What happens when we do the work of knowing, accepting, and embracing ourselves?
Could you define self-love? I’ve spent years thinking about this concept, and it wasn’t until last year that I think I truly started understanding it. Over the decades, it seems I understood self-love pretty differently.
At 10, in my home that barely survived financially, love wasn’t something we talked about. I thought self-love was a luxury for people who could afford it.
At 20 and on my own, I could afford to buy myself whatever I needed, and I thought self-love was getting my hair and nails done, buying that new outfit, or getting a massage.
At 30, my life was in shambles. I was an angry, sad, divorcing single mom. I thought self-love was creating big boundaries and protecting myself.
Then, at 40, I realized none of these things are true self-love. They may be actions of self-love, or they can be self-sabotage. I’m the only one who can decide for me. However, in order to do that, I had to do the hard work of being with me. I mean like all of me—even the icky parts.
My personal definition currently resides with: self-love is a practice of consistently choosing ourselves.
The work of self-love is knowing, accepting, and embracing my truest self—warts and all.
It’s learning to fill our own cup because then we can be of better service to the world.
It’s the understanding that it does not matter what I can buy myself because self-love is a choice, not an item I can acquire.
It’s knowing exactly how I want to show up and trusting my intuition.
It’s not tangible or easy to grip. It can slip and we have to make the choice to come back to ourselves—even when we’re hurting or feeling shame. It’s the choice to show up for you every single day.
Self-love is not always easy to spot in ourselves. We may be already stepping into self-love in ways we aren’t seeing. After all, we tend to focus on where we are messing up, not where we get it right.
Here are some of the common traits in people who have a handle on self-love. See if any feel familiar or authentic, or maybe something you crave more of.
1. They quit overthinking the past.
The past can’t be any other way, and getting stuck there isn’t going to get us the growth that our true self craves. People with a lot of self-love can learn the lesson and also be compassionate with themselves. They let go of the guilt and shame and the stories that life could have been any other way. Simply—they offer themselves a lot of forgiveness and move forward.
2. They depend on their own inner wisdom.
The people I’ve witnessed with oozing self-love listen to their full wisdom—not just their knowledge but also their inner voice and feelings. They trust their intuitive knowing, often even when practicality argues otherwise. They can make quick, confident decisions because they trust the inner guide.
3. They seek counsel, not approval.
Seeking expertise is one thing, but if we have to question our friends or our mom for every choice in our lives, we are going to end up getting a lot of advice that feels, well, wrong to us. Self-love is the trust in knowing when it’s time for counsel and when we need to make all those big, scary decisions ourselves.
4. They focus on what they want, not what they don’t want.
I once believed that pointing out all the flaws or possible problems was something to be praised. The reality is it kept me hyper-focused on what I didn’t want…to the point that I became afraid to act at all. Being able to see every flaw in life can be a gift in dangerous situations.
Many of us have become such experts that it leaves us unable to act or focus on what we actually want. People who love and trust themselves tend to nitpick and judge less because they aren’t afraid of the discomfort of dealing with problems as they arise. They trust they will figure it out.
This leaves loads of time and energy to focus on what they truly want instead of what they don’t.
5. They choose what serves them best, not what is most comfortable at the moment.
Self-love isn’t about comfort and indulgence…well, not all the time. Self-love is doing the thing that serves us best and helps us show up exactly how we want to. It’s about being really tuned into our bodies, minds, and spirits. Sometimes, being good means doing the hard thing, the brave thing, or the humbling thing.
6. They set healthy boundaries and have hard conversations.
Healthy people in healthy relationships require healthy boundaries. People with self-love can find setting boundaries uncomfortable too, and they still do it to preserve the connection. They tend to see boundaries as ways they show their respect for the relationship. It’s like saying, “I love you, so I don’t want to break this connection. Instead, I want to talk about this thing that is hard for me and necessary so I don’t disconnect from this relationship.”
7. They can ask for what they want without apologizing.
We all have the power to ask for what we want, even though we may not get it. People with self-love can be vulnerable and ask for what they want. They don’t have the expectation they’ll get everything they ask for, and they don’t take it personally if the other can’t give it. The difference is they believe they are worthy. That worthiness offers them permission to ask. Asking greatly increases the odds of getting exactly what we want.
You can start now to embrace more self-love just by setting an intention.