Self-Love: How To Love Yourself First Without Feeling Guilty

Self-love is appreciating and caring for your own needs, wants, and desires. It is not about being self-centered and doing things for personal gain at the expense of others. It is about making time and taking care to replenish your inner resources and refresh your mind’s energies.

You know what airlines staff advise us at take-off: “Should the cabin lose pressure, oxygen masks will drop from the overhead area. Please place the mask over your own mouth and nose before assisting others.”

They warn you that if you do not put on your mask as the priority, you will very likely drop unconscious within seconds and not help anyone.

Another interesting finding from science is, if you cannot love yourself, you will find it hard to love others. Love begins with you. Love yourself first because the river that dies kills all its fish.

love yourself without guilt

“If you love yourself, you love everybody else as you do yourself. As long as you love another person less than you love yourself, you will not really succeed in loving yourself.”

– Meister Eckhart, The Art of Loving, Eric Fromm

How To Love Yourself Without Any Guilt?

The purpose of self-love is to love yourself as much as you love your best friend. Self-love is simple as treating yourself with the same compassion and kindness that you show to a loved one when they make a mistake.

Studies suggest self-love can help you improve your sleep, dietary habits, and coping with stress. Experts say the more you love yourself, the better your self-esteem, romantic capability, and survival chances. People who love themselves find it easy to start healthy habits, like exercising daily and building meaningful social connections.

Self-love also strengthens your resilience and makes it easier to bounce out of troubled times.

Let’s repeat: You do not have to be a narcissist to love yourself. You only have to get over your shame to learn to love yourself.

And it is easy to do if you follow these steps:

1. Show Unconditional Self-Acceptance

Self-acceptance means being entirely content with one’s present self. It is an unconditional act. We do not attach any qualifiers to our flaws or weaknesses to accept ourselves wholeheartedly.

Self-acceptance is a self-agreement to appreciate, embrace, and support oneself as is. We choose to accept and endorse all parts of ourselves, including the negative parts, not just the positive ones.

Most of us consider ourselves conditionally acceptable, often because of our critical parents. We grow up viewing many aspects of ourselves unfavorably and internalize these as false self-beliefs of a negative or failed person. This predisposes us toward self-criticism, which strengthens as we turn older.

Self-acceptance is the realization that, as human beings, we have both strengths and weaknesses. We were not born as Gods. So, we make many mistakes — small, big, and huge. We often do things in our life we are not proud of. At some point in our lives, we all falter and fail.

Unconditional self-acceptance of this universal truth is your first step. Practicing mindfulness can help build our attitude of self-acceptance.

2. Reduce And Eliminate Perfectionism

Perfectionism is an unrelenting desire to be or appear to be flawless. It is a personality style marked by one’s preoccupation with aiming for flawlessness in their project while evaluating oneself critically and worrying about other people’s opinions of them.

Studies show, at the core of perfectionism lie fear and insecurity. Perfectionists often dread letting go of their meticulousness as they think it would harm their performance and reputation.

Perfectionism is a self-defeating way to navigate the intricacies of life. Mistakes are an essential part of growing, learning, and being human. But a perfectionist attitude makes allowing and acknowledging mistakes difficult.

Experts link perfectionism to a slew of clinical issues, including depression and anxiety (even in children), self-harm, social anxiety disorder and agoraphobia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic fatigue syndrome, insomnia, chronic headaches, and even suicide.

Ultimately, it is a pointless exercise trying to become the perfect persons — or shape our work into perfect pieces of craftsmanship. Perfectionism never succeeds. It fails us because it never ends. It does not let us enjoy the fulfillment of our achievements. Perfectionism can even lead to a habit of procrastination.

So, let go of perfectionism. Tell yourself, “Stop it,” and move on to the next important thing.

3. Always Remember Self-compassion

Self-compassion means — being caring and understanding towards yourself, not judging, criticizing, or punishing yourself, neither hiding nor brooding over difficult emotions.

So, open your heart and let yourself be kind to your own self. Treat yourself with kindness, empathy, and compassion. Self-compassion is being kind to yourself in the face of difficult situations and personal failures.

Self-compassionate people have more happiness, optimism, satisfaction in their lives. They also come out higher on emotional intelligence, wisdom, and resilience.

So, instead of being one of those who criticize themselves, be of the ones who are kind to themselves.

4. Stop Comparing Yourself To Others

Please stop comparing yourself with others — their lifestyles, their possessions, their friends and relationships, their social influence, their education and post, their qualities, and their luck.

Comparisons result in resentment towards yourself and others and make you unhappy. They are the quickest way to feel less happy and less loved by yourself.

Live up to your own goals and rules. Stop being sensitive to other people’s criticisms since they might compare themselves to form their negative opinions.

As Ted Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

When everyone else is doing what they think will make them happy, it is easy to slip into the same old patterns, where you constantly compare yourself to others and your life to theirs. The truth is people are different, and what you mostly see are their happiest selves.

