Self-Love: What It Is And How To Love Yourself (bonus Mini Journal With Exercises)

Written by Valentina Dragomir, Psychotherapist | Fact Checked | See our editorial process

Do you love yourself?

Take a moment to answer this question.

Working with my clients we arrive at some point to talk about self-love. Or the lack thereof. We arrive at such a sensible topic because it is at the core of enhancing self-esteem and diminishing a lot of suffering.

Unfortunately there is a common belief that you should love the other more than you love yourself. While many people can function putting others first without harmful consequences, I see a lot of people who feel a lack of self-love that shows as: people pleasing, lack of boundaries, bad choices, self harm and self loathe in the most extreme cases.

Today I want to talk about self-love because in February (in Romania) we celebrate love two times. On 14 for Valentine’s Day and on 24 we have a holiday called Dragobete (don’t ask me, it’s just some Romanian version of Valentine’s day). So love is all around us. Another reason is that self-love is very important. Self-love can contribute to your well being, meaningful relationships and healthy choices, but you will find more on this below.

In this article I will talk about loving yourself and how you can love yourself more through actionable steps. I also included a mini journal you can download for free that can help you through the process of learning or enhancing this skill.

Let’s start.

What is self-love?

To define what self-love is, I’d like you to recall from memory a person you truly love. You love him or her from the bottom of your heart, very, very, very much. Picture the face of this person in your mind’s eye.

Now let me ask you: how do you know that you love this person? What do you do more exactly? You might say that:

  • You want their best, you want to see them happy
  • You protect them from dangers or mean people
  • You feel sad if something bad happens to them
  • You want to support them when they have a tough time
  • You want to give them the best of you
  • You treat them nice and with respect

Now think about all the above and try to apply them to yourself. Or try to answer the questions below:

  • Do you want the best for yourself?
  • Do you want to be happy?
  • Do you do things that make you happy?
  • Do you protect yourself from things that are harmful, dangerous or mean people?
  • Do you have compassion for yourself when things are hard in your life?
  • Do you give yourself the best you?
  • Do you treat yourself nice and with respect?

What self-love really means is not related to posting selfies on social networks, counting your likes or followers. It’s not related to overindulging with chocolate on a bad day or forcing yourself to look perfect, smile perfect, display a perfect version of yourself.

What self-love really means is in fact a good relationship with yourself. It is an accepting, peaceful and compassionate attitude towards your own person, as if you’d offer these to a person that you love. You are more at peace with who you are.

Why self-love is important?

Self-love is important because it supports your well being and overall mental health. It gives you the basis for a healthy self esteem and the power to act for your own well being. Many people suffer because of low (or lack) of loving themselves. It is one of the reasons people people lack self regard and sabotage themselves.

Self-love is important for:

  • Your well being: it allows you to feel calm and at peace with yourself
  • Your self-esteem: it allows you to view yourself in a positive, but grounded light
  • Your mental health: it helps you keep a balanced mindset
  • Your relationships: it allows you to pick the right people and relationships and to manage difficult situations is a manner that is ok for you
  • Your integrity (mental, physical, emotional): it helps you protect yourself from damaging situations, people and activities

Your relationships benefit if you love yourself too, because you can be more open, able to share about yourself and offer genuine interest and support. You don’t run away from people with shame, you don’t hide, but you are more present and able to give and receive.

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What are the signs that you love yourself?

Self-love is strongly related to self-esteem, which is how you evaluate yourself. If you love yourself then you tend to have a higher regard of your own person. You tend to display some clear characteristics such as:

  • You are more understanding towards yourself and your internal monologue reflects this
  • Your way of thinking about yourself, the world and others (in relation to you) is more in tune with reality
  • You do things that you enjoy
  • You feel good to be you
  • You appreciate yourself
  • You like and accept yourself
  • You take care of yourself
  • You set healthy boundaries when necessary
  • You know what things are not ok for you and you do not engage in unhealthy/damaging or harmful activities
  • You pick which people you want to spend your time with
  • You are happy for the success of other people and do not compare yourself with them
  • You lift yourself when times are tough
  • You are in tune with your needs

Is self-love selfish?

