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Unconditional Self-Love: Five Practical Ways to Love Yourself When You Can't

Updated: Jun 12

I didn’t mean to lose my cool, but it happened anyway.


There I stood, fists balled, screaming at the person in front of me. The worst words. The harshest contempt.  


At first, she looked shocked, then dismayed. Here we go again.


Worst of all it wasn’t a stranger before me, but someone I love. Or someone I’m supposed to love.


It was me.


The fight was a silent one, raging in my head, the gun pointed at the reflection in the mirror.



Why Is it So Hard to Love Ourselves?

Our greatest barrier to self-love exists between our ears. Our brains are like library stacks of bad books stuffed with lies. About who we are, what we deserve, what we’re allowed.


This is our conditioning. Though none of it is true, it feels very true.


I recently cancelled a workshop I was leading because I was/am grieving. I knew it was the kindest, most self-loving thing to do, but the self-judgement was fierce. I felt guilty and afraid I would be seen as a flake, someone not serious about her work.


Sometimes this is what happens when we choose authenticity.


This morning, I sat at my laptop forcing myself to write the post I had scheduled for this week. But my heart wasn’t in it.


I sat there willing myself to get it together, to try harder, to push through. Tension and anxiety thrummed in my body. The hammer of my mind kept coming down, striking blindly, its only goal to get me back in line.


Again, I was trying to write about authenticity in a completely inauthentic way.


I closed my laptop, closed my eyes and tried to come back to myself.


What if I didn’t force it? What if I needed to write about something different or NOT WRITE ANYTHING AT ALL?


No! my mind said. Unacceptable! You post every Thursday. That’s the schedule YOU set. Are you serious about this endeavor or not?


Then, in an impressive display of opportunism, my mind launched the grand attack: You always give up before you can succeed. Talk about self-sabotage. You’re just scared aren’t you. Are you going to let fear rule you? This is WEAK! Where’s your power now?


(Thanks, mind, for using my own personal growth language against me. Well played.)


I lived my first forty years adhering to these standards. I didn’t ask my body if it was tired; I did whatever rigorous workout was on the schedule. I didn’t wait for inspiration; I followed the rubric. I didn’t follow my gut; I followed what was expected.


I did not trust what was inside me. Instead, I relied on external advice, expertise and structure. Diet plans, exercise plans and self-help books were my holy grail.


I prided myself on my discipline and determination. Rigidity was my safety and my pride.

My emotions were an inconvenience, my heart a liability. My willy-nilly creative side was a pain in my ass.


I didn’t give myself an inch, let alone allow myself whatever I needed. I was held together with rules and striving. My worth came from short-lived achievement and compliance. Only then would I consider being nice to myself.


I was such a tyrant to myself. Sometimes I still am.


This is my conditioning. It runs deep. It runs wide. And it does not go away quietly.


What Self-Love Is and What It’s Not

I’m a lot nicer to myself than I used to be.


But there I was, in a showdown with my reflection in the mirror. All my progress out the window.


What’s happening here? Am I missing something?




Cultivating self-love is a fluid process. We WILL forget sometimes. We will abandon ourselves in the beginning. Some days we will believe our conditioning or be consumed with shame. We will make mistakes and regret something we said or did.

But what if we could find love for ourselves even in that?


Self-love is a practice of meeting ourselves where we are. Even when we are somewhere we don’t want to be. Even in our messy, human imperfection. It's about allowing.


Perhaps it's how we treat ourselves when we don't like ourselves that matters most.

small pink hearts


Self-love is not about high-vibing all the time. It is not something we grant ourselves only when we feel worthy, when we’ve achieved something, when we behaved in a certain way.


(That is conditional self-approval, NOT self-love).


Self-love cannot exist inside rigidity, perfectionism or control. Instead, it is the antidote to these things. It is our medicine, the path to healing.


Self-love can be sunshiny and warm, adoring and celebratory.


It can also look like:


-       being on our own side and having our own back.

-       soothing ourselves when we are scared.

-       supporting our strength to move through fear, rather than forcing ourselves violently forward.

-       acknowledging that we want to love ourselves but have no idea how.

-       creating space for the most unwanted parts of ourselves.

-       questioning the mean thoughts in our heads.


Sometimes self-love is holding our own broken heart, even as we fight the pain, and crying ourselves dry.

Self-love doesn't ever have to be earned.



How to Love Yourself When You Don’t Feel Like It


How do we love ourselves when we feel unworthy, when we fall short of our own or another’s expectations, when we are riddled with doubt and fear?


