How-to-love-yourself advice is ubiquitous these days. Step into your favorite local gift shop and you’ll likely find self-love manifesting candles topped with rose quartz, positive-affirmation card decks, and pillows embossed with Brene Brown self-compassion quotes. Scroll through Instagram or TikTok and you’ll probably encounter influencer types spouting self-love advice that often ignores the many complex reasons why someone might struggle with self-worth—a barrage of “you just have to love yourself” toxic positivity that was brilliantly (and hilariously) portrayed in the second episode of Euphoria season 2.
Self-love sells. Are we really buying it, though? Kat from Euphoria certainly isn’t, but while it may seem cheesy or oversimplified, most mental health professionals will tell you, in one way or another, that being kinder to and more accepting of yourself is important for both mental well-being and healthy relationships. However, a variety of factors (trauma, years of self-criticism, and systemic discrimination to name a few) can make this simple-sounding practice way more complicated—and much easier said than done.
Chances are, if you’ve clicked on this article, you could use some support in the self-compassion area. That’s why we consulted a few therapists who specialize in the topic. Read on for their practical tips on how to (actually) love yourself—no inspirational quotes required (but no shame if those help you, either).
1. Think of self-love as a practice, not a destination—and define it for yourself.
There is no finish line you cross when you officially love yourself. Self-love is neither constant nor permanent. It’s also not the same thing as being “in love” with yourself, so if the word “love” doesn’t feel right to you, consider working toward acceptance or neutrality. “We often define love in this fairytale sense where everything needs to be perfect and then apply that same pressure to self-love, which isn’t realistic,” Whitney Goodman, LMFT, author of Toxic Positivity: Keeping It Real in a World Obsessed with Being Happy, tells SELF. We don’t have to love everything about ourselves, and certain days will be easier than others. Just like with other long-term relationships, sometimes loving ourselves is “just commitment, perseverance, acceptance, or general neutrality,” licensed clinical psychologist Alexandra Solomon, PhD, assistant professor at Northwestern University and author of Loving Bravely: Twenty Lessons of Self-Discovery to Help You Get the Love You Want, tells SELF. And don’t expect to cultivate new thought patterns overnight: Like any habit, accepting and being kinder to yourself takes practice.
2. Know that you don’t have to love your reality in order to love (or accept, or forgive) yourself.
Imagine your closest friends and family members who show up with love for you when you’re at your worst, least successful, insert-negative-adjective self. Now ask yourself if you’d treat yourself the same way. We love our friends and family despite their faults, but it’s so hard for many of us to love our faulty selves. “When we realize that perfection is not the prerequisite to being loved by other people or loving yourself, we can begin to practice self-acceptance and, maybe eventually, self-love,” Adia Gooden, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist whose TED Talk on “unconditional self-worth” has been viewed nearly 1 million times, tells SELF.
But anyone who’s been weighed down by woulds, shoulds, and coulds knows that accepting your mistakes and imperfections can feel near impossible. “When I work with clients, I see the majority of their suffering coming from a longing for things to be different from how they are,” Goodman says. She uses a dialectical behavior therapy practice called “radical acceptance” to help people accept the reality of their lives while also having hope for the future.