Learning how to love yourself is a difficult but important thing to do. In this article we’ll look at different ways of doing it that might make it easier, together with some practical advice about how you can do it a bit more.
It’s Not Easy
So okay, it can sound bit strange when people say that they ‘they love themselves’ or ‘I’m in love with myself.’ But why? Many of us grow up being taught that doing things for ourselves is selfish and wrong. So the word ‘selfish’ is seen as a negative word, and that people who are ‘always out for themselves’ are bad people and should be avoided.
We’re also taught that we need to love other people and not ourselves. We’re definitely allowed, and are often expected, to love romantic partners, family, friends, pets, deities, nature, the earth, humankind, but not ourselves. It’s as if we love everyone else then they will in turn love us – like a cosmic game of pass the parcel, or Secret Santa.
‘Loving Ourselves is Sad’
We’re also taught that loving ourselves is sad and that it’s not as good as loving other people. In our culture the thing we are told to do is to find ‘The One’ and love them and they will love us. This seems to be the kind of love that is given the most status, and if we don’t have this kind of relationship in our lives then we are sad.
If you read this article by me about ‘Why do people have romantic relationships?’ and try that activity you’ll see that we want an awful lot from romantic relationships. Try it and also replace the question with ‘What do we need in life generally?’ and see if your answers are very different. It’s almost like our whole reason to be is to find another person, or to find a family, and that we can’t possibly do any of this for ourselves.
It’s easier for some of you than others
Although it can be really difficult for many of us to even consider that we might love ourselves, it’s a lot harder for some people than it is for others. Some of this is down to our identity and how much status (or privilege) some people get compared to others in society.
If we learn that our gender, race, abilities, class, and sexuality are okay, the norm, acceptable, then it might be easier to accept ourselves worthy of love. If we learn that to be a woman, or trans, or lesbian/gay/bi/queer, or a person of colour, or working class, or disabled, is not okay, not the norm, or acceptable, then it can be a lot harder to see ourselves as worthy of love.
This can affect people very specifically too. Women are often taught that the key aspect of being a woman is to be caring, comforting, soft, kind and warm to others. This (stereotypical bullshit) means that it can be more difficult for women to show love towards themselves before others.
More about how to do your own gender
See also disabled people, who society treats as a burden, who might be made to feel that they can’t ask for things that would give them pleasure because they already have to ask for assistance just to get by. For more on this kind of thing listen to this excellent podcast by Andrew Gurza on trying to find a bed that he could use, but also enjoy having sex on.
Going beyond identity we probably all have an internal critic telling us that we are not enough, not good enough, not beautiful enough, not interesting enough, not smart enough, not earning enough, not funny enough, not sexy enough. Of course, all of this is culture and capitalism’s fault and we should probably only watch Lizzo videos forever on repeat.
It’s important to do
Even though it’s really difficult to do, it’s also really really important to do. For a start it’s an important response to all of the discriminations that many people face on a daily basis and all of the self-criticism that we face.
It’s also a way of giving ourselves joy and hope as well as space to deal with sadness, anger, and disappointment. Being able to love ourselves is about tapping into our own sense of agency – living our best lives, us doing us, actually being awake and living.
Learning to love ourselves can also make us better for other people. The irony of the cosmic game of pass the parcel is that we keep giving someone else what we think they want, not what they actually want. If we can all start to give ourselves what we want then we have more capacity to give other people what they might actually want. Starting to do us first and then others can save a lot of time and energy.
It also means that our relationships can thrive more because we are not asking a small number of people to give us everything we need. Giving ourselves some love can lessen the burden on everyone else and can make relationships easier.
Here’s the BISH guide to relationships
So how do we do it?
Love is what we do
I’m not asking you to go and stare into your eyes in the mirror and to say ‘I love you’ fifty times a day (though if you think it will help, you do you.) What I am asking you to do is to think about how love is not something you say, but it’s something you do. So if you do things for yourself that are acts of love, then you are loving yourself. Once you’ve done the thing the evidence that you can love yourself is right there, and a helpful reminder in the dark moments when you think you aren’t capable of such a thing.
Finding different ways to love ourselves
If you were in a relationship with someone you might work out that there are some kinds of ways of loving them that they are into, and some that they aren’t. Like some people might like you to say nice things, others like presents. Some people like quality time, others like you to do nice things for them.
Same with ourselves. Think about what kinds of love you might like: is it about bigging yourself up, or giving yourself quality time, or having a nice date with yourself. Do you like to turn your phone off and watch an episode of Porridge (just me then)? Maybe a nice new nail polish? Perhaps taking a selfie where you look like a snacc and just keeping it for you.
This is a bit like when I was talking about self care, but it’s also just about how we treat ourselves on a daily basis. Can we make time to do this and to recognise that we are doing this for ourselves? Are there things that you have done today which might be an example of how you love yourself?
Having a relationship with ourselves
One way to think about how to love ourselves is to think of ourselves as different selves. It could be that you have last night self and today self. Like, ‘last night self’ went to bed early so that ‘morning self’ could feel fresh in the morning (there’s a good Seinfeld bit about the opposite of this). For example ‘yesterday afternoon me’ made a coleslaw that ‘today me’ is looking forward to eating.
Your relationship with yourself could also be over the course of a few months. Maybe you can be kind and loving to a past self that had this crush on someone at school you thought you’d never get over and you can kind of go back to them and give them a hug and congratulate them on getting over it.
You could even see yourself as different sides of yourself and ask different bits of yourself to give advice or support, or even presents. My mate Meg-John wrote an amazing zine about this that you might want to check out.
Loving ourselves in relationships
We can also make sure that we are able to find space for love for ourselves in our relationships with other people. Loving ourselves isn’t about being an island and not needing anyone else (FYI, that Simon and Garfunkel song was irony, that rock does feel pain, and an island does cry).
However, like I was saying above, it makes it easier for us to have healthier relationships if we are able to do love for ourselves too. Then we aren’t dependant on other people to do it all for us.
One thing that we could all start to do in our relationships is to remind the other person to do love for themselves, and to give them some encouragement, advice, and space to be able to do it.
So see if you can do some of this stuff for yourself. Share what you have done to love yourself this week in the comments. And yes, wanking might be an act of self love (just don’t go into detail.)
If you want a more in depth guide to Self Love, you might like the podcast I did with Meg-John about this.
© Justin Hancock, 2021
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Justin Hancock has been a trained sex and relationships educator since 1999. In that time he’s taught and given advice about sex and relationships with thousands of young people in person and millions online. Find out more about Justin here