This blog post was written by Christy Johnson, Counselor at Nivati. You can see more of their content on the Nivati platform and on the Nivati blog. If you want to learn more about Nivati, click here.
A Definition of Self-Love
Self-love is a non-clinical phrase representing a broad concept comprised of several evidence-based behaviors. While the term “self-love” itself doesn’t have a single, widely accepted research-based definition, its’ constituent behaviors do. Some of the most well-understood behaviors that facilitate an attitude of self-love include self-care, self-worth, self-acceptance, self-compassion, and unconditional positive regard.
Fundamentals of Self-Love
A 2020 study defined self-love as being comprised of “self-care, self-worth, self-acceptance, and unconditional positive self-regard.”
The following definitions can help us better understand the components of self-love:
Take the time necessary to attend to your needs; physically, mentally, and emotionally. Make time and space in your routines for activities that promote good quality of life and benefit your physical and mental health.
Develop an internal sense of “being good enough” and remind yourself regularly that you are worthy of love and belonging from others.
Self-acceptance emphasizes the importance of recognizing yourself as a dimensional human being and accepting yourself completely, including both positive and negative traits. Self-acceptance reminds us that no one is perfect despite our best efforts.
Unconditional Positive Regard
Unconditional positive regard means recognizing our imperfections and still being kind to ourselves regardless of our flaws.
Researcher, Dr. Kristin Neff explains that self-compassion “entails being moved by one’s own suffering and treating oneself in a caring and empathetic way—just as one would treat a good friend”.
How to Practice Self-Love at Work and at Home
From working with clients, I have seen the power that having a loving mindset toward oneself can have. Loving ourselves can lead to increased positive feelings, such as motivation and inspiration, along with fewer negative feelings like self-judgment and comparison to others.
Undoubtedly, it can be difficult sometimes to know how to practice self-love, particularly if you are from a culture or family system that tends to be more critical.
Oftentimes, through repeated exposure, we may begin to adopt the critical voices of our peers and relatives as a negative inner voice within ourselves. Although it is challenging to talk back to this voice and practice loving ourselves instead, it is a worthwhile and beneficial endeavor.
Whether you are facing work stress, overcoming a past mistake, or healing from painful experiences or trauma, self-love is a fundamental and important step toward healthy coping. It is easy to start practicing self-love in small ways today.
Why Practice Self-Love at Work?
Believe it or not, the workplace is an excellent place to practice loving yourself. Self-love contributes to a sense of self-confidence and a forward-thinking attitude. When we are no longer overwhelmed by self-criticism or shame, we have much more energy and motivation to be productive and engaged at work.
Other effects of self-love on wellbeing can include:
- Less stress
- Less self-doubt
- Less workplace conflict
- Better work-life balance
Practicing self-love can be especially helpful for those professionals who have performance anxiety, or occasionally succumb to the common feelings of workplace self-doubt, generally referred to as ‘imposter syndrome’. Liadan Gunter, Life Coach at Nivati, explains imposter syndrome at work in this way: “The common feeling among those who suffer from imposter syndrome is that they feel like frauds or imposters (where the name comes from), despite being completely capable and deserving of their accomplishments.”
How to Practice Self-Love at Work
- Create a list of your career accomplishments and review them periodically to remain attuned to your skills and strengths. Celebrate accomplishments and allow yourself to feel proud of your skills and strengths.
- Take time to optimize your workspace for comfort, ergonomics, and wellbeing. Consider adjusting your desk, chair, lighting, and screen height to minimize aches, pain, and eye strain.
- Create awareness of your posture and take movement breaks. This blog post on back pain offers a helpful guide about back pain in the workplace and preventing it with stretching.
- Drink plenty of water and focus on nutrition when you are able.
- Surround yourself with comforts that make you feel safe and happy, such as photos and mementos from home or plants.
- Focus on your attributes. Remember your strengths and remind yourself of them.
