How I Learned to Love Myself


I pitched this title. It seemed like a good idea at the time. And now I’m staring at my laptop thinking, “Wait. Do I love myself?”

Because I definitely don’t love everything about me. And I don’t walk around with some sort of effortless self-love flowing through my veins. So… WHO AM I TO WRITE THIS ARTICLE?

But, then again, I’ve spent 15 years (and a small fortune on therapy) learning to love myself. My life has transformed because of it. I know what loving myself looks like, I know generally how to do it, and I can honestly say that I show love to myself at least as often as I don’t, which is basically twice as often as I used to. All of that to say, this story is written by a person who’s still on the journey.

But along the way, there are four things I’ve learned about loving myself (so far):

1. I have a self.

I know, I know. This might sound annoyingly meta. Or maybe just silly. But, for me, it was a critical thing to learn.

Obviously, I knew I existed. What I didn’t know is where I stopped and someone else started. I knew who I was only in relation to other people—I was a daughter, a friend, a girlfriend; then later, an employee, a wife, etc. Very rarely did I think of myself as just me.

Plus, I was dangerously unaware of what was actually going on in my half of any given relationship. When asked how I felt, or what I wanted, I’d be at a loss to respond. What did the other person want? That’s what I was good at.

It’s understandable how I got to that point.

I’m wired for relationship. It’s one of my highest values and greatest pleasures. I throw myself in, deeply, and I tend to do almost anything to protect it. If I’m not careful, I can lose my “self” in the process.

On top of this, I grew up in a religious setting that emphasized selflessness. I now understand that this is about living a life of sacrifice. It’s about releasing control to a power greater than yourself. But, somehow, the way I heard “Be selfless.” was: “Have no self.” Which fit right in with the way I’m wired and created an endless spiral of self-obliviousness.

For me, the first step to learning to love myself was learning to notice myself. It was a slow process of peeling my identity away from the others I had glued it to. Over time, I learned:

– I am not my family.
– I am not my relationships.
– I am not what people think of me.
– I am not my failures.
– I am not my successes.

I am myself. Regardless.

Which led to my next discovery.

2. My self deserves love.

I’ll be honest. My default setting toward myself is, at best, tolerance, and, at worst, merciless judgment. Left unchecked, I talk to myself with a toxic combination of scolding-mother and disdainful-teen. (Why am I so stinkin’ sensitive? Why did I say that dumb thing? How could I possibly lose my cell phone in the house again? Why can’t I keep the bathroom floor clean? Sheesh my hair is ridiculous.)

These voices are so natural and familiar to me that, for a long while, I didn’t realize they existed. But one day, my therapist asked if I would speak to another person the way I talk to myself and I was mortified: Are you kidding?! Never.

It began to dawn on me how damaging it would be for any person to listen to a never-ending monologue about how incapable, frustrating, dense, unattractive, and abnormal she is. Yet this is what I had subjected myself to for years.

I began to wonder what might happen if I changed that voice.

I starting paying attention to how I talk to the people I love, like my friends and my kids. When the healthy, loving people in my life talked to me, I began to listen more closely. I heard kindness and compassion in those voices. I noticed grace for mistakes and a genuine sense of care. And I started trying, as much as possible, to emulate those voices when talking to myself.

This led to my biggest discovery about loving myself.

How I Learned to Love Myself – Wit & Delight

3. Love isn’t a feeling.

Just as is true for anyone else I love, loving myself doesn’t mean I always feel like I’m the most amazing person on the planet. It doesn’t mean I’m completely enamored by everything I do, or everything I am.

Instead…
– Love is the voice I choose to speak to myself with.
– Love is the way I treat myself.
– Love is protecting myself from things and people that aren’t good for me.
– Love is surrounding myself with nourishing things.
– Love is believing in myself.
– Love is never giving up on myself.

Love isn’t a feeling. It’s a choice.

And, miraculously, when that choice is made consistently, sometimes it also becomes a feeling.

4. It’s not all about me.

So why is this even important? Is self-love just a veiled excuse for selfishness? Is it all just a bunch of self-help baloney? All I can tell you is how it’s mattered in my own life:

Loving myself has prevented me from expecting other people to carry that weight for me. It helps protect me from crushing disappointment when they can’t. It keeps me from settling for things/people/habits that are harmful to me. And loving myself allows me to do a relationship from a full place vs. an empty one.

Most of all though, when I am able to love myself – the person that I have been most judgmental of, the person who annoys me more than anyone else – then I truly am able to love others. And I know how to let them love me.

How love looked today

As I’ve been writing this piece, it’s been a challenging few days. My mind has been foggy, my heart heavy, and my body drained. I wasn’t sure why, and I found myself feeling frustrated, willing myself to feel “normal.” Which only left me feeling more discouraged, of course.