In super short, no. But loving yourself can be seen as selfish. If we look at the definitions of the two, we will see the differences. Selfishness is lack of consideration for other people, it sounds like: “I will take this all for myself and I don’t care if you are hurt by it, I might even hurt you to get what I want”.

But when you love yourself you want to get what you want, but you still care for other people and their well being. You are putting yourself first without hurting other people intentionally. You take care of your needs and are able to negotiate or compromise if necessary.

Is self-love narcissism?

Self-love, narcissism and selfishness might look like they are the same thing. They are not the same, however. There are clear differences between self-love and malignant self-love (narcissism).

Self-Love Narcissism
Definition Interest in one’s own well being and happiness We call narcissism as: narcissistic personality disorder, characterized by excessive interest in oneself and his/her physical appearance, has a grandiose sense of self-importance and entitlement
Self-esteem Yes Inflated, can be high but fragile, dependent on external validation or self-deception
Self-image Grounded, knows well their positives and negatives and can accept both in a high degree Inflated, belief they are special or superior to other people. Not being perfect is very hard to deal with and will try to protect oneself at all costs, will try to appear perfect
Acceptance Yes, both positive and negative aspects, has a sense of inner peace, has self-compassion Can not see themselves in a negative light, needs to be perfect and to have other people around to get validation
Agreeableness Yes, able to connect and treat other people on the same level without superiority or arrogance No, people who score high on narcissism tend towards callousness, grandiosity, entitlement, arrogance, demeaning and exploitative attitudes towards others

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

Some may say that you can’t love other people if you do not do it for yourself. There is part of truth in this, as I tend to believe that the truth is somewhere in the middle. You may relate in a negative way with other people if you have low self regard. You may be overly critical and view your friends, colleagues or family in a negative light, just as you see yourself.

I think that it is possible to love someone if you do not love yourself. Actually, you may love other people more than you love yourself. This is the definition of people pleasing behavior. But usually the relationship we have with other people will reflect the relationship we have with ourselves. So the more we focus on the other people them more we stray away from ourselves.

How do you practice self-love in a relationship?

When you are in a relationship it’s easy to put the needs of your partner first and your own second. But if you want to have a harmonious couple relationship, you must tend to your own needs also. If you love yourself more, your couple’s relationship will benefit from it.

How can you practice self-love when you have a relationship:

  • Stay in contact with your needs and fulfill them
  • Set boundaries when necessary (privacy, time, space)
  • See your own friends, do not forget that you have friends
  • Keep some time for yourself too
  • Practice a hobby, it is great continue your hobby or to find some new ones
  • Have activities without your partner, and of course together with him/her too, aim for a balance

Can self-love be taught?

You can be taught how to love yourself. Therefore, if you feel that you may lack self-love you can always learn how to do it.

We learn to love our own person during our childhood and also our early youth. We learn a lot of things from the adults around us. If you had around you people who loved themselves, then there are higher chances that you learned how to do this.

Another way you can learn how to love yourself is by reading books, doing courses and working with a professional on improving this skill.

Self-love is a teachable skill that can be acquired and practiced.

How to love yourself step by step

If you want to learn how to love yourself there are a couple of steps you can follow and I write about them below. The steps below can be easy or difficult, but regardless, try to practice them and do not skip them as they are all helping to love yourself more.

Respect your needs

Start from the most basic needs: thirst, hunger, comfort, safety. Learning what your needs are allows you to stay in touch with yourself. Only doing so you can voice what you need, ask for it and fulfill it.

Don’t worry if you don’t know what your needs are at first. It is a process that becomes easier as you practice it.

Establish healthy boundaries where needed

All relationships need boundaries. Boundaries are good to maintain a healthy relationship and balance.

It does not matter if it is the relationship you have with your friends, family, colleagues, and even yourself. Loving other people does not mean that you must let them treat you how they want just because they are family or partner.

