Focus on Self-Love Not Just Self-Compassion


OK, when I hear the words self-love, I want to throw up in my mouth a little because I’m thinking of some Brené Brown quote needlepointed onto a pillow or a bunch of people in a drum circle chanting, “I am worthy.” Today we’re taking self-love out of the woo and putting it directly into the real world of improving your physical, psychological, and spiritual well-being. Stay tuned as I discuss how it’s different from self-care, narcissism, and self-compassion and my top five tips for getting it right.

9-minute read

What is Self-Love?

OK, when you hear self-love, you might not just be thinking of someone carrying around a rose quartz crystal amulet and an affirmation book. You might also be thinking of masturbation (I see you snickering people)! I have to admit (being the cynical New Yorker we all know and love me to be) that I went there too when my bestie mentioned that her therapist asked her to think about the difference between self-love and self-compassion. I was thinking, “Oy. What a load of new age crap. They’re the same thing, right?” Wrong.

According to the American Psychological Association, self-love is having regard for our own well-being and contentment. We’re talking here about treating yourself the same way you treat other people you love. The Brain and Behavior Research Foundation defines self-love as any action that supports your physical, psychological, and spiritual growth.

I define self-love as connection to your Inner Being. Being connected to your Inner Being means you’re aligned with Source, the Universe, Higher Self, God, nature (or whatever you like to call it). It means you’re focused inwards, not outwards. It’s a place of peace and an inner knowing. When we’re practicing self-love, we’re gentle, kind, and patient with ourselves.

The Differences Between Self-Love and…

It’s easy to confuse self-love with a few other things. Most commonly:

  1. Narcissism. Narcissism is about self-interest and self-absorption. It’s fear-based and involves comparing yourself to others and trying to undermine or beat down others in efforts to make yourself feel superior. It’s focused on other people. On the other hand, self-love is a love-based, positive trait that is about an authentic appreciation of yourself. There are no comparisons to others, and it’s inwardly focused on self-awareness and growth. Narcissism is associated with poor mental health, while self-love is associated with stable and good mental health. Self-love comes from confidence, while narcissistic behavior, although it looks confident, actually comes from low self-esteem and low confidence. Lastly, the research shows self-love has a positive impact on your well-being and relationships, unlike narcissism, which has the opposite effect.
  2. Self-compassion. While these two concepts are closely linked, they’re also different. You develop self-love by getting to know and understand yourself. It starts with self-awareness. Self-compassion is the act of being gentle with yourself after you’ve made these discoveries. The biggest components of self-love are self-knowledge and self-discovery. It’s about a quest for physical, psychological, and spiritual growth. We love ourselves and want to expand. During these different phases of growth, we’ll make what we consider mistakes, we’ll be imperfect, and we’ll discover things we might not like about ourselves. In these instances, you’d employ self-compassion to move through them and continue growing. With self-compassion, you forgive yourself for making mistakes and reframe them as learning opportunities or simply being human.
  3. Self-Care. Self-care is certainly a component of self-love, but it’s more of the operation than the feeling. With self-care, you might take nightly baths, get regular massages or manicures, or ensure you get enough sleep. While these can all be signs of self-love, self-love itself goes deeper as, again, you’re in a process of self-knowledge and self-discovery. As you’re in that process, you might recognize that you never take any time for yourself, so commit to self-care, such as a weekly pedicure. I want you to think of self-love as a daily activity for self-care, like you would brush your teeth or keep yourself hydrated. Self-care is something you do throughout the day by checking in with yourself, paying attention to how you feel, and having nurturing, healthy habits to feel serene and at ease. Self-care is a verb.

Why Self-Love is Hard:

  • It’s what we’re taught, and it’s what was modeled for us as kids.
  • We confuse it with narcissism and selfishness. We have faulty beliefs (generally from childhood), so think that self-love means we’re being selfish, self-indulgent, or narcissistic. However, self-love is built on self-awareness and a realistic understanding of ourselves. Narcissists aren’t at all self-aware. Self-love isn’t feeling self-important; it’s feeling as important as everyone else.
  • We think if we say something positive about ourselves, other people will think we’re arrogant or self-absorbed.
  • A past history of trauma, abuse, or neglect can make you feel unlovable at a deep, cellular level.
  • Perfectionism


Five Tips for Self-Love

Self-love is a skill and, like any other skill, it takes practice and attention/prioritization to get good at it. I outlined some tips in the previous episode called Five Ways to Cultivate Self-Love. But here are some more:

Tip #1: Start a Relationship with Yourself

Self-love starts with really getting to know yourself. Think of getting to know yourself now, like starting a new relationship. Do your best to start with a clean slate and have open curiosity (as I hope you do when meeting others for the first time). There are many ways to get to know yourself better:

  • Ask others you trust for honest feedback about your strengths and limitations. Ask questions to further you’re understanding. Listen like you’re wrong and allow in their ideas with open curiosity. Listen without shame or judgment. You can decide later if there’s anything you want to change.
  • Meditate daily.
  • Start a journaling practice with this idea of starting a new relationship with yourself. Start with prompts that help you understand what you think about things, such as:
    • Being in a romantic relationship means…
    • I feel most secure when…
    • I feel joy when…
    • I would tell my eight-year-old self…
    • Love means…

Tip #2: Build Self-Care Routines

I talk a lot about self-care in a previous episode, but the best thing I think you can do for self-care is to have a morning routine at least five days per week. I don’t care if it’s an hour of power or 10 minutes, but I want you to take that time, before you check your phone or even speak to anyone else, to set your tone for the day. I go deep into my step-by-step guide for starting your day right, so you can check that out and follow my guidelines if you’re not sure where to start. Also, think of other things you can build in, such as a weekly yoga class, once a month book club, or locking yourself in your bedroom for uninterrupted time once a week. Whatever works for you to support your physical, psychological, and spiritual growth.

