How To Love Yourself: Professionals Share 18 Secrets To Fostering Self Love

Half the global population struggles with self-love, an essential ingredient to a happy, healthy life.

Learning how to love yourself can boost your self-esteem, enhance your wellness, and improve your overall quality of life.

Why Do I Struggle To Love Myself?

In 2021, The Body Shop released an epic study examining global self-love statistics. It found that nearly half the global population feels more self-doubt than self-love.

The study examined numerous factors contributing to self-esteem, from age, gender, and country to social media use, beauty standards, and economic status, showcasing how internal and external factors contribute to someone’s sense of self.

Xandra Hawes, LPC with Soul Essence Psychotherapy, says many people struggle to love themselves because their sense of self-worth gets outsourced and becomes conditional on other people’s reactions. Empathic people, in particular, may struggle to separate their sense of self from what they offer to others.

“Ultimately,” says Hawes, “this can breed inner resentment because we will never find permission to love ourselves through other people.”

Self-love must come from within. Here’s how to find it.

How To Love Yourself

Learning how to love yourself takes time, effort, and introspection. We asked mental health professionals to share their best tips and tools for cultivating a positive self-image.

Here’s what they said.

Define Self Love

The first step is defining what self-love looks like for you.

Many interchange phrases like “loving yourself” and “having self-esteem” because people who love themselves often have a sense of self-worth and confidence in their abilities. They are comfortable in their own skin.

Elizabeth Sumpf, LCSW, RYT-200, TCYM with Peaceful Prana Therapy, says people who don’t experience love from others, especially in childhood, may not know how to show it to themselves. “Make a list of qualities that define self-love for you,” she advises. “Science has proven that the more language we have for something, the better we can define it, and then the more access we have to it.”

Sumpf says anything from kind words to offering yourself a warm cup of tea can be on the list.

She adds, “The more clarity you have around self-love, the more likely you are to act on it. Get super clear on what self-love means to you.”

Take Action

Hawes reminds us that love is a verb, so if we want to love ourselves, we must act. “It’s a way of being and moving through the world and offering kindness and forgiveness to yourself,” she says.

Self-love is a conscious act of treating yourself with love and kindness daily.

Stop Judging

We’re often our own harshest critics, which shows in how we chastise ourselves over every perceived transgression.

Ryan Napolitano, CT LPC specializing in transpersonal counseling with Life in Depth Counseling, says learning to develop a neutral position of yourself is crucial to accepting yourself. “Too often, people get caught in the concept of either loving or hating yourself,” he says. “But the most loving place is without judgment, good or bad.”

Stop thinking of yourself in terms of positive or negative. Reframe your thinking to accept what is.

Practice Gratitude

Practicing gratitude helps us appreciate all the blessings we have in life, but it has benefits for self-esteem as well.

The trick is showing gratitude not just for all the bounties you have but also for yourself.

Carrie Mead, LPC, psychotherapist, and professional life coach, says engaging in gratitude practices is a well-researched area that positively correlates to overall well-being and happiness. “Appreciate yourself and show gratitude to yourself for all that you do,” she says. “Instead of ruminating on what you have not done, give yourself thanks for whatever it is you did accomplish.”

Stop Comparing

We’re all on our own journeys, so looking around at where everyone else is on theirs is a surefire way to hinder growth.

Judith Aronowitz, RN, LCSW, and owner of Judith Aronowitz Therapy, says comparison undermines our attempts at self-love. Aronowitz recommends looking inward rather than outward. “Notice what you want for yourself and use it as a guide for change. Love yourself for who you are now, with the idea that you are a changing,” she says. 

Take Care of Your Body

Loving yourself means treating yourself right. Taking care of your physical well-being is crucial to cultivating a positive self-image.

Alissa Martinez, MS, LPC, NCC, is a Licensed Professional Counselor and the founder of Crystal Mind Counseling. She says, “Science repeatedly shows us that things like good sleep, a balanced diet, and regular exercise are among the most important things we can do to care for and love ourselves.”

Martinez adds that healthy lifestyle habits are beneficial for the body and mind. “The mental response comes through an increased release of some of our happiness chemicals- serotonin and endorphins,” she explains.

