What is self-love and how can we cultivate it?

We often hear that everything starts with self-love, don’t we? Whether it’s being able to create a good work-life balance, finding your true passion and purpose in life, or reclaiming your boundaries, so much of what we want to achieve in life starts from a basis of self-love. So, what does self-love actually mean? Why is it so important to cultivate? And how can we nurture and grow our own self-love?  


What does self-love mean for you?

The Oxford Dictionary defines self-love as, ‘a regard for one's own well-being and happiness’, and Merriam-Webster ‘an appreciation of one’s own worth or value’.  

There are a myriad of definitions and descriptions of what self-love is, and no end of philosophies, novels and poetry written on the subject. And yet, what is most important, is what self-love means for you.  

The golden thread that runs through all the definitions of self-love is that it comes from within. It is a deeply internal and personal sense of being, an acknowledgement and high regard for your own humanity.  

By humanity, we mean not only appreciating our phenomenal capabilities, strengths, knowledge and attributes but also having an appreciation of our weaknesses and our challenges without judgement and with deep compassion, knowing that they are all part of our wholeness and complexity as human beings.  

Coming from within, self-love cannot, therefore, be measured or developed by external factors. You may for example receive all the compliments, accolades and achievements from outside sources, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve got a great sense of self-love. Often, we can end up with an incongruence between how things appear on the outside, with how things are feeling on the inside. I hear clients say things like "But on paper my life is amazing, so why am I not happier?"

And so in order to reach a deeper sense of self-love for ourselves, it is important that the very start of the investigation starts from looking inward. 
I’ll invite you to ask yourself... 

  • What does self-love mean for me? 
  • What does my self-love look like?  
  • What are the qualities that self-love presents in me?  
  • How much do I feel self-love now?  
  • How is this affecting my behaviour and choices?    

Why is self-love so important? 

One analogy to think of self-love is like your core muscles. They are at the very centre of your body, and take training and ongoing nurturing to stay strong. They support to hold you grounded, hold you stable, and keep you balanced.  

Even if you build your arm or leg muscles to great strength, without a strong core, you can be easily destabilised, knocked and thrown off balance. If we relate this to self-love, with a strong core of self-love, it can help us to remain stabilised, balanced and resilient in the face of changing external factors.  

It can also bring a stronger sense of faith and courage in ourselves to make the decisions that are truly right for us and the lives we really want to lead – like an internal compass, where we can follow our own true passions, interests and desires, instead of following someone else's map. As Glennon Doyle said:

This life is mine alone. So I have stopped asking people for directions to places they've never been.

I’ll invite you to ask yourself... 

  • If I truly held great love and compassion for myself, what would be different?  
  • If I truly and deeply recognised my worth and value, what would change? 
  • What impact would this have on my life? 
  • How would I relate to the world? And to others?

Ideas for cultivating self-love 

Some of these suggestions will really resonate with you, others may not. I invite you to play with them, try them on for size, and lean into the ones you like... 

1. Practice self-compassion 

We rarely show the same compassion to ourselves as we do to others. Self-compassion is important for fostering self-love as we treat ourselves with patience, acceptance and kindness. This is a great place to start. 

  • Start noticing: When faced with challenges or setbacks, be extra gentle with yourself. Can you notice your voice and the words you are using when talking to yourself?  
  • Reframe: Replace any unhelpful or shaming narrative, with a more supportive inner dialogue, as if you were speaking to your best friend.  
  • Embrace the grey: Not everything is as black and white as it can seem, being able to embrace the nuance and complexity of situations can support self-compassion.

2. Create time for meaningful reflection 

How can we love ourselves, if we don’t make time to listen? It can be so easy in the hustle of daily life, to go weeks and weeks without a true moment of pause of silence to check in with ourselves, our minds and our bodies.  

Make a regular date night with yourself. Protect meaningful space for you to spend time listening to what is really going on with you. You might want to use body scans, meditation, mindfulness, or journaling prompts to support your thinking. Explore and play with your thoughts, desires, and dreams. This will help you foster a deeper understanding of yourself.

 3. Protect your healthy boundaries 

Setting boundaries for yourself can be one of the most influential acts of self-love, particularly if you find yourself in the ‘people pleaser’ camp. Spend some time to reflect on what your non-negotiable boundaries are, for yourself and others. Think about the impact that these will have on your well-being and happiness. Practice protecting these boundaries, and intentionally celebrate and enjoy the result when you do! Each time you protect your boundaries, it reinforces your commitment to self-love. 

4. Embrace joy, play and creativity 

Find ways to tap into your creative expression. Whether it’s writing, dancing, or pencil doodling, being creative for the sake of it can be a real gateway to getting under the surface, when there are no rules, and no objectives, and you can simply play and help reconnect with your authentic self. Remember, it’s not about the outcome, it’s about the process.  

5. Practice acts of kindness toward yourself 

Extend the same kindness and care to yourself that you readily offer to others. Engage in regular self-care rituals that rejuvenate your mind, body, and spirit. Prioritise activities that bring you joy, health and contribute to your overall well-being. 

6. Seek community and connection 

Building meaningful relationships with others can build a sense of belonging, and connection with like-minded people. You can take your time to explore and find people who share your passions and interests, who inspire you, and who you feel your values align with. These communities will uplift, empower and help grow self-love.  

It’s important on this journey of developing self-love, that we be extra compassionate with ourselves, and create judgement-free space for us to explore these concepts and ideas. It is by no means a one-stop fix in order to reach a full sense of self-love. Like a muscle, its strength will ebb and flow over time, and that’s OK. Building our self-awareness will help us to notice when we might need a bit of extra self-love strengthening exercises.  

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Bristol, City of Bristol, BS7
Written by Clare Sutton, ACC ICF Life Coach / Confidence / Fulfilment / Purpose
Bristol, City of Bristol, BS7

A big warm welcome to my profile, I’m so glad you’re here. I’m Clare, I am a fully accredited professional Life Coach (ACC ICF) and I support people to feel confident and empowered to create their most fulfilling lives, in what ever way that means for them.   My Approach&...

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