What part of us can love us when we feel unlovable?


Learning to love yourself unconditionally is a two-step, symbiotic process.


Internally, we work to release old, unwanted holdings so our own love can flow more freely to us. This can be done in therapy, spiritual practice or any type of inner investigation.


Externally, we behave in self-loving ways. This might not feel easy or natural at first. Resistance or unworthiness will likely crop up. Those are the things we take into our inner work.


We might have to act “as if.” We might have to pretend. It’s okay. The power of this is incredible. Research done by the University of Southern Australia shows that simply forming your facial muscles into a smile can actually make people feel happier.


1.     Use the 50% rule.

If you’re energy doesn’t match your to-do list, cut everything by half.


Just for one day. Try it. Take all the non-essentials off your plate. Do only what is absolutely essential for your work, your parenting, your functioning.


It's amazing the relief of shaving down your obligations. If you can’t do 50%, start with 25%. Get creative. Ask someone else to make dinner or have it delivered. Consider not going to the grocery store and letting people eat what’s already there. (Few families will starve under these conditions.) Postpone that list of non-urgent phone calls.


Make a pile of the papers and tasks you are taking off today so your mind can rest, knowing it will all be there in some organized fashion for when you have more energy.


If you need more, do it another day and another and another.


2.     Diagnose yourself with the soul flu and give yourself medicine.


If we have the body flu, most of us are laid up in bed. Our body demands it.


We often aren’t as kind about matters of the heart. This is our chance to empower our choice. Yes, it might feel hard. But I truly believe that if we deny ourselves what we need, we prolong our struggle.


So take to your soul bed. Take a personal day and move with extreme gentleness and no expectation. Forget productivity. Do the soul equivalent of what you would for your sick body.


Nourish yourself. Stomp around the woods. Sit before a body of water. Stand below the night sky. Massage your feet. Eat foods you love. Roam around a museum or park. Curl up under a shade tree. Paint, draw, craft, read, sing, drum, dance.


Do the things you long to do but never seem to “have time for.” Do them first. Do them often. Repeat.


Don’t overthink it. Trust yourself. Trust your inner knowing. You are your own expert.



3.     Filter through the friend lens.

Think about how you would treat a friend who was struggling, what you would say, how you would behave, how you would think about them. Almost always it is with love, support and compassion.


Consider that we are often kinder than strangers than we are to ourselves. Practicing self-kindness is a great way to challenge that wonky conditioning.


Be a friend to yourself. Give yourself what you would someone you love. Try being that nice to yourself. You deserve it.



4.     Connect with Others Who Love You

Spend time with people who adore you. You know who these people are. You feel relaxed in their presence, okay just as you are. They love you. There are no games, no expectations, no baggage. They see you. They champion you.


Watch how they love you. Notice how easy it is for them. You are that loveable.


Loving relationships are healing. “Borrow” their love for you as you grow your own.


5.     Get more sleep.


I once worked with an herbalist when I was quite sick. My symptoms were so severe, it compromised my sleep, making me far worse.


He told me that when we sleep, our soul realigns with our heart (he held his hands apart – one the heart, one the soul – and brought them together, one on top of the other, united). Throughout the day, he said, our soul moves about, and we need it to rehouse itself in our heart through sleep each night, to ready for the next day.


(Side note: Imagine a life where we prioritize our natural and necessary rhythms?)  


There is enormous restorative power in sleep. And if not in sleep, then in rest. One of the most loving things we can do is to give ourselves more of this medicine when we are not feeling our best.

quote by Ashleigh Brilliant: "Sometimes the most urgent & vital thing you can possibly do is take a complete rest."

Be Gentle


You deserve your own kindness.


Forcing doesn’t just feel terrible, it produces subpar results. In the realm of self-love, it simply doesn’t work.


Give yourself time to build self-love. Judging yourself for not being self-loving enough is NOT self-love. The incremental path still moves us toward our destination.


Unconditional love doesn’t mean perfection. It means loving ourselves regardless of our fleeting opinions about ourselves. Loving ourselves when we’re at our best and at our worst.


It’s time to fully love ourselves – all parts of us. This is how we connect with our true, authentic self, with our inherent value, with our inarguable goodness.


Unconditional self-love is like the stars. They are always there, even when obscured. They are there in the daylight and shining at night behind a cloudy sky.


Self-love is the same. It isn’t something we create but something we allow. It already exists within us.


We are born loving ourselves unconditionally. We and have simply forgotten.


It’s time to remember.

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Love the analogy of flu & supporting the mind as we would the body, makes so much sense 💕

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