Tip #3: Accept Compliments

Do not dismiss compliments or positive feedback. Instead, put one hand over your heart, look the person directly in the eye, and say, “thank you.” It’s a game changer.

Tip #4: Note What You Put in Your Body and Mind

Pay attention to what you put in your body and mind. This includes:

  • Drugs
  • Alcohol
  • Food
  • People
  • TV, news, and shows
  • Social Media. Research shows that we make way too many comparisons when we’re on social media, which results in lower self-esteem (and self-love, obviously). Limiting time on social media is shown to lessen feelings of depression, anxiety, and loneliness. At the very least, research shows that you should limit social media to less than 30 minutes per day.

Tip #5: Try the Mirror Exercise

This exercise is based on the work of Louise Hay, one of the original founders of the self-help movement. She has multiple books and workbooks on this subject so, if you’d like to delve deeper, you might want to read her NY Times #1 best-seller, You Can Heal Your Life.

Mirror work is all about learning self-love. It’s about seeing yourself as worthy of love so you can raise your self-esteem and confidence and strengthen your relationships (with others as well as yourself). At its core, mirror work is about saying positive affirmations to yourself out loud, while looking in a mirror. The repetitive nature of these mantras/affirmations trains your mind. Instead of the harsh inner critic, you find compassion and kindness. Basically, you’re facing your demons of self-criticism with love and gentleness.

This is a powerful exercise and makes most people very uncomfortable initially. Of course, the fact that it makes you uncomfortable should tell you something about why it’s so effective. The good news is that, over time, mirror work becomes easier (and even joyful)!

I suggest doing the mirror exercise in the morning and again sometime in the evening for at least one week (optimal would be 30 days). When I do it, I generally do it right after I brush my teeth (hey, I’m standing there staring at myself anyway).

Here’s how you do it:

  1. Find a private place where you’ll have three to five minutes of uninterrupted time.
  2. Stand or sit in front of a mirror. You want to be very close (within two to three feet).
  3. Take one deep breath, roll your shoulders back, and tuck your chin so you’re in straight alignment.
  4. Look directly into your eyes.
  5. Say, “I love you; I really, really love you” three times slowly. Adding your name is crucial (“I love you, Abby” or “Jack, I love you”).
  6. Sometimes, starting with “I love you” is just too much. In that case, you can try something like this: “Abby, I’m willing to learn to like you.” “Jack, you’re worthy of being loved for who you are.” “Abby, you’re not perfect, but you’re mine, and you deserve to have great love.” “Jack, I forgive you.” Use your own words and find something you can say without flinching (too much).
  7. Repeat the mantras in threes, over and over, with little breaks in between for at least three minutes.

By doing mirror work, you’re developing a whole relationship with yourself. The more you do, the better. If you’re up for it, check in with yourself in the mirror often throughout the day. It can be light and joyful: “Looking good, girl!” “Way to go with that big deal you closed!” “This is so cool!” “How are you?” or a simple, but heartfelt, “I’m here for you, Abby.”

If that wasn’t enough, here are some other ways to show self-love:

  • Your inner dialogue is patient and kind.
  • You keep your boundaries intact.
  • You identify your needs and wants in a situation.
  • You listen to your inner knowing when a request is made of you.
  • You have no need for perfectionism.
  • You feel worthy of others’ love even when you’re not doing.
  • You prioritize your rest.
  • You eat nourishing foods often.
  • You know what brings you joy.
  • You’re self-aware without judgment or criticism.
  • You like yourself.
  • You accept yourself as you are (even though you might want to make changes).
  • You appreciate yourself.
  • You don’t hold grudges with yourself. You’ve forgiven yourself.
  • You validate yourself.
  • You know it’s OK to have uncertainty and doubt sometimes.
  • You don’t compare yourself to others.


Resources for Focus on Self-Love Not Just Self-Compassion

How to Deal with a Narcissist

How Childhood Trauma Affects Relationships

Five Ways to Cultivate Self-Love

What Self-Care Really Means

Abby’s Step-by-Step Guide to Starting Your Day Right

How to Stop Being a Perfectionist So You Can Start Being Happy

Four Ways to Be More Self-Aware

Research for Focus on Self-Love Not Just Self-Compassion

Definition of Self-Love, APA Dictionary of Psychology

“Self-Love and What It Means,” Brain and Behavior Research Foundation, February 12, 2020.

Bransen, J. Selfless Self-Love. Ethic Theory Moral Prac 9, 3–25 (2006).

You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay

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