Many people point to a researcher named Morris Rosenburg as the originator of self-love in its modern understanding. In 1965, Rosenberg developed a scale to determine how much each subject held themselves in esteem. It’s been translated into countless languages and is still used in studies today.
While perhaps in the social sciences, Rosenburg set the standard, ideas of the self and loving yourself have been around for a long time. Philosophers like David Hume, the Scottish enlightenment philosopher, pondered these ideas. Psychoanalysts like Freud, Jung, and Heinz Kohut thought and wrote extensively about it.
Regardless of where it came from, it has been wholly adopted into modern culture. There seems to be a general ethos that loving yourself is the most necessary step in self-actualization and living up to your full potential.
Self-love is such an essential concept in the modern world that most people already know what it is. They might not articulate it or understand how to practice self-love every day or even practice self-love in a relationship.
What Does Self-Love Mean?
In 1965, Rosenburg said that “self-esteem refers to an individual overall positive evaluation of the self.” That seems like a pretty broad but encompassing definition that fits with today’s general understanding of self-esteem.
While this may satisfy a scientist, most people still wonder, “what is self-love, really?” We don’t just want the definition. We want to learn how to improve self-love for ourselves in a practical sense.
How Do You Find Self-Love?
Loving yourself is an ongoing emotional and spiritual process. There is no one answer for how to self-love or how to develop self-love. The journey varies from person to person.
These steps to finding self-love from cognitive behavioral therapy can be a useful starting point:
Route out which situations, environments or relationships seem to deflate your sense of self-esteem. This could mean work presentations, crises, challenges within certain relationships or significant life changes.
Develop mindfulness for those things that make you feel deflated. Focus on listening to the thoughts and feeling the feelings that come up when you are in those challenging situations. Notice what you tell yourself, and ask yourself if it is true or if you would talk like that to the people you love in your life.
Start to deconstruct the negative thoughts you have about yourself. Interrogate them, test them out and really see how illogical they can be. This is a challenging step because often, our longest-held beliefs are the hardest to truly investigate.
Develop more helpful and loving beliefs. This is, of course, a long and challenging process. Still, it can help to start with cultivating hopefulness, forgiving yourself for your failures, avoiding saying “should” or “must,” focusing on the positive, encouraging yourself and not judging yourself for having negative thoughts.
Go back to step one and continue to identify what situations make you feel bad about yourself. Pay attention to your thoughts once you’ve specified them.
Take a step back. Repeat your negative thoughts over and over again, write them down or envision them as being written out on some object far from you. This takes the focus off of changing your thoughts and helps you to see them more clearly.
- Accept that you have these thoughts. Part of loving yourself is accepting that you might not like parts of yourself at the moment. Focus on letting your thoughts just be thoughts. They don’t need to be acted on, managed or messed with.
Alongside this process, make sure you take care of yourself. Eat healthy, delicious meals. Drink water. Live a life that you enjoy. Interact with people who make you happy!
Why Is Self-Love Important?
Self-love is important because life is hard. There are many ups and downs. People reject us, or plans don’t turn out the way they should. In one moment, our whole lives could change.
When you have practices in place to give yourself love and ways of seeing not just the negatives in your life, you become a more resilient and kind person.
Cultivating self-love is also a conscious choice to get to know yourself on a deeper level. People who practice it are clearer about who they are, what they value and what they think. They are also more aware of how they react in challenging situations and act not just on their first impulse.
What Does Self-Love Feel Like?
Self-love is the feeling of holding yourself in high esteem. Think of someone who is very close to you, like a friend or romantic partner. Think about how much they mean to you and what you love about them.
Feeling that pouring of love for yourself instead of for someone else — whatever that means for you — is what self-love feels like.
Read: Self Pleasure Guide
What Does Self-Love Look Like?
Self-love can look different for many different people. Some examples of how it can look are:
- Having positive self-talk
- Making your needs a priority
- Being able to pause your self-judgment
- Listening to yourself and acting upon it
- Having healthy relationships
- Being able to forgive yourself if you make a mistake
- Engaging in self-care habits like exercising, eating healthy, appreciating your body and connecting to your creativity
How Long Does It Take To Find Self-Love?
Self-care is an ongoing process. It takes a lot of mindfulness and awareness to show yourself love, forgiveness and grace continually. Don’t worry about how long your process is taking, and focus on enjoying the journey. It gets easier with practice.
How Do You Master Self-Love?
Practice, practice, practice. The best way to improve self-love is to practice!
Cultivating the required mindfulness just takes time. Going to talk therapy can also help uncover what thoughts or habits you have that no longer serve you.
Perhaps you may never feel like you have fully mastered self-love, but maybe you practice it every day. Part of self-love itself is loving all the parts of yourself. Especially those parts that you cannot control.
How To Develop Self-Love In A Relationship?
Self-love starts with you.
Letting your partner know that you are on this new journey to love yourself will help them support you in that. Other than cultivating healthy boundaries and giving you moral support, your partner should let you go on this journey solo. This is between you and you. This doesn’t mean you need to shut your partner out. But it does mean you’ll want to prioritize yourself — including your own goals and interests, and yes, maybe even your own physical pleasure — as much as you prioritize your care for your partner.
Self-Love and Sex
To be sexually healthy, you must self-accept and be clearly aware of your sexual desires and interests. Knowing your body's limits is self-love and accepting your body is part of the process.
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Learn Over And Over Again
A lot of people think self-love is about making a decision to love yourself. In reality, it’s deciding to act like you love yourself over and over again. And if you do that, you’ll find more and more that your thoughts and feelings align with your actions. That is how you cultivate self-love.
Introduction to the Psychology of Self-Esteem. (October 2016). Nova Science Publisher.
David Hume. David Hume Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Self Psycology. (2016). Good Therapy.
Self-Love and What It Means. (February 2020). Brain & Behavior Research Foundation.
Self-esteem: Take steps to feel better about yourself. (July 2020). Mayo Clinic.