So, if you want to be happier and love yourself more, stop comparing yourself to others. When you focus intensely on yourself, you open up to a plethora of possibilities to be happy.

How To Talk To Yourself With Love?

Do not fall for this trap of telling yourself that if you don’t love yourself, who else will. Because someday, you may realize that it is possible for you to love others while depriving yourself of it. Worse, you may start believing that since you do not love yourself, possibly nobody else in the world can love you.

Instead, a few things you could say to yourself to proclaim self-love are:

  • “I’m only being human. Humans make mistakes. It’s okay.”
  • “I already tried to give it a reasonable shape. I shouldn’t try to perfect it now.”
  • “I care about myself. That isn’t being selfish because I care about others too.”
  • “It’s fair to love me, as it helps me empathize and bond with my partner better.”
  • “I can sit with my emotional self in love and concern, as I’d do with my best friend.”

You could set one of these messages as reminders on your smartphone to buzz you at different times of the day.

Why You Can’t Seem To Love Yourself?

Self-love often seems difficult because of a deep-seated feeling of shame originating from the fear that loving oneself might allow others to judge them as selfish or narcissistic.

Let’s explore how it might have evolved. You probably stopped loving yourself when somebody told you self-love was selfish. You argued against it. But even then, it found its way deep into your unconscious. From that point, you started your walk through life believing it was wrong to love yourself.

  • First, you felt a little guilty about loving yourself.
  • Your guilt grew into a toxic shame.
  • You stopped seeing yourself as your friend.
  • You could not forgive your mistakes.
  • You started to blame and criticize yourself.
  • You even lost most of your empathy for yourself.
  • Started judging yourself harshly and obsessing over your wrongs.
  • Then came the self-flagellation and self-punishments.

Somewhere along, you even crossed the line. You kept yourself up without sleep for 48 hours straight. You made yourself go with no food for two days. Everything that was any fun in your life, you pulled yourself away from them all.

Remember, it started from guilt — a self-conscious emotion involving negative self-evaluation, and feelings of distress and failure.

It might not be you. It might be someone else that you know who’s going through this. And you don’t know how to help. It’s a tragedy of our times that so many of us do not know how to help those who fall out of love with their own selves.

That is perhaps an irony too. We can help patch up two different people, but we cannot show them how to patch up with themselves. Again, it is because of the same guilt we carry in our minds — the catastrophic myth that self-love is selfish love.

Why Should You Love Yourself First?

We should love ourselves as a priority because it improves our relationships with others. According to research, those who felt greater compassion for themselves reported higher levels of satisfaction in their relationships.

In their 2006 study, psychologists Murray, Holmes, and Collins found that those who do not respect themselves also react with anger and hostility towards their partners. Two other studies (here and here) found people who criticize themselves do not trust their partners as much. These people also had dissatisfaction in their relationships and had difficulty being intimate.

In 2014, University of Texas psychologists Neff and Beretvas got 104 couples to agree to take an online survey. For this, it promised them two free movie tickets each. In the survey, they went through a test on a lot of things, like their self-compassion, self-esteem, control, autonomy, verbal aggression, relationship satisfaction.

Overall, it was a batch of around 170 questions. I know what’s going on in your head – that is a hefty price to pay for two movie tickets.

But the results Neff and Beretvas pulled out after analyzing the data from these couples’ responses were heartening.

Those who felt more compassion towards themselves had better satisfaction in their relationships. They cared for and supported their partners more. These people did not try to control their partners as much and gave them more space. They also showed less verbal hostility towards them.

In a sentence, they had more positivity in their relationships.

So, if you want more romance and security in your relationships, make sure you are more kind to yourself too.

Final Words

I bet it has happened with you when you go into a day feeling grumpy without being able to pinpoint how you got that way. Sometimes, you might have got to the point when you are rough to your partner for no fault of theirs. And they wondered, often aloud, what was wrong with you.

Your feelings are there to tell you what is right or what is wrong in your life. Your emotions contain many key messages. But if you are too busy moving ahead, pushing yourself aside, you may end up missing all of those cues. So, sit beside yourself, and listen to the messages your emotions are trying to deliver.

Do not ignore that person who does not leave you wherever you go. You could be keeping yourself away from the greatest love you can ever have a claim on.

Love the person that is you, yourself, without any guilt.

Book To Read: In her brilliant book The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown emphasizes that above all other ingredients of living an emotionally healthy life is the importance of loving ourselves.

✶ Check out our post on how to be happy in a day, using authentic strategies from science.

how to be happy

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Did you know “following your passion” is always NOT the bridge to reach where you want to be?
What succeeds better is curiosity—find out more about how curiosity fuels success.

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Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy—a medical doctor, psychology writer, happiness researcher. Founder and chief editor of The Happiness Blog. Writes popular science articles on happiness, positive psychology, and related topics.

• We are Happiness Project.

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