Practice Self Care

Amber Weiss, LMHC, NCC, THTC, and founder of Transformative Mindset, says prioritizing self-care is fundamental to loving yourself.

Weiss advocates establishing healthy habits but stresses the importance of taking time to do things you enjoy. “Take time for activities that bring you joy and relaxation, whether it’s reading a book, practicing mindfulness, or engaging in hobbies,” she says.

Treat Yourself Like a Friend

We’re often much harder on ourselves than we are on others. Examine how you talk to yourself, then reflect upon how you’d approach a friend in the same situation. 

We recognize that everyone makes mistakes when our friends come to us for help but refuse to show ourselves the same grace.

Weiss says treating yourself with the same kindness you’d offer a friend can help you learn self-compassion. “Instead of being overly critical, be gentle with yourself and recognize that growth and learning are part of the human experience. Cultivate a positive inner dialogue and challenge those negative thoughts with self-affirming statements,” she advises.

Mead Agrees. “If your best friend spilled a glass of wine at dinner or arrived late for a meeting, would you yell at them, call them names, or hold a grudge?” she asks.

You probably wouldn’t, so she asks you to reflect on why you engage in negative self-talk when doing the same thing. “Speak to yourself as kindly as you do to your best friend, grandmother, or beloved pet,” she says.

Volunteer Work

Dr. Sarah Boss, clinical director at Balance Luxury Rehab, suggests volunteering to increase self-love.

“Volunteering can connect you to something bigger than yourself and promote self-worth,” she says.

Find a meaningful cause and help—volunteer at an animal shelter, with a political group, or at a food bank.

Dr. Boss reminds us that even those lacking time for volunteer work can reap the benefits. Simple acts of kindness have the same effect. 

Challenge the Negative Thoughts

Even the most positive people have negative thoughts. The trick is to challenge rather than accept them.

Rachel Baker, a Clinical Social Worker with RB Counseling, explains how negative thoughts can become self-fulfilling prophecies when we let them go unchallenged.

“What we think about, we think about more,” she says, explaining that these thoughts create our belief systems. “Once we have a belief, we will look for information that supports that belief and dismiss information that contradicts it.”

If you believe you are unworthy or unlovable, you’ll constantly seek evidence supporting that belief, which will only strengthen it.

Baker says it’s crucial to challenge those thoughts and beliefs. “You have to identify and challenge the thoughts that are strengthening the belief that you are ‘not okay.’”

Jennie Kleinman, LMHC and psychotherapist for Be You Psychotherapy, says you can challenge negative beliefs by catching them in action and reframing them to address the negativity head-on. “Can you come up with a positive thought to build yourself up or counteract the negative thought? Is there a way you can reframe that negative thought into something neutral or even positive?” she asks.

Be Yourself

You’ll never be happy with yourself if you keep pretending to be something you’re not. Far too many of us hide our true selves in a flawed effort to fit in with a particular group, but that’s a recipe for disaster.

Licensed Clinical Social Worker Lana Lipe with Hoosier Mental Health says, “Loving yourself means being real and true to who you are.”

She tells clients to embrace who they are. “Don’t hide your quirks and interests. Figure out what you’re passionate about and what makes you unique – and don’t be afraid to show it.”

Accepting who you are and leaning into the things that genuinely make you happy puts you on the path to self-love. “It’s like giving yourself permission to be the wonderful person you already are,” she adds.

Take a Realistic Approach

People often struggle to love themselves because they set impossible standards and berate themselves when they fall short. 

To counteract that, set realistic goals. Ehab Youssef, Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Mental Health Researcher, and Writer at Mentalyc, explains, “Setting and achieving realistic goals enhances self-efficacy, the belief in one’s ability to succeed, which contributes to positive self-perception.”

Youssef recommends breaking larger goals into smaller, more achievable steps and celebrating progress to foster a sense of accomplishment.

Self Development

Stagnation creates negative feelings. Commit to personal development through continual learning and embracing challenges to overcome those negative thoughts. 

Heather Wilson, LCSW, LCADC, CCTP, and Executive Director at Epiphany Wellness Centers, says, “Stepping out of your comfort zone and facing new situations can help you realize your capabilities and strengths.”

Embracing challenges as opportunities, expanding your mind, and cultivating a growth mindset can help you build self-confidence, and Wilson says self-love will naturally sprout from self-confidence.

