Self-Love: Why it's So Hard and How to Get There

Published on March 14, 2023

By Jillian Martino, CAT-LP

What is Self-Love?

So, what is self-love? We all talk about it and influencers constantly preach about it. But what exactly is self-love? Why do we all want it? Most importantly, how do we get there? Self-love is the practice of having a positive attitude towards yourself. The main ingredient of self-love is learning to accept and appreciate yourself for who you are and understanding your worth and value. When you are actively engaging in self-love, you are able to have a healthy relationship with yourself and take care of your emotional, physical, and mental wellbeing. Loving yourself is about being kind and compassionate to yourself, as well as recognizing and honoring your needs.

Finding, accepting, and loving yourself is the best thing you can do for your own growth and mental health. When you love yourself, you truly understand yourself. Learning to love yourself also helps us go after what we want, because we finally know what we deserve, making life more fulfilling.

For a lot of us this sounds great on paper but sounds as realistic to us as wizards and warlocks. So, this begs the question, how do we learn to love ourselves when we were taught against it from birth? This blog will explore that exact thing. Before we can make you a self-love master, we need to talk about what is blocking and making loving yourself so hard.

The Impossible Task of Self Love

Loving yourself doesn’t come naturally to all of us. Even though it’s something we are all capable of, some of us find it harder than others to unconditionally love ourselves. I myself was one of those people, knowing firsthand how hard it can be. I have also learned also how to move through the high and lows that come with this journey.  

Self-love can be difficult because we often have trouble accepting ourselves as we are and recognizing our own worth. It can be difficult to practice self-love when we are surrounded by messages from society that tell us that we are not enough or that we need to compare ourselves to others, not to mention the standards we set for ourselves or from our families. We cannot have self-love without acknowledging our own unique strengths, challenges, vulnerabilities-accepting ourselves in spite of our “imperfections”. It requires us to focus on our needs, and not feel selfish or guilty for taking care of ourselves. It's not easy, but with practice, self-love can become one of the easiest and most rewarding parts of our life. Let’s breakdown some of the common reasons people struggle with self-love: 

 What you think is self-love isn’t realistic… 

Sometimes loving yourself is hard because we have an unrealistic definition of self-love. Have you ever taken a moment to think about what it means to you to love yourself??  If you are anything like me, you believe self-love is some giant overly indulgent act of kindness to yourself, and frankly who has time for that? Not me. Where was I supposed to fit in an hour of self-care with my schedule? I loved a “Treat-yo self” moment, but it fit better in Parks and Recreation than in my world. 

The problem was I didn’t understand that self-love isn’t something I needed to carve time out for, but a mindset that I could carry throughout my day.

It’s not about blocking out an hour to have a bath or get a facial (although this is a great way to give yourself some love and care), but rather it is embedded in all of the actions you take throughout the day. Starting as early as the moment we wake up. 

The truth is caring for ourselves begins with how we speak to ourselves: 

  • Self-love is saying kind things about yourself.
  • Self-love is praising yourself for all that you do.
  • Self-love is affirming that you’re worthy. 

It can be hard to be positive, especially when we are used to being negative with ourselves. Trust me even, I’m still working on it, but you can begin to bring in more self-love by canceling out some of the negativity with positive affirmations. Here are a few affirmations that I love: 

  • I accept myself for who I am.
  • I accept myself for where I’m at 
  • I love myself unconditionally. 
  • I am loveable. 

Some fun ways I like to include affirmations into my life is by writing them on my mirror or by setting reminders on your phone, so they pop up in the day. Setting them as your phone background is also another fun easy way to make affirmations a staple in your life. 

Learning to love yourself is about being mindful of the choices we make throughout the day and paying attention to how our choices affect our wellbeing. 

2. You are hardwired to have a negative bias for yourself.

Most humans struggle with shame, which is one of the largest reasons we have trouble loving ourselves. Shame keeps us focused on the “should ofs”, “could ofs”, and “buts” of our life. Shame is the voice in our head saying we are never enough, and we can always do better. It keeps us focused on our past failures and not where we are right now. Shame’s main goal is to convince us we are not worthy of love. For a lot of us, shame can be very convincing. 

We experience shame when we feel a sense of guilt, humiliation, and/or embarrassment around who we are.  Oftentimes, it is connected to the belief that we are failing to meet social expectations or our own personal standards. It makes us feel unworthy or inadequate and can lead to a laundry list of negative feelings such as depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. It is important to recognize the difference between guilt and shame, as guilt is often a sign of healthy self-reflection and accountability, while shame can be damaging in the long run. Guilt is, "I'm sorry I made a mistake” while shame is, “I’m sorry, I am a mistake.”

Before I learned to love myself, I was the queen of self-deprecation.