Also, in relationship with your self, when you feel that there are some things you are doing that are hurting you, put a stop there. For example when you abuse of alcohol or chocolate. Healthy boundaries help you maintain a healthy balance for yourself. Say “no” to yourself when you notice that you are going into the same old and harmful habits: you put others first, you are afraid to disappoint them, you eat too much, you scratch your skin, you chew your nails, pluck hair and so on.

A healthy boundary can take the form of removing the alcohol from your apartment if you try to quit drinking. It may also look like saying no to people who take advantage of you or who hurt you.

Another healthy boundary is to demand respect and to not accept someone to treat you poorly.

Your self-love barometer is in your body

Your body reflects very well how you feel about yourself. What is your body posture? Do you walk with a straight back or you tend to slouch? Notice how your habits, thoughts and emotions impact your body posture.

Every emotion that you feel is in your body.

When your boundaries are pushed, how do you feel? Take a minute to remember a moment when you felt your boundaries were crossed. You probably felt anger, one of the 6 basic emotions. How did anger feel in your body?

It is normal to feel anger when your boundaries are forced or crossed. It can be useful or destructive, depending on how you use it. Take anger as a guide that something isn’t quite right for you and take steps that reflect self love.

The same goes for all the other negative emotions fear, anxiety, guilt, shame and stress. When do you experience these emotions? Is it normal to have these emotions? What I mean by normal is: you feel guilt when you made a comment that hurt a person. You did something that hurt a person and you feel guilty. This is normal, appropriate. Guilt is not a bad emotion. It helps us want to undo our wrong doing.

But is it appropriate to feel guilt when someone asks you to lend them money and they say you are a bad friend if you don’t do it? Guilt in this case can show you that something isn’t quite right in this relationship. Why would you feel guilty? Because someone does not know how to respect your “no” (boundaries)? Think about that. You didn’t do anything bad. If you love yourself, what would you do in that situation?

Give yourself compassion

Self-compassion is at the core of self-love. Self-compassion is our ability to understand and accept our own humaneness, and provide care and comfort during difficult times. I wonder if you know that you already feel compassion for other people. Why would you not do the same for yourself?

The good news is that you can learn how to feel compassion for yourself. Here is a brief how to:

  • When you are hurting be mindful of your experience
  • Recognize the pain that you feel without judging or minimizing it
  • Remember that you are not alone, that suffering is something all the people feel, it is a common part of our human experience
  • Ask yourself how can you provide yourself care and comfort during these tough times
  • Some people feel the need to embrace themselves or to gently tap on their arms

For more self compassion resources visit Kristin Neff’s, THE go-to place on the internet about self-compassion.

Forgive yourself

Forgiving yourself is an important part in the process of self-love and strongly related to self-compassion. Forgiveness can help you feel better about the things you consider you did wrong. It plays an important part in your well being and mental health.

Forgiving yourself allows you to let go of the negative feelings you have for yourself such as anger, remorse or shame, and move on, learning from your experience.

Please note that sometimes you may blame yourself for something that is not your responsibility. For example, if you were a victim of any type of abuse or trauma, there is no reason to blame yourself for it. There was no way that you could have predicted and avoided that from happening.

In the mini journal for self-love you will find a powerful exercise for self-forgiveness. You can download it below.

Respect yourself

Respecting yourself is not different than respecting someone else. When you have respect for someone you treat them in a way that does not harm them, you honor their dignity and you treat them as an equal or as someone you value.

The same applies to yourself.

Your self-respect can grow if you start seeing how good and valuable you are as a worthy human being. Another thing that helps raise self respect is to stop labeling yourself negatively. Also, the small negative jokes you make about yourself such as self-deprecating jokes are not helpful at all. Changing how you talk to yourself and how you talk about yourself to other people can help raise self respect.

Be proud of yourself

There is no shame in recognizing and owning your accomplishments. Some people told me “how could they be proud”? Isn’t that bad? Isn’t pride a negative emotion? Pride is a complex emotion. Healthy pride (also called authentic pride) is being proud of yourself in a way that is acknowledging and feeling happy for your accomplishments, appreciating your efforts and your successes.

Negative pride (also called hubristic pride) is the problematic one. It comes with a feeling of superiority because of who you are, not because of what you did, so it does not really help.