Forgiveness

Everyone makes mistakes in life. Many struggle to love themselves because they can’t let go of the errors they made along the way.

Making peace with the past and forgiving yourself for those missteps is crucial to learning how to love yourself.

Sal Raichbach, LCSW, PsyD, and the Chief Clinical Officer at Haven Health Management,  says, “Our past experiences shape us into who we are today, and learning to accept and embrace them can help us move forward.”

Raichbach reminds us that our mistakes and failures don’t define us. “They are simply lessons that have brought you to where you are now,” he says. “Don’t let the past hold you back from loving yourself and living in the present moment.”

Pareen Sehat, a Registered Clinical Counsellor at Well Beings Counselling, recommends approaching the past through acceptance. She suggests thinking of the past as “this is what happened” without assigning any judgment to it.

Sehat also recommends searching for the wisdom in our mistakes. “Rather than being harsh on oneself for past experiences, seek to extract wisdom from challenging situations,” she says, stressing the importance of focusing on lessons learned.

She adds, “Self-love is not about avoiding mistakes; it’s about taking responsibility, learning, and progressing.”

Spend Time With Yourself

Can you love yourself if you don’t know yourself?

It’s time to get acquainted with you.

Ginny Priem, Master Certified Professional Life Coach, says spending time with yourself is crucial for your self-love journey. “Go to coffee or lunch or dinner by yourself. Go where and order what you want,” she advises.

Priem adds that solo travel and trying new activities also help you get to know yourself. “Stay curious to discover what brings you joy, peace, and enlightenment,” she says.

Establish Healthy Boundaries

Setting boundaries is vital for self-esteem. Boundaries help us identify the toxic behaviors we refuse to tolerate.

As Weiss explains, “Setting boundaries and learning to say no when necessary is crucial for maintaining a healthy balance between your personal and external commitments. By consistently investing in your well-being, you reinforce a positive relationship with yourself and foster a sense of love and appreciation for who you are.”

Arielle Jordan, NCC, LCPC, EMDR Certified Trauma Therapist, and owner of Mindset Quality LLC, offers tips for establishing boundaries. “Begin by identifying limits in personal, professional, and emotional aspects. Communicate these assertively and practice adherence to them, enhancing your well-being and self-respect,” she says.

Jordan stresses that setting (and maintaining) healthy boundaries is an evidence-based strategy to enhance well-being.

Celebrate Accomplishments

Though you may not realize it, you’ve accomplished so much. To foster more love for yourself, look back on your life and recognize your achievements.

Kaylin Zabienski, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, says the first thing she asks clients struggling with self-love to do is to write a list of all their accomplishments. “It can be anything from completing high school, adopting a dog, or drinking enough water most days,” she says.

Zabienski then asks her clients to do some soul-searching and consider things they don’t see as accomplishments. For example, they might have moved across the country because they had to, but she helps them see that regardless of why they did it, the fact that they did it is a massive accomplishment.

“Writing out the accomplishments helps bring perspective to their self-image and, in turn, gives them a tangible list of reasons why they can love and appreciate themselves,” Zabienski says, adding that this exercise benefits clients who feel like failures. “It changes their perspective almost every time.”

Develop Healthy, Supportive Relationships

Humans crave social connections. Our desire to belong to a group may lead us to form relationships that don’t serve us.

Amanda Stretcher, LPC with Choosing Therapy, says positive relationships are vital to loving yourself. “Engage in relationships that are emotionally attuned and supportive,” she says. “These connections can mirror and reinforce positive self-perceptions.” 

Stretcher adds that surrounding yourself with people who support you helps you foster a sense of belonging, which leads to self-acceptance.

Youssef also advises cultivating healthy relationships. “Evaluate your social circle,” he says.  “Surround yourself with people who uplift and encourage you, and minimize interactions with those who drain your energy or contribute to negativity.”

Tips for Incorporating Self-Love Into Your Life

Reframing one’s mind is far more complicated than it appears. Thankfully, numerous tools can help on the journey to self-love and acceptance.

Here are actionable steps you can take to learn how to love yourself.

Write a Letter to Yourself

Stacey O’Callaghan with SJS Coaching Services recommends writing a love letter to yourself. “Start by making a list of 8 things you like about yourself, and then write a letter to yourself highlighting these eight attributes, their benefits, and why you love them.”

