If you want to fix a lack of self-love, you first need to be clear about how it differs from self-esteem. A Google search for self-love will bring up dozens of pages about self-esteem. The two are related but profoundly different, so pay attention.
Self-love is the ability to see ourselves in a positive light and have a genuine appreciation of who and what we are. It’s a very inwardly focused attitude. Self-esteem on the other hand is a very outwardly focused beast, much more to do with our actions and ability to achieve and succeed in the external world and to hold on to things, especially success. These things are not related to happiness, health, or love for ourselves or others and it’s entirely possible to have high self-esteem and low self-love.
Building self-esteem is important, but relatively useless and unsatisfying unless it is paired up with developing self-love or self-worth.
What is Self-Love?
Self-love has nothing to do with our external successes or our bank balance. It’s about our sense of value as a human being. You for you, stripped of external successes, the things you own, the number of Instagram or Facebook followers or likes you have and how much your neighbours like you. It’s about how much you value yourself regardless of your ability to succeed or not in the external world. Self-love is deeply connected to our state of mental health in a way that self-esteem never was. It’s vital to realise this and when our brain mixes up the difference between self-love and self-esteem (and it will), we need to keep pushing back.
Self-love encompasses our health, our sense of humour, our ability to be kind to ourselves and others, all our fears and insecurities and any flaws we might have. Self-love embraces our innate state of imperfection. If we were to use meditation terminology, self-love is the being mode to self-esteem’s doing mode.
As Nestell Bovee said, “Both our first and last love is self-love.” It’s not so hard to love yourself when things are going well in life, but much harder when life gets tough. This, however, is conditional love. Self-love is empathetic and completely okay with our flaws and our failures in life. It appreciates the good within us, unconditionally and takes no note of when we don’t live up to our sense of self-esteem.
The School of Self Love
Practicing self-love is a moment-by-moment decision based on our internal dialogue. This is where we need to begin. What is the state of your internal dialogue? Are you focusing on your fears and insecurities, worries about the future or regrets about the past? Do you feel bad about yourself when negative emotions come up? Do you fight or suppress them when they do, or do you embrace them and try to understand them? When we can learn to accept our emotional state and be okay with how we feel, we can allow those emotions to release and be transformed. We don’t have to be strong and positive all the time. It’s okay to have bad days, to be human.
Too often we are too hard on ourselves. We try to live up to self-limiting ideas about who and what we should be and do. Gaining a sense of self-love out of all of that is tough, especially so when we fail to live up to our expectations for ourselves. I often say to my students that if we were to watch someone treating someone else the way that we routinely treat ourselves, we would be utterly appalled. We are so hard on ourselves, so much of the time. This is a way of relating to ourselves that we need to break, firstly by recognising that our sense of self-worth is not built on what we can do and achieve, but on our own innate goodness as a human being and secondly, it’s perfectly okay to fall short of the ridiculously exacting standards we routinely impose upon ourselves. Can we learn to be as kind to ourselves as we would to our parents or children or a very dear friend?