Love is not something that anyone else can grant us. It can be shared with us, but it is not something conditional upon it being given.
Because of this, practicing self-love is a powerful way of exploring our inner source of love, acceptance, and compassion. If we are not yet in an intimate relationship with another, the one we have with ourselves is worthy of our fullest devotion.
Practicing self-love is not about attaining or achieving something; it is about seeing what is already there.
In a sense, you could say that rather than practicing anything, self-love is about opening to what is unconditionally present. Each made of the same universal energy, we are all worthy of love, light, and happiness – beginning with that we feel and express through our own hearts.
But why then do many of us struggle to feel the love that spiritual teachings indicate we already are?
Due to a range of external factors, largely rooted in early childhood experience and cultural or societal conditioning, it is not uncommon for us to struggle with unconditional self-love. As children, many of us were sent messages that led us to believe that:
- We are not good enough if we do not meet an intelligence standard
- We are not worthy enough if we do not hold a certain type of beauty
- We will not be accepted unless we do what we are told
- We will not be loved if we speak our truths
None of this is to blame someone or something outside of ourselves for our inability to hold ourselves with unconditional acceptance; those that came before us also hold the same patterns of conditioning that we received (sometimes, even less nurturing).
Rather, by noting some of these unconscious beliefs we’ve adopted over time – without judgment and without condemnation – we start to find it within ourselves to undo these tangled ways of being.
As we do so, we start to uncover a genuine sense of care, compassion, and kindness towards ourselves. We become better able to honor and nurture the inner child that perhaps did not receive the unconditional love we so deserve.
From here, the relationships we hold on the outside have less weight; peace, contentment, and happiness begin to arise from within with grace. When (or if) we go on to experience intimate relationships outside of ourselves, we come into them already feeling whole. It becomes easier to share love rather than to expect it.
In the words of psychologist, author, and meditation teacher Tara Brach:
By regarding ourselves with kindness, we begin to dissolve the identity of an isolated, deficient self. This creates the grounds for including others in an unconditionally loving heart.
How To Harness Our Inner Capacity For Self-love?
The first step of opening to self-love is in realizing that any negative, limiting, or hurtful beliefs we hold about ourselves are not true. Even if we are unsure of how to soften, release, or change them all together, calling them into question is where we begin this journey.
From here, there are a range of self-loving initiatives we can take:
1. Practice Loving Kindness Meditation (LKM)
Numerous loving kindness practices exist that can help us reconnect with our grounded, compassionate, and accepting center.
Metta (loving kindness) meditations come from the Buddhist tradition and invite us to compassionately witness and embrace ourselves before extending that love outwards to others.
We can practice this by taking a moment to come into a comfortable, seated position. Closing the eyes, take a moment to ground through a few slow and steady breaths. Then, bring your attention to your own being; hold yourself in your open awareness.
Holding ourselves with love, patience, kindness, and compassion, we can then silently whisper to ourselves:
- May I be happy.
- May I be loved.
- May I be safe.
- May I be at peace.
After slowly repeating these words three times each, we can extend this love out to a loved one, to an acquaintance, to someone we have difficulties with, and then to the entire world.
This practice helps us to cultivate our sense of self-nurturance first, enabling us to authentically share it with those around us.
2. Mind Your Emotions With Care
Mindfulness of our emotions is another way we can deepen our sense of unconditional self-love and acceptance.
Often, when challenging thoughts and feelings arise, we add extra suffering to our experience by letting the mind take over.
Curious and compassionate mindful observation of our inner waves invites us to view our emotions and feelings from a broader lens. To do so, we might ask:
- What does this emotion feel like within the body?
- Can I watch this come and go without adding a story to it?
- What beliefs do I hold about this situation that are adding to my suffering?
As we practice this, we start to find a growing sense of resilience. Our reliance on some outside circumstance to bring us peace is softened as we come to sit patiently and curiously with our innermost experience.
3. Embrace Alone Time As A Gift
Furthermore, if we are struggling to accept our current ‘relationship status’, believing that being in a partnership would be ‘better’, we will want to take a closer look at this belief.