The beauty of writing a letter like that is you can keep it and refer back to it when you’re struggling with self-doubt. Rereading the good things about yourself gives you a much-needed boost.

Meditate

Mediation grounds you. It allows you to focus solely on yourself at the present moment for a short time.

Napolitano says practicing meditation can help you learn to love yourself. “Observe your thoughts, feelings, intuitions, and imagination without judgment,” he says, calling mediation the place of your loving observer. “It’s always with you, watching, yearning for you to do well,” he explained, adding that it sees you as you are: a whole person deserving of love and respect.

Meredith Van Ness, LCSW and Coach specializing in self-love, also extols the virtues of meditation. “Engage in mindfulness meditation to cultivate self-compassion,” she says, adding, “Research consistently shows that mindfulness practices can lead to increased self-awareness, reduced stress, and improved emotional well-being.”

Van Ness offers tips for incorporating mindfulness meditation into your routine. “Begin with short sessions, around 5-10 minutes daily,” she says. “Find a quiet space, sit comfortably, and focus on your breath or a chosen mantra. When negative thoughts arise, acknowledge them without judgment, gently redirecting your focus to the present moment. Over time, this practice can foster a more compassionate and accepting relationship with yourself.”

Keep a Thought Notebook

Baker says keeping a thought notebook can help you identify and challenge negative perceptions about yourself while highlighting the positives.

She recommends writing down all your thoughts about yourself for an entire week and then reflecting on your list. “Are you your biggest cheerleader or your worst enemy?” she asks. “Most people are surprised at the frequency of the awful things they say to themselves – things they would never say about anyone else.”

Next, challenge those negative thoughts by replacing them with true but kinder messages. Instead of calling yourself an “idiot” over a mistake, say, “Everyone makes mistakes.”

Baker reminds us that the process takes time. “You didn’t create negative beliefs about yourself overnight, and you aren’t going to heal them overnight either. Keep with the practice, and you will begin to feel a shift towards improved self-love,” she says.

Introspection Through Shadow Work

Shadow work forces us to dive deep into our psyches and face the harsh truths about ourselves we strive to keep hidden – even from ourselves.

Alana Durand, Staff Psychotherapist at Real Therapy, says, “The trick to loving yourself is to dislike yourself,” meaning that conducting shadow work to uncover the parts of ourselves we dislike is the first step to fully accepting yourself.

“We know when we’re lying to ourselves. We know when we’re forcing something that doesn’t feel true,” says Durand. She adds that we don’t always know the root cause, and that’s where shadow work comes in. “You can explore the origins of your shadow parts (or whatever you’d like to call them) and release yourself from all that judgment and shame swirling around in your unconscious mind.”

Affirmations and Positive Self-Talk

Part of learning how to love yourself is retraining your brain through positive messaging.

Affirmations can play a vital role. Van Ness says you can transform your inner dialogue by incorporating positive affirmations into your routine.

“Start by identifying areas where you typically engage in negative self-talk,” she says. “Develop affirmations that counter these negative thoughts and affirm your strengths. For instance, if you often doubt your abilities, affirm, ‘I am capable and resilient.’ Repeat these affirmations regularly, especially during challenging moments. Over time, this intentional shift in self-talk can contribute to a more positive self-perception.”

Journaling

Journaling has numerous benefits for mental health and wellness and is an ideal tool for completing much of the work needed to foster self-love.

You can keep a gratitude journal to record what you appreciate about yourself or a shadow work journal to explore the deepest recesses of your soul.

Use a journal to celebrate your wins, reframe your losses, and work out your complex emotions.  

Loving Yourself Is Within Reach

Learning how to love yourself is a journey. It won’t happen in a day. But it’s within reach.

The more you embrace self-love practices, the easier it will become, and the more naturally you will love yourself.

This article originally appeared on Wealth of Geeks

Melanie Allen
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Melanie launched Partners in Fire in 2017 to document her quest for financial independence with a mix of finance, fun, and solving the world's problems. She's self-educated in personal finance and passionate about fighting systematic problems that prevent others from achieving their own financial goals. She also loves travel, art, gaming, and her cats.

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