- Minimize the time you spend focusing on your shortcomings or past mistakes. It is important to make corrections or repairs when we are aware of a past mistake, however, dwelling on shortcomings too long is actually an unnecessary hindrance.
- Give yourself lots of credit for past accomplishments and hard work. Don’t discredit your value and workplace contributions; they matter and are meaningful. Become your own biggest fan and cheerleader.
How to Practice Self-Love in the Face of Past Mistakes
We are often our worst critics. We judge ourselves harshly and often wish to go back in time and correct our past actions when they don’t align with our values and who we are.
The constant worry, shame, and repetitive thinking that comes along with these kinds of mistakes can become a mental burden we carry within ourselves like a brick in a backpack.
Self-love allows us to take the brick out, examine it and decide if we want to keep carrying it.
Self-love also encourages us to consider the brick's usefulness and choose whether we would like to set it down. Perhaps we can even use it to build a foundation for something new and better.
Most often, self-love helps us see that carrying the heavy brick of worry and shame with us all of the time is usually not helpful.
From my work with clients, I have found that one important piece of self-love in the face of past mistakes includes having compassion for yourself. According to researcher Dr. Kristin Neff, self-compassion is a practice that is made up of three main concepts.
These concepts are:
- Self-kindness vs. Self-judgment. Self-kindness is a task that requires us to treat ourselves and speak to ourselves, in the same ways we would someone whom we love, cherish, and earnestly want the best for.
- Common humanity vs. Isolation. To practice common humanity, we can recognize that each of us, as human beings, will experience challenges throughout the course of our lives. No one person escapes the various seasons of life, including seasons of pain or hardship.
- Mindfulness vs. Over Identification. To practice self-kindness, we must be aware of our thought patterns and have the attentiveness and willingness to interrupt those patterns when they are not healthy, this is the basic premise of mindfulness.
Self-compassion research suggests this mindset can allow us to “step out of our own way” in a sense, by releasing shame and freeing up our mental energy to focus on actions that will lead to increased resilience and wellbeing.
Self-love and Trauma
Undoubtedly any trauma healing will require a very healthy dose of self-love. Healing past trauma is an endeavor that requires focus and diligence to learn the self-calming and self-regulation tools necessary to help the body and nervous system to feel safe again.
To explore the journey of trauma healing it would be advisable to gain the support of a credentialled therapist and consider joining a reputable support group. Trauma can be very different for each individual and may require intensive support to process.
Self-Love as a Daily Practice
Whether you are someone who could use a little support around workplace stressors, have the tendency to beat yourself up for past mistakes or are processing difficult life experiences, understanding how to practice self-love can be a positive and helpful tool for coping, but it doesn’t stop there. Self-love is a functional and healthy approach to life.
Self-Love Journal Exercises
Consider the components of self-love and think about how you may want to apply them in your own life. Your self-love practice doesn’t need to be complicated or extensive, it just needs to feel right to you and provide some value to your mental, emotional, and physical health. To begin your practice, you may find the following journal prompts to be helpful.
- Create a Self-Care Plan
Take time to imagine yourself as a cherished member of your own family or friend group and gently explore your current self-care behaviors. Do you treat yourself with the same attention to your wellbeing as you treat your loved ones? If you notice that you tend to prioritize others’ wellbeing more than your own, consider small ways you can begin to increase your own self-care.
- Cultivate Self-worth
Write a journal entry speaking to yourself as a friend. Use a kind voice and list your favorite qualities about yourself. Pay attention to your character and values. Give yourself credit for your accomplishments and celebrate even the smallest victories.
- Practice Self-Love
Over the course of a couple of days, practice gentle awareness of the voice you use to speak to yourself internally. Simply strive to notice the tone, phrases, and level of kindness you use to speak to yourself. Write your findings in a journal, and once you have collected your data you may find areas of your life where you can begin to adopt a kinder voice with yourself. Ongoingly, you can continue to utilize the practice of gentle awareness to calmly and politely refute any critical or unkind inner statements that come up throughout your daily life.
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