While being single brings its upsides and its downsides, so too does being in partnership. So, instead of focusing on what we don’t have, we can practice gratitude for the gifts of our current circumstance.
Some gifts of being single include:
- Time and space to self-explore without compromise
- An opportunity to become more resilient, self-reliant, and self-nourishing
- Freedom to spend our time and energy as we please
This does not mean we should push aside other challenging thoughts and feelings; however, where we are overly focused on what we don’t have, turning to what we do have is of great benefit. It might encourage us to ask ourselves:
If or when I am in a relationship down the road, what will I have hoped I’d have done with my personal time now?
4. Release Limiting Notions About Perfection
During this descent into the pool of self-love, it is important we remind ourselves to surrender any ideas we have about what this looks like.
The mind tends to idealize or romanticize what certain things will look or feel like – self-love included. Self-love does not mean we will never doubt ourselves. It does not mean will be immune to difficult emotions.
By softening what we ‘think’ self-love looks like, we let go of the idea that it exists in the future. Instead, can we turn towards the present moment and discover a sense of self-acceptance now, here in this moment, without clinging to it?
Furthermore, some of our greatest acts of self-love will arise alongside our feelings of failure, defeat, or grief.
For instance, if now or at some point we are feeling insecurity and great sadness because a romantic partner has left, we can still practice self-love by embracing ourselves unconditionally, holding our own hearts as we navigate the rough terrain.
This is when we need it most.
What If We Are Already In A Relationship?
Many of us are already in committed or intimate relationships. For some of us, self-love is cultivated routinely, or even becomes second nature. For others, we flounder beneath waves of harsh words and feelings directed towards ourselves.
What do we do then?
We can still practice all of the above – relationships or not. However, rather than embracing alone time as a gift, can we embrace our relationship as an opportunity for growth? This is where we might start.
1. Embrace Partnership For Its Exposure Of Our Shadows
When we are in relationship with another, we will undoubtedly be exposed to all the ways in which we struggle to love ourselves. This is both the blessing and the challenge of intimate relationships – they bring everything undealt with to the surface.
But rather than focusing on feelings of frustration and anger in regards to our challenges, we can consider where we might be urged to evolve.
For instance, if a partner is persistently unkind and hurtful, can we take this as an opportunity to stand up for our own being and leave an abusive situation? Is walking away safely (seeking support if needed) an act of self-love?
Alternatively, where disagreements and challenges are not abusive, we can take a closer look at how we might embrace a new way of being with our partner.
For instance, if jealousy is causing grief or unease within our relationship, we can use our awareness of this to practice loving kindness and self-inquiry. With patience, compassion, and support, we might slowly undo old habits that no longer serve us or our relationships.
2. Balance Togetherness And Space
Being in partnership provides an opportunity for mutual support and shared experience. However, we can practice self-love by creating alone time for ourselves as needed. When we are alone, we gain the chance to check-in with ourselves:
- How are we feeling?
- Are we taking the time to self-care?
- Are we remembering to put energy into our passions, projects, and personal evolution?
Each relationship carries its own dynamic – a dynamic that can also shift from time to time. Balancing togetherness with personal space requires us to authentically and honestly check-in with what we feel the relationship – and we as individuals – need in any given moment.
Both togetherness and space can be acts of self-care; through the intuitive heart, we discover what is required at any moment.
3. Practice Patience – With Self And With Others
Again, self-love is not about perfection. Practicing patience with ourselves and with our partner is a compassionate way of supporting this inner (and often messy) exploration.
Both ourselves and our partner (or future partner) will undoubtedly bring past scars into the present. Through kindness, loving attention, and patient presence, we create space for the old to unravel itself so that our unconditional self-loving hearts can come to light.
Love is already here.
As you move through this journey into greater embodiment of self-love, remember that the love you seek is already here. It is unconditional of relationship status, rising from within rather than being granted by someone or something beyond ourselves.
At any moment, we can reconnect with its presence – beginning in or continuing on from this very moment.
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Author Bio: Gillian Florence Sanger is a yoga and meditation teacher, writer, and poet. She writes primarily about mindfulness, spirituality, and self-development. A list of her published works can be found here on her website. Follow her on Instagram.
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