We must allow ourselves to feel pride or appreciate when we do something important, difficult, or we succeed with something. There is nothing wrong about that.

Learn from your mistakes or difficulties

Another important aspect of learning how to love yourself is to see your mistakes or failures as lessons. Mistakes are part of the learning process. You can learn so much from your mistakes if you stop beating yourselves up, take responsibility and shift into the growth mindset.

The growth mindset is a mindset of accepting things as they are and understanding that your abilities (skills, knowledge, etc) can be developed through hard work and perseverance.

With a compassionate and respectful attitude we can take the best from our mistakes and grow.

Change how you view yourself

One of the main reason we lack self-love is because of our negative beliefs about ourselves.These negative beliefs are probably decades old and may run in the background continuously. You must challenge these negative beliefs if you want to change how you feel about yourself.

It may not be easy to do, but keep in mind that these are thoughts, and thoughts can be changed.

Please make a list of things you believe about yourself. For example:

  • Things you learned about yourself from direct messages from your mom, dad, and other significant people in your life (from childhood, teenage, even early adulthood)
  • Things you believed about yourself when you were a child
  • Negative criticism you received that still resonates in your mind today
  • How people describe you
  • How you describe yourself now
  • Are there idols or models you admired as a child?

Now look at the things you wrote down and pick which ones still dominates your thoughts today. Challenge them. Are they true? Why? Is there any evidence that supports them or not?

You can chose what you believe about yourself.

Chose to also see the good things in you, not only the bad things. Only this way you can start developing a healthier self-image.

Self-love quotes

I selected some of the most popular and powerful self-love quotes. They are inspiring and I like them all. What is the best quote for you? Find the one that you like the most and keep it as an anchor or reminder for self-love.

1.”Loving yourself… does not mean being self-absorbed or narcissistic, or disregarding others. Rather it means welcoming yourself as the most honored guest in your own heart, a guest worthy of respect, a lovable companion.”
— Margo Anand

2. “I am my own biggest critic. Before anyone else has criticized me, I have already criticized myself. But for the rest of my life, I am going to be with me and I don’t want to spend my life with someone who is always critical. So I am going to stop being my own critic. It’s high time that I accept all the great things about me.”
― C. JoyBell C.

3. “When a woman becomes her own best friend life is easier.”
― Diane Von Furstenberg

4. “If you have the ability to love, love yourself first.”
― Charles Bukowski

5. “I now see how owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do.”
― Brené Brown

6. “When I loved myself enough, I began leaving whatever wasn’t healthy. This meant people, jobs, my own beliefs and habits – anything that kept me small. My judgement called it disloyal. Now I see it as self-loving.”
― Kim McMillen

7. “Not only do self-love and love of others go hand in hand but ultimately they are indistinguishable.”
― M. Scott Peck

8. “Love yourself unconditionally, just as you love those closest to you despite their faults”
― Les Brown

9. “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson

10. “Love is the great miracle cure. Loving ourselves works miracles in our lives.
— Louise L. Hay

Self-love affirmations

Affirmations can help shift the thoughts from negative to positive. Negative thoughts are often part of mental health problems and a negative view of yourself. Positive affirmations can help by changing these thoughts and get a different, more optimistic outlook on yourself, other people and life in general.

Here are some examples:

  • “I allow myself to feel good about myself”
  • “I deserve to treat myself with respect”
  • “I am good enough”
  • “Today I give myself the love and attention that I need”
  • “I celebrate my accomplishments as they are”

Which affirmation is best for you? You can create your own positive affirmations if you like.

My experience is that they work best if you practice positive affirmations exercises while you are in a meditative state.

Self-love mini journal

The mini journal below is free to download and I made it to help you grow your self-love. It is dedicated for February, the month of love, and is limited edition.

The mini journal has 15 pages and consists of 28 self-love exercises. I recommend 1 exercise per day for the whole month of February.

self love hournal with exercises, self love challenge

Get your mini journal!

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I love any feedback you may have when working through the activities I compiled in the mini journal, so please write to me. Constructive criticism and suggestions are super welcome 🙂



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