The practice of self-love isn't one-size fits all. Your body knows what it needs. Create your own practice by tapping into your emotions and listening to your body's signals.
Self-love is not a given. It’s a practice.
Self-love is the path to a happier, more meaningful life and deeper relationships. But we often think of it as something we simply have to remember to do—just love yourself and everything will be fine. But we rarely talk about how to love ourselves. What does it actually mean?
If we truly acted in self-loving ways all the time, would we have smoked that cigarette? Eaten way past feeling full? Said yes to that event we knew we really didn’t want to go to? We know how to take care of ourselves, and we still commit what a teacher of mine used to call crimes against reason—those actions we know are bad for us. Does that mean we don’t love ourselves and never will?
Some of us—the lucky ones, perhaps—seem to have self-love instilled in us from childhood. We know how to be good to ourselves and how to recognize relationships that are good for us. We don’t end up in bad relationships for way too long—because our own sense of self-love won’t let us. I believe folks who have this intuitive ability are in the minority.
Most of us learned some complicated lessons about love when we were children. Our parents tried their best, almost all of them, but that best may have involved some unresolved trauma, distraction, or the simplest and most common gift that we pass onto our children: our own failures and neuroses. If we didn’t see our parents loving themselves well in a way that also held space for us to be held (no small feat!), we likely didn’t learn how to do that for ourselves either.
That’s okay, because self-love is a practice. It’s a behavior. It’s not something you simply intuit and follow like the light at the end of the tunnel. You have to work at it—especially if you have some habits in your life that aren’t the most self-loving (though they might certainly help you get through the day).
I also don’t think self-love behaviors are one-size fits all. We know it’s smart to eat fruits and vegetables and go for a run three times a week, for example. But genuinely loving ourselves means showing up to what we actually need day to day, and those needs change depending on whether we are sick or well, happy or heartbroken, lonely or overwhelmed by others, even on the moon or the seasons. Self-loving practices include caring for the body we have that day and honoring what it needs. Self-love might mean eating Kraft Dinner and not going for a run today.
So the first aspect of self-love requires that we feel. That we learn to listen to our body’s signals of hunger and fullness. That we shower when we feel dirty, wash our clothes when the time comes. But then we must also tap into our emotions, which can be a little more challenging. What do we really need when we are sad? Angry? Joyful? Responding appropriately to our own emotional states is another deep practice in reparenting ourselves, in giving ourselves the loving attention we may not have had from our first caregivers.
Habit and routine are also vital self-love behaviors. While we must be careful that we’re not acting so habitually that we don’t pay attention to our body’s signals, the gentle routines of taking care every day means that when things go off the rails due to stress or grief, our self-loving routines are there like a safety net we don’t even have to think about.
Self-love is absolutely vital for our own happiness and our success in our relationships. But if we don’t have a ton of it today, that’s okay—it’s a practice that anyone can do. We simply need to start.
Read more about self-love practices: “5 Self-Love Exercises.”