The truth is that it is easy to fixate on all of the things we’ve ever done wrong and go over all the ways in which we wish it was different for the rest of our lives. However, our thoughts can’t change the past. All we can do is accept that we’re human and sometimes. We may not like who we were or things we have done. If anything, that is even more reason to send that little you love. In the wise words of Rupaul “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?” Can I get a hell yeah?? Self-love means showing up and presenting yourself to the world fully without fear or shame. The truth is that it can only come from you!

For as long as I could remember I would look back to the decisions I made in my late teens and think “Girly what were we thinking?” I would berate myself for all that I was, and all of the things I thought I should have been that I clearly wasn't reaching.  The truth is that I was powered by a whole lot of shame. No matter what I did, I was never enough, and my family was really good at reminding me of that exact thing. 

Dealing with Shame

It was easy for me to live in this space of shame. It was all I knew and was fed to me in so many areas of my life (but we’ll get into that in a further section). Shame is hard, but it took me actively choosing to make a difference, to change the narrative of what I had been telling myself, and finally seeing myself for who I am and not who I thought I was. Sometimes you have to draw a hard line in the sand and decide you deserve better than being your own bully. I needed to choose to love myself in every form- especially the parts that felt so impossible to deal with. 

3. The War between Acceptance and Perfectionism 

It can be hard for us to love ourselves because how we feel about ourselves is based on what others think of us. This can become our mentality for many reasons, such as:  

  • Growing up in a household where love is conditional.
  • Being mistreated in a romantic relationship
  • Someone has said something horrible to you.
  • Social media and comparing ourselves to others.
  • Struggles with perfectionism. 

We were all born worthy and loveable, however over time along the way we collect a narrative from other people that we aren’t all these things. As we experience negative situations/interactions, it can affect us and damage our self-worth. 

This lack of self-worth leads to us becoming our harshest critics-and start to focus on our flaws and scrutinizing our flaws to no end.

We end up being a perfectionist and start comparing ourselves to others, asking ourselves why we aren't thinner, prettier or smarter. In some areas, being a perfectionist can be a good thing, but when it comes to ourselves, it’s a losing battle. You’re not a project, and ‘perfectionism’ doesn’t exist. However, many of us get stuck on feeling as though we need to be perfect by society standards, or unrealistic standards we or our families have set for us. For many of us, our parents, teachers, or other significant people around us have told us who and what we should be from a young age. You might have thought that you’ve needed to be financially stable, a certain weight, or in a relationship in order to be worthy. 

Avoid Unhealthy Comparisons

It can become very easy to get stuck in the loop of comparing ourselves to others, especially with the unattainable perfectly photoshopped bodies we see on social media and the external expectations that have been set for us by society. All these comparisons do is keep us stuck in an endless cycle of not fully seeing ourselves and accepting ourselves for who we are. 

4. You think self-love is selfish… 

Okay so let’s talk about one of the biggest misconceptions around self-love. 

Self-love is entirely selfless. Loving yourself does not harm anyone, but what it does is make you a better friend, partner and colleague. Why? Because when we love ourselves, we are happier. We show up for ourselves, go after what we deserve, and never accept anything less.

After I was able to stop telling myself that I was selfish for loving myself, a change happened. People in my life started to comment on how I seemed lighter, happier, and more me. I started attracting healthier friends and partners. I finally not only knew who I was but loved who I was, and the right people noticed.

It may sound narcissistic to focus on loving yourself first. But it’s not. The point isn’t to believe you’re better than others, or to accept things about yourself that you really do need to change. It’s about developing a healthy and nurturing relationship with you!

Self-Love Mastery 

The act of loving ourselves is our birthright and brings you to the life you are dreaming of. We are the key to having everything we want, but first we have to believe we are deserving of it. Like the saying goes, “Love yourself first and everything else falls into place.”

 Self-love is essential for a healthy and balanced life. It means understanding your needs and feelings, and responding to them in a positive, adaptive way.

Here are some tips on how to practice self-love during your day to day:

  • Practice positive self-talk. You deserve it! Don’t forget our affirmations!
  • Spend time engaged in activities that make you feel good.  Surround yourself with people who don’t judge you and accept you unconditionally, no matter where you are in life. 
  • Take care of your physical health. Eat a balanced diet, get regular exercise, and remember to rest when you need to.
  • Let go of perfectionism. Remember being perfect isn’t real, and being human is one of the most beautiful things we can be. Mistakes help us grow, so lean into them. 
  • Celebrate yourself whenever you can. Acknowledge your accomplishments and take pride in them.
  • Set healthy boundaries! Don’t be scared to say “no” when you need to and be clear about your needs and wants.

Learning to love ourselves is an ongoing process. It takes time, effort, and lots of patience. But it’s worth it and mostly you’re worth it. Self-love will bring you more joy and happiness in life, and it’s something that we all deserve. I know it may feel impossible, but you are capable! <3 Jillian Martino, CAT-LP

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