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What Does It Mean To Love Yourself?

By Dr. Margaret Paul
April 15, 2013

Many of us know that we need to be loving to ourselves, but what does this actually mean and how do we do it?

A person holding a heart shaped piece of paper in their hands. Most of us had little or no role modeling regarding loving ourselves when we were growing up, because our parents or other caregivers likely didn't know how to love themselves. As a result, it's often challenging to know what loving ourselves looks like. It's through my work with my inner child and my spiritual Guidance that I've discovered what loving myself really means for me.

Sarah asks:

"All I know about "loving oneself" is to not let anyone (anymore) abuse me in any way, including yelling, criticizing me, etc. As I write this, it sounds like I just described "protecting myself", so maybe I don't know what loving myself REALLY means. I would love to hear your definition."

Let's look at what isn't loving yourself. It's not loving to yourself to reject and abandon yourself by:

  • Ignoring your feelings
  • Staying focused in your mind instead of being present in your body
  • Judging yourself
  • Numbing your feelings with addictions
  • Making others responsible for your feelings of worth, safety and lovability.

In relationships, loving yourself doesn't mean:

  • "I'm just going to take care of me and screw you."
  • "I'm not responsible for how my behavior affects you. That's your problem."
  • "If you love me, you will do what I want (whatever that is)."
  • "I'm only trying to help you and support you in what I believe is good for you –- even though you haven't asked for my help or my opinion."
  • "I'll put my full attention on you and sacrifice myself for you so you will put your full attention on me and sacrifice yourself for me."
  • "When I'm hurting it's your fault, and it's up to you to fix it."
  • "Since I need your attention and approval to feel good about myself, it's okay for me to do whatever I can to get what I need –- such as being overly nice, being angry, blaming you or withdrawing my love from you."
  • "If you love me, and I end up disabled or dying as a result of not taking care of myself physically, that’s your problem, not mine.

Loving yourself does mean:

  • "I am responsible for learning to manage and regulate my own feelings so that I can bring myself inner peace and joy, and so I don't dump my anger, neediness and pain on others."
  • "I am responsible for defining my own worth and giving myself the attention I need, so that I am not in need of getting this from others, and so I can share my love with others, including supporting them in doing what brings them joy."
  • "I am responsible for managing my time, my space and my finances in ways that make me feel safe and don't place an unnecessary burden on others."
  • "I am responsible for learning how to access a spiritual source of love so that I can love myself and share love with others, rather than always trying to get love from others."
  • "I am responsible for taking care of my physical wellbeing – eating healthy foods, getting exercise and getting enough sleep, so that I can enjoy a healthy body and so that others don't eventually have to take physical care of me, unnecessarily."
  • "I am responsible for the effect my behavior has on others when I have acted out in ways that are hurtful to them."
  • “I am responsible for taking loving care of others when they are my responsibility -- such as my child, or people who are old, sick or disabled who I have agreed to take care of. There are times when it is loving to me to put myself aside for others, like for an infant or toddler and when others need me because they can't take care of themselves."

It took me many years of inner work to discover what loving myself looks like for me, and it may be different for you, since each of us has different things that make us feel loved and important. What loving actions can you take on your own behalf that would make you feel loved and important?

Join Dr. Margaret Paul for her 30-Day at-home Course: "Love Yourself: An Inner Bonding Experience to Heal Anxiety, Depression, Shame, Addictions and Relationships."

Join IBVillage and receive compassionate help and support for learning to love yourself.

Photo by Sean McGrath


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