A Guide to Self-Love

February 15, 2023


Nicklas Balboa

“Self care, I’m treatin’ me right” — Mac Miller, “Self Care”

“You should go and love yourself” — Justin Bieber, “Love Yourself”

When it comes to matters of love, music is a great communicator. The lines above from two of the most talented artists of the 21st Century reflect different angles of self-love. Mac Miller’s line in “Self Care” reflects how prioritizing your personal well-being can help you be more resilient in the face of adversity and better handle yourself in a healthy way. 

Bieber’s line in “Love Yourself” is advice to a once significant other who often puts their partner down in order to feel better about themselves. Bieber sees the behavior as negative — perhaps toxic — and instead prescribes self-love. 

Miller’s perspective shows how important it is to have a healthy internal dialogue and to treat yourself with respect, while Bieber shows the significance of finding good feelings from within one’s self instead of externalizing bad feelings onto others. 

If you’re wondering what self-love really is and how to practice it so that you can reap the numerous health benefits that can come from it, keep reading our guide to self-love. 

Is Self-Love Selfish?

You might think that self-love is a conceited or narcissistic pursuit. Rather than building a grandiose sense of self, loving yourself is a state of mind that you can build through certain mindsets, actions, and habits. But before you can truly love and accept yourself (i.e., who you really are at your core), you have to know yourself — which is easier said than done. 

Knowing yourself centers around discovering your true identity: the beliefs, traits, and qualities that make a person who they are. But did you know that much of who you are can often center around other people? 

You, as a person, do not exist in a vacuum because people are social creatures. Your identity is formed based on how you see yourself, how others see you, and how you act based on those perceptions that other people form. 

There’s ample scientific and anecdotal evidence of this phenomenon. For starters, consider how you might act in front of your friends on a Friday night versus in front of your boss on a Monday morning. The results could be completely different. 

The Science of Self and Identity

UCLA neuroscientist Matthew Lieberman conducted a breakthrough functional MRI study that demonstrated how people tend to use different parts of the prefrontal cortex to think about themselves compared to when they think about others. This evidence shows how dynamic identity can be. When we engage in self-talk, we use internal dialogue to explore our egos. This is related to Mac Miller’s concept of self-love and how we think about ourselves.

On the other hand, when we engage with others we may use a different set of social rules to connect. This push and pull of thinking about ourselves and others can often lead to people trying to find affirmation from others in order to feel good about themselves. This relates to Bieber’s concept of self-love and how people can often externalize their well-being by placing it into contingencies with other people, for better or worse. 

Sigal Barsade’s idea of emotional contagion demonstrates how others’ emotions can influence your mood and behavior. If the people around you are happy, then that happiness may also rub off on you. The same goes for negative emotions, which helps explain why Bieber’s protagonist in the song could no longer sustain the negative relationship with their partner. Emotional contagion gives weight to the idiom “you are who you surround yourself with.” 

Headspace (the popular meditation application) says that putting your well-being solely into the hands of others can lead to negative consequences. That’s why practicing self-love is a beneficial practice for building happiness and resilience in spite of challenges.

What Is Self-Love?

A simple way to conceptualize self-love is to identify how you act towards yourself, how you feel about yourself, and how you think about yourself. When it comes to self-love, the successful person will not only feel and think gently and kindly about themselves, but they will also take actions that support their growth and health of themselves. 

PsychCentral notes that people who truly love themselves garner an overall positive view of the self. Of course, there will be times when you struggle, but generally, a good self-lover finds the positive side of things over the negative side.

For example, you might make an error at work that makes you upset, but you can still tell yourself positive thoughts at the end of the day and give yourself a break instead of beating yourself up — everyone makes mistakes. The above example contains another key feature of self-love: it is not only the lack of negative thoughts, it is also actively working towards creating a positive perspective that aligns with your personal goals and happiness. 

There’s more to self-love than simply the good and the bad. It is also about being honest with yourself so that you can reach your goals; rewarding your progress towards those goals; setting boundaries and being proactive to protect them; placing your well-being at the top of your values; making good choices that will promote your health; and letting go of critical thoughts about any flaws you think you have.

But that does not mean that you cannot take a look in the mirror and be honest with yourself or that you do not hold yourself accountable for reaching your goals. Self-love is all about doing what’s best for you and not sacrificing that to fall into negative personal habits or to appease others. 

Again let’s return to the musical examples. Mac Miller’s song shows how — despite hardships — you can take the time to be kind to yourself by having some alone time to do things that help you heal. But you can also hold yourself accountable for your behavior and honestly check yourself to make sure that you're acting in a healthy way and not falling into bad habits. On the other hand, Bieber’s song shows how self-love can help you create boundaries from negative influences from others and even help you stop devaluing your personal needs and wants. 

Keep reading to discover some of the more actionable parts of creating good self-love habits and learn about the benefits of it. 

Benefits of Self-Love

According to Medical News Today, people who do not showcase self-love can often be hypercritical of themselves. This sort of perfectionism is associated with many negative health outcomes like increased risk for developing physical and mental illnesses like irritable bowel syndrome, depression, and perfectionists may even have a shorter life span. 