Finally (sometimes it still takes me a minute), I paid attention to what I might actually be needing. I gave myself a nap, took myself on a walk, got myself some deep breaths of fresh air, fed myself some organic beets, cut myself some slack, talked to a friend, and, eventually, realized I’m grieving some things. I pointed out to myself there are some actual real reasons for feeling a little off this week. And I changed the voices in my head from scolding and impatient to soothing and compassionate.

For me, that’s what loving myself looked like today. And I have to say, it helped.

Image sources: 1 / 2


Julie Rybarczyk is a freelance writer, fair-weather blogger, and well-intentioned mom who has almost never remembered to send lunch money to school. She’s perpetually the chilliest person living in Minneapolis—so most of the year you’ll find her under layers of wool, behind steaming cups of tea. Or at shortsandlongs.net.

    • Thanks for this, I recently, right after my 32nd birthday, lost my fiancé to a relationship I would have probably died for (literally, it was tearing me in half, but I loved her deeply)

      We were the second couple to get engaged of our group, we were “perfect,” and after 6 years I feel lost without a partner. It’s taken 3 months to just get out of bed more often than not (I work from home, so I can lazy mode it…)

      It’s so discouraging, being alone, at this age. I felt like I had everything and then lost it all. So dramatic, probably, but it sure doesn’t feel like it.

      Loving oneself is no easy task, it’s a lot easier for a man (and probably woman) to build their life around the thought of a family, providing, etc that we forget who we are and what we stand for ultimately. I still can’t say I wouldn’t take her back, at this point, even knowing it wouldn’t work. But! I can say this article was encouraging, it’s a time to explore one’s adult self, pathfinding, solidifying ones self – whatever that means (; jk

      I feel once I get myself in order I’ll have a much better chance at finding a life long partner. I just can’t see it now, how it’ll happen, etc. but, I guess that’s okay!

      • Male perspective isn’t always so different from female, I find. Or maybe I’m more feminine than I imagine my own bad ass man self to be

      • Oh man, I’ve been there, Trevor. Wow, that kind of self-love – the kind that requires leaving other loves behind – takes incredible strength and courage. Here’s to much more love for yourself, and brighter, lighter days ahead. Your male perspective is as human as it gets. Thank you for sharing it.

  • YES! So good. One day I was lamenting to a friend how I often feel incompetent at my current job, and she said something that has stuck with me for years: “I’m going to have to ask you to stop being mean to my friend”. Learning to talk to myself as I would talk to a friend has been quite an (ongoing!) journey, and I LOVE reading about others experiences with this. Let’s. Keep. Talking.

  • Oh the wisdom in # 4! Thank you for your honesty. Self-love is something I’m really working on in this season of life. Glad to know none of us are alone in that.

  • Thank you, thank you, thank you for this beautiful piece. You described in words what I am experiencing and made me feel normal in my own search for self love and respect.

    • Thank you, funny how just what I needed to read in this very moment presented itself to me. Wow, thank you for sharing with us your beautiful, insightful and beyond wise thoughts. I hear you.

      • Sonja, thank you so much for taking the time to leave your comment. It so blesses me to know others are on the journey and finding encouragement along the way. xo

  • I loved this so much! You have such a friendly and engaging voice.
    My resolution for 2018 is to practice more self-love, so this topic has been on my radar like crazy the last few months. It’s definitely still a struggle. I’m with you on my heart being heavy and just overall feeling drained recently, so I’m trying to take better care of myself, but it’s not coming so easily. Unfortunately.
    The important thing is not to give up, though, so I will remember your words on my journey 🙂

    https://gallantlygal.com

  • Whoa. Thank you so much for writing this, Julie! That first point is not annoyingly meta, it is SO REAL! I am right in the middle of realizing that I am my own individual person. It feels like such an obvious thing, but it is so foreign and new to me. Thank you for describing it so well. Reading this gives me a lot of hope. Therapy has been incredibly helpful (and hard!) but do you have any books/articles/podcasts/etc that you found helpful in your self-love journey?

    • Nataly – thank you so much for your note. I’m so glad this resonates with you, especially that first point. That was a h.u.g.e. one for me!! Your question is such a good one. My therapist has been one of the strongest voices through my journey, but hearing other voices that model a loving and compassionate tone has been huge too. A few favorites are Brene Brown, Krista Tippet (On Being Podcast), and – more recently – The Liturgists Podcast. I’m sure there are many more, but those come to mind first! xo

  • Thank you Julie for such an enlightening article. I’ve been searching for guidance (which makes sense) on how to love myself and thanks to you I just found it. I intend to print your article and remind myself of your wise words when I hate myself. Prayers and love to you always xo