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What self-love truly means and ways to cultivate it

May 26, 2022 - 13 min read


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What does self-love mean?

Why is self-love important?

Are self-love and self-compassion the same thing?

Ways to practice self-love

There is a multi-billion dollar industry dedicated to self care — around $450 billion, to be precise. And while self-care practices are an important part of cultivating self-love, it's not everything. To put it another way, while bath bombs and massages are ways of expressing your love for yourself, they’re not necessarily how you build it.

Many of us have been subject to a variety of messages around self-love and how to cultivate it. We may have been told that we “can't expect anyone to love us until we learn to love ourselves.” But for those of us who've experienced childhood trauma, difficult relationships, or any number of other painful experiences, learning to love ourselves may not be as easy as it sounds.

The good news is that self-love is actually a skill you can develop — much like self-confidence or self-trust. And it's an important one. Learn what self-love really is, how to go about building it, and whether or not you really need the bath bomb in this article.

What does self-love mean?

Self-love means that you have an appreciation, affinity, and positive regard for yourself. It’s closely related to self-esteem and self-compassion. When you have a strong sense of self-love, you understand your own value and treat yourself in a loving way.

Unlike narcissism, which is excessive self-absorption and self-interest, self-love is a positive trait. Loving yourself means having a good understanding of both your strengths and weaknesses. Narcissism is generally associated with poor mental health. But high self-love has a positive effect on your well-being, mental fitness, and your relationships.


Why is self-love important?

Self-love is critical to our overall well-being. And despite what the perfectionists think, loving yourself doesn’t mean that you don’t hold yourself to a high standard. Without feeling positively towards ourselves, we may find it hard to be motivated. Many studies suggest that we need self-love in order to take action, take chances, and take on new opportunities.

Self-love helps us take care of ourselves, lower stress, and strive for success. But it also protects us from negative thoughts, self-sabotage, and pushing ourselves too far. It’s important to recognize that knowing what to say “no” to is just as important as learning when to say “yes.”

5 benefits of self-love

Self-love isn’t all touchy-feely. Well — okay, it is kinda touchy-feely, but its benefits are rooted in science. 

1. Lower stress, higher resilience

When we feel stressed, it’s generally because we don’t feel capable of living up to the challenges in front of us. When you have a strong sense of self-love, you’re better able to tackle challenges. Negative feelings and self-critical thoughts compound stress. When we feel good, though, it’s usually easier for us to problem-solve.

Self-love and self-compassion are directly linked. When we have a high sense of self-love, we’re able to look at challenges as temporary setbacks — or even as opportunities for growth. This attitude helps us become more resilient.

BetterUp’s research has found that coaching can help improve self-compassion by over 60%. And self-compassion has a marked impact on developing resilience.

Not only does self-compassion — and by extension, self-love — help us bounce back better, it keeps us mentally fit. More than 1,000 research studies have linked self-compassion to reduced psychopathy and improved well-being.


2. Willingness to take risks (the good kind)

When we’re willing to take risks, we do so because we have faith in ourselves. We know that we’ll be able to handle the outcome — whether we get what we want or not. A big part of that is self-trust, but it’s also a belief that you are worth the investment. 

Imagine this scenario — a loved one, like a child or best friend, wanted to try something new. If they shared their insecurities with you, would you tell them that they’re probably right and most likely going to fail? Or would you encourage them to take a chance anyway because you believe in all the reasons why it would work out?

When you love yourself, you’re able to identify both opportunities for growth and chances for you to shine. Risk-taking isn’t just about doing something that seems fun. It’s also about giving yourself the best possible chance to succeed. We won’t get far in life staying in our comfort zones.

3. Empathy

When we are able to see ourselves — and accept our strengths and weaknesses — with compassion and appreciation, we can also have compassion for others. This ability to hold space for other people’s struggles helps us to become more empathetic. In turn, empathy creates a stronger connection and a sense of belonging.

BetterUp found that one-on-one coaching improves empathy by over 40%. Improving empathy also improves your cognitive and psychological flexibility. You become better able to “step into someone else’s shoes.” In turn, this can also have a positive effect on your communication skills.

4. Self-efficacy

There are four components to self-efficacy. These include seeing other people succeed, having your own mastery experiences, and being affirmed by others. 

The last is feeling good about ourselves and our capabilities. When our self-love is high, we’re better able to take on new things. Developing trust in our own capabilities, plus a desire to be the best, are key building blocks of self-efficacy. In turn, this self-trust and faith in our own abilities helps us achieve our goals, challenge ourselves, and live our best lives

5. Setting boundaries

There’s a saying that a dishonest “yes” to something you don’t really want to do is an honest “no” to yourself. We often think that saying yes to everything and always willing to help is a virtue. However, a key part of self-love is knowing what to give your energy to — and what doesn’t serve you.


Are self-love and self-compassion the same thing?

Self-love and self-compassion aren’t quite the same thing, but they are strongly related to one another. 

Self-love has to do with whether or not you like yourself. It's your ability to find yourself worthy of trust, admiration, and care. Self-compassion, on the other hand, is our ability to forgive ourselves and be gentle with our mistakes. I would venture to say that although you can't have one without  the other, it takes something different to develop each. 

Put simply, we develop self-love by getting to know ourselves, while we develop self-compassion by being gentle with ourselves. This process of self-knowledge and self-discovery is a large part of what it takes to fall in love with ourselves.

We build self-compassion by forgiving ourselves for our mistakes and turning them into opportunities to learn. Once we develop self-love, self-compassion comes much more easily.

Ways to practice self-love

Practicing self-love goes beyond the surface. It takes both outer and Inner Work® to understand our value and feel good about ourselves. Here are some ways to develop and practice self-love in your own life:

1. Know thyself

In truth, there’s nothing wrong with the bath bombs, scented candles, and “me time” that get marketed to us as the “highest form or self-care.” The challenge is that we might start thinking it’s the most important kind of self-care. True self-care — and self-love — is about making investments in yourself that have nothing to do with your shopping cart.

Personally, I love a good massage, but I have friends that hate the idea of getting one. I could spend hours reading, while others might find that to be the most boring thing they could do. No one has the answer to the “right way” to take care of yourself (well, except you, of course).

Think of getting to know yourself like starting a new relationship. Whether you were making a friend, dating, or even taking care of a new houseplant, there would be a learning curve. You might ask questions, make notes on what works and what doesn’t, and try new things. You would be curious and engaged in learning to nurture this new relationship.

That sense of curious engagement is a great foundation for learning to love yourself. Start a journal, take up a new hobby, or take yourself on a date. When you start spending time learning about yourself and what you love to do, you’ll likely find yourself pretty darn lovable. 

2. Fish for compliments

Contrary to what you might’ve heard growing up, fishing for compliments isn’t a bad thing. Most of us have the tendency to toss away compliments instead of embracing and internalizing them. Get into the habit of embracing compliments, acknowledgments, and any other positive regard people wanna throw your way.

This might seem uncomfortable at first, and you may even have to practice it. One wonderful habit I got from a course with Regena Thomashauer was to respond with “Thank you, it’s true.” It’s surprisingly difficult to affirm and embrace a compliment instead of brushing it off.



3. Build self-care routines

Learning how to take care of yourself means building habits that support your well-being. Try a mini-reset (like the one above) when you feel like you need to recharge. You can also create a self-care plan for yourself.

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Published May 26, 2022

Allaya Cooks-Campbell

BetterUp Staff Writer

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