On the other hand, medical writer Dr. Andleeb Asghar writes that self-love may give you a variety of benefits, like boosted mental health, improved sleep, lower anxiety, higher self-awareness, motivation, and even more self-acceptance. You might wonder how self-love can do so much good for you. 

One of the main ways that self-love boosts your health is by lowering stress. When you love yourself there’s a certain level of calm that accompanies it even when things do not go right. Lower stress levels accompany better sleep, mental health, and lower anxiety. 

Recall that self-love also enables you to hold yourself accountable to your goals. By knowing your goals and honestly assessing your progress, not only do you gain more self-awareness, you also can become more motivated to work hard and find the dedication to achieve them. 

While self-love has many benefits, it is not always an easy thing to do. 

What Are the Biggest Struggles With Loving Yourself?

Loving yourself is not always an easy thing to do because we often make compromises to fit better into the world around us. You might take on extra work and stay late in order to try and get a promotion. You might cover for a friend and do them another favor even though you are already too busy and know you will get less sleep because of it. Even worse, you might talk negatively to yourself because you’ve been burning the candle at both ends, and you are seeing the results that you want in your life. 

At face value, it might sound like you are doing the right thing — the prescription for success in our society. However, spreading yourself thin — so thin that you start to lose sleep, gain stress, and worsen your mental health — is not a long-term recipe for success. By helping others to the point that you hurt yourself, you actually end up being able to do less for others over time. 

On the other hand, the more perplexing trap that people easily fall into is negative self-talk. It is easy and unrealistic to tell someone that they should eliminate negative self-talk habits. But you cannot get rid of all the negative thoughts in your life. Therefore at some point, negative self-talk will creep back into your life. 

The key is to break the cycle of negative talk with something positive. 2022 research shows that a type of self-talk — whether positive or negative — tends to create a self-reinforcing cycle. For example, negative self-talk can lead to anxiety, which leads to more bad self-talk. The cycle produces poorer performance, which again can lead to more negative self-talk. 

Instead of falling into the negative side of the cycle, learn how to love yourself with more positive habits. 

How to Love Yourself?

Loving yourself starts with the practices that you build today. It could be something as simple as treating yourself to a much needed massage or even just unplugging from the digital world for a night. Here are a few actions that promote self-love and examples of how to implement them in your life. 

For starters, one of the biggest self-love promoting actions is creating firm boundaries. One place where many lack boundaries is between their work and home life. Instead of checking work emails while you are home, turn off your notifications and do something that benefits your well-being, like catching up on a personal hobby. Personally, I love to build things like birdhouses or surfboards.  

Mindfulness and taking time to clear your headspace are other cornerstones of self-love. In short, mindfulness is a state of awareness that centers you on the current moment and lets perceptions come and go freely  — without judgment. You can achieve this state through practices like breathing exercises, meditation, and even doing a body scan, where you try to pay attention to your senses and what you are feeling. 

Self-Compassion vs Self-Love: Is There a Difference?

Depending on where you look, you might see the terms self-compassion and self-love used interchangeably or defined as distinct concepts. Some researchers have defined self-compassion as one’s ability to love themselves, among other factors.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), self-compassion centers around not being self-critical about personal failures, which can promote well-being. The APA defines self-love as a self-regard for one’s well-being. So self-compassion is an essential aspect of the overarching idea of self-love. 

If you dig into the various habits that characterize self-compassion and self-love, you’ll find more than enough overlap. Advice on practicing self-compassion involves loving yourself — and tips on practicing self-love involve being compassionate to yourself. 

Medical News Today even notes that self-compassion and self-love are often used interchangeably in the literature. So there’s really no need to sweat the difference between the two because you’ll likely be doing both if you are truly caring for yourself. But if you need to remember the differences between the two, remember that self-compassion has more to do with forgiving yourself, while self-love is a larger idea of habits that promote your well-being. 

How Self-Love Increases Resilience?

Resilience is a learnable capability that enables you to adapt to challenges and difficulties flexibly. People who are resilient not only recover better from adversity, but they also feel more engaged, inspired and even improve their performance through flow. 

Self-love boosts resilience by enabling people to reframe situations into opportunities. Imagine that you make a mistake, whether at work or in a relationship. If you practice self-love, then the internal dialogue you have with yourself builds resilience.

We all make mistakes, but it is how we recover from those mistakes that defines us. If you can avoid negative self-talk and instead forgive yourself, you are on the road to self-love. A great self-lover would take things a step further and add in some positive self-talk in order to build resilience and foster a can-do attitude. Instead of focusing on the mistake, look at how far you have come and how much closer to your goals you are. You can even reframe a mistake by telling yourself that sometimes a step backwards can actually help you progress beyond a plateau. 

Here at the Resilience Institute, we want to remind you that a little bit of self-love goes a long way in maintaining your well-being and building resilience. By taking the time to be kind to yourself and set personal boundaries — all the while still holding yourself accountable for your own goals and rewarding your progress — you can develop healthy habits that ensure you can overcome any obstacle in life. 

So whether you are with someone, alone, or away from a significant other on Valentine’s day, remember to take a little time out of your day for some self care and to love yourself. 

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