Defined as “having regard for one’s own wellbeing and happiness”, self-love is deeply connected with self-compassion and self-care. According to the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation, it is “a state of appreciation for oneself that grows from actions that support our physical, psychological and spiritual growth,” and means “taking care of your own needs and not sacrificing your wellbeing to please others”.
The concept isn’t new. The Ancient Greeks identified six types of love, including philautia or “the love of self” which, they believed, led to a greater capacity to love others. It’s been discussed through the ages by many philosophers – including the Dutch philosopher Spinoza in the 17th century, who considered self-love to be self-preservation – theologians and psychologists. However, it first became part of popular culture during the 1950s; and since the ‘60s, many books, poems and songs have been written on the subject.
Why is self-love trending?
Fast forward to today, and there are literally millions of social media posts on the topic – to date, #selflove videos on TikTok have recorded nearly 53 billion views.
Some say the catalyst for the current interest in self-love could well be the upheaval we experienced over the last four years.
The impact of disruption
In 2019, life went pear-shaped, changing how we lived, worked, and connected with one another. Studies show this period of disruption significantly impacted our mental wellbeing, bringing a wave of mental health issues and leading to a “crisis of confidence", particularly in young adults.
Social isolation during this time also tested our sense of identity; and we found ourselves spending a lot more time in our heads, dwelling on uncertainty and negative thinking. For many, social media became a lifeline to social connectedness.
On the flip side, having the rug pulled from under our feet in this way changed our perspectives and shifted our priorities. It encouraged us to focus on our wellbeing and find ways to be happier.
Digital narcissism vs. authenticity
In addition, living in the age of ‘digital narcissism’ means we’re constantly bombarded with images of ‘perfect’ people who overshare on social media, which makes us vulnerable to the normal human tendency to compare ourselves to others, puts us under enormous pressure to achieve unrealistic goals, and leaves us feeling envious, distressed and dissatisfied.
But, as the world continues towards a new normal, there’s been a positive shift to create a more authentic environment, and to normalise the reality of being human – imperfections and all. A number of influencers have generated a groundswell of support for body positivity, self-acceptance and self-love.
Why self-love is important
Experts agree that the most important relationship you’ll ever have is with yourself.
Self-love, which involves self-awareness, self-acceptance, self-compassion and self-care, influences every aspect of your life – from how you interact with those around you to how you cope with life’s challenges, how you perform at work, and whom you choose as a life partner.
When you’re in a healthy relationship with yourself, you embrace your strengths and accept your shortcomings; you value who you are and what you’ve experienced; and you take good care of your mental, emotional and physical wellbeing.
Here’s how practising self-love can improve your life:
It reduces stress, anxiety and depression.
It gives you a more positive outlook.
It builds self-esteem.
It helps you develop empathy and resilience.
It boosts your motivation to make healthy lifestyle choices.
It strengthens your relationships.
It makes you more productive at work.
It increases happiness – research shows individuals who take care of themselves and who show self-interest without selfishness are happier!
Self-love vs. selfishness
Self-love does not preclude caring about or loving others. It is about unconditional self-acceptance and taking care of yourself while still being considerate of others, and of their needs and feelings.
Unlike selfishness, which is destructive, self-love is nurturing and patient, and makes you more understanding of others.
While self-love encourages healthy boundaries, selfishness drives people to overstep boundaries to indulge in harmful habits and negative behaviours.
Through self-love, you develop compassion for yourself and for others; selfishness, on the other hand, is indifferent and self-centred, and leads people to prioritise their own needs at the expense of others.
Self-love is not selfish!
How to cultivate self-love
1. Banish your inner critic. By magnifying your mistakes and perceived shortcomings, negative self-talk diminishes your strengths, positive qualities and achievements. It limits your ability to believe in yourself, undermining your confidence. It’s also harmful to your mental wellbeing as it increases stress and anxiety, and can lead to depression. When you hear that critical inner voice, ask yourself if you’d say that to a friend or loved one. Try practising self-compassion and replace that negative critic with a kinder one.
2. Prioritise self-care. Loving yourself means making time to do things that help you live well and improve your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. Self-care includes eating healthy, staying active, getting enough sleep, avoiding excessive drinking and drugs, and scheduling regular check-ups with your healthcare practitioners. Find ways to relax – try yoga, meditation, a massage or a walk in nature – and do something you enjoy every day. Connect with others, and nurture your friendships.
3. Set healthy boundaries. Loving yourself means getting clear on what is, and isn’t, good for you. The boundaries you set for yourself will reflect your needs, goals and values; will communicate how you wish to be treated; will develop your sense of identity; and will help you establish self-worth. Learning to say no to anything (or anyone) that depletes you or harms your wellbeing is a powerful way to practise self-love.
4. Stop comparing yourself to others. Comparing yourself to others lowers your self-esteem, leaves you feeling envious and resentful, and robs you of joy. Instead, turn self-judgement into self-acceptance: ditch the idea that you have to be perfect, focus on your good points rather than your flaws, and embrace your individuality.
5. Practise daily affirmations. Typically positive and optimistic statements, affirmations help you challenge self-limiting beliefs and reframe negative thoughts about yourself. Practising affirmations focuses your attention on what you want to achieve and increases your confidence in your ability to do so. It also boosts your wellbeing – it lowers stress, reduces anxiety, and increases feelings of hopefulness.
10 positive affirmations to start with
When you first start using positive affirmations, it can feel uncomfortable, even silly. It’s important to choose statements that resonate with you; and remember, practising affirmations takes work – use them daily and speak them out loud, say them in your head, or write them down on sticky notes that you post throughout your home. Use three to five affirmations at a time, and for two to three weeks, before switching to new ones.
Here are a few examples to get you started:
I am worthy of love and joy.
I believe in myself and trust my own wisdom.
I embrace who I am, as I am.
My mistakes help me move forward.
I can ride this out and not let it get to me.
I am relaxed and calm.
I am brave for trying.
I am open to the opportunities today will bring.
I am capable and prepared.
I give myself permission to do what is right for me.
Need a little help to love yourself more? A Hello Coach expert coach will guide you to see your strengths, embrace self-compassion, develop new patterns of thinking, and build your self-esteem.