for those with a history of having been bullied . Moreover, just by watching the news, we develop a sense that we live in pretty uncertain times both politically and economically— anxiety therefore being more likely to take center stage in our minds as compared to a state of calm, confidence, and self-love .
…But It’s Still Beneficial
Nonetheless, all the above doesn’t translate into the fact that practicing self-love is useless. In fact, just trying to get in touch with the part of ourselves that wants the best for ourselves has its benefits…and “just because it don’t come easily, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try”, sang Bruno Major in his song Easily. The same goes for self-love: self-love may be difficult to do, but trying to cultivate it benefits us still, even for those with a mental health diagnosis . That’s because self-love encourages us to see ourselves completely, accept ourselves as we are, and to honor our individuality: by getting us to recognize and value our strengths, weaknesses, victories, and challenges while simultaneously asking us to strive for personal growth, self-love contributes to our psychological well-being because it’s essentially centered around prioritizing oneself— and we need to prioritize ourselves for the sake of our mental wellness (yet another way to prioritize ourselves is to seek help when we need it such as by attending psychotherapy).
Indeed, self-love—the “active practice of accepting, caring for, and encouraging oneself” — is a good thing, and it’s time to cultivate it by practicing it intentionally. Let the following self-love tips guide you:
Self-Love Practice 1: Engage in self-care.
In her book, Dr. Shainna Ali makes it clear that self-care is actually a component of self-love. Without self-care, self-love cannot exist. So pay attention to what you eat, get sufficient rest, and exercise, remembering too that exercise is a celebration of what the body can do, not a punishment for what you ate (though there’s more to self-care than just physical self-care: there’s emotional, social, spiritual, personal, financial, work, home environment) . By taking steps to meet our personal needs and actively care for our wellness, we make ourselves more and more resilient even before a challenge pops up to test us, ready to tackle them with a compassionate mind and a loving headspace. Indeed, talking to and about ourselves with love is also a good place to start practicing self-love . For example, do you speak to yourself in a critical voice when something doesn’t go your way and put yourself down often (it might also help to notice when you tend to do so most)?
Self-Love Practice 2: Take breaks.
Even if you tend to be really busy, it’s important for you to schedule in time to do things you find relaxing because you’re only human, and humans need time away from things that are demanding to the mind and body so that energy can be restored— not just for the sake of productivity in the long run, but also for the sake of protecting you from depression and burnout, which can lead to job dissatisfaction too . On a slightly different but related note, a digital detox may be what you need too: go phone-free for a few hours or a day and do other things instead, like eating more mindfully, reflecting in your journal, engaging in hobbies, or enjoying deep conversations with someone.
Self-Love Practice 3: Regulate your emotions.
In our article A Guide to Emotions: Basic Questions Answered, we discussed how embracing, being aware of, understanding, and managing our emotions is key to better mental health. Until you befriend your emotions, loving yourself will be a struggle because by ignoring emotions, you ignore the process of learning about what makes you uniquely you and what matters to you— these information are priceless as they help you appreciate yourself more and give you a sense of purpose and motivation to thrive. When you give yourself the chance to thrive (which takes what Brené Brown calls vulnerability and courage)— now that’s what we call an act of self-love.
Self-Love Practice 4: Reflect on your relationship to yourself.
As you reflect, notice the thoughts you tend to have and what they’re about, how they make you feel, and the overall energy they present in your body. Are they self-defeating thoughts that bring you down; hold you to a certain standard? Do they result in feelings of disappointment, insecurity, shame and loneliness? What kinds of situations, people, or ideas are likely to trigger you into having such thoughts? Which thoughts result in the most intense difficult emotions? Where in your body do you feel those emotions? What can you do to ease those emotions in your body, that’s uniquely calming and soothing to you? As you answer these questions, you’re getting in touch with what you think, feel, and need, thereby opening yourself up to become honest with yourself about what you go through internally. When we’re honest and authentic, we show up for others and let ourselves be seen unapologetically, and doing so is just as important for self-love as accepting difficult emotions is .
Self-Love Practice 5: Practice mindfulness.
Mindfulness just means that from one moment to another, you’re always trying to be aware of your thoughts, feelings, sensations, and surrounding environment in the least judgmental way possible, being a curious observer to what’s inside and outside you in the present . You can practice mindfulness anywhere because it simply involves the act of paying attention to the current moment, whether you’re engaged in a yoga activity, cooking, walking to the shop, eating, listening to music, talking to a friend, praying, or showering. Though mindfulness boasts a lot of benefits including stress reduction, better focus, and increased relationship satisfaction , what exactly does mindfulness have to do with self-love? Research shows that practicing mindfulness makes self-love easier as it forces us to become more aware of the thoughts and feelings that lead to the opposite of self-love , subsequently getting us to acknowledge that we have them, that we don’t have to hold on to them, and that we can instead choose to pause, breathe, and hold on to thoughts that bring about self-love. One easy way to use mindfulness to increase self-love is to practice the loving-kindness meditation : you can repeat the loving-kindness affirmation to yourself: “May I be safe, peaceful, and free of suffering. May I be happy. May I be healthy ”.
Self-Love Practice 6: Let yourself be heard.
There’s a reason why talking to a therapist helps. At the most basic level, feeling like somebody cares about what’s going on in our lives and minds teaches us to believe that we matter and that we are worthy of love. But don’t just limit self-expression to your therapist or to a friend: What else can you do to feel heard and seen for all that you are and all that you’ve been through? You could write poems, letters (just to yourself works too), talk into a recorder, perform prayers, and even dance and draw. Some may express themselves to their pet.
Self-Love Practice 7: Understand.
Whatever it is that you’re going through right now and feeling, don’t ever stop being curious about yourself and others (if you want to feel more love for others too). The point is to ask questions that can lead you towards more self-understanding because from there, self-love will follow. Malay people have a saying ‘tak kenal maka tak cinta’, which implies that we can only love something when we get to know it. You are a unique human being in possession of many depths and worthy of your own curiosity and tolerance; so get to know yourself— your habits, desires, triggers, interests, values, and essential needs in order to thrive.
Self-love may not be the most natural thing for humans to do— especially for some more than others— yet it does come with only advantages to our mental wellness and psychological well-being when we give it a try. Really, what’s most important is that we just give it a try, doing so so that we may live with more ease and peace in our hearts.
 https://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/cd/re/itf09socemodev.asp (California Department of Education, 2021)
 The Self-Love Workbook: A Life-Changing Guide to Boost Self-Esteem, Recognize Your Worth and Find Genuine Happiness, Shainna Ali
Written by :
Lifelong Learner and Mental Health Counselor
Alumni of Boston University, USA, and University of Malaya, Malaysia