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“You yourself,
as much as anybody in the entire universe,
deserve your love and affection”

This quote, often attributed to the Buddha, can be traced back to translations of the Pali Canon – the collection of Buddhist scriptures written down and preserved in the Pali language some 450 years after the death of Gautama Buddha.

What does it mean to love oneself?

We are not talking about narcissism, self-obsession or self-indulgence. It’s about understanding and believing in one’s own true worth and self-esteem.  Dr. Tchiki Davis, founder and president of the Berkeley Well-Being Institute says that loving oneself is very important for well-being.

“When we love ourselves, we have an appreciation for our own worth or value. We don’t need affirmation from others and we don’t need them to tell us that we are good enough, smart enough, attractive enough – we simply know. As a result, we have positive views about ourselves and feel good about who we are most of the time. We also tend to have higher levels of self-worth, self-respect and self-confidence.” 

A crisis of self love

A recent article by the co-founders of the Holistic Life Foundation – a Baltimore-based nonprofit organization that works to nurture the wellness of children and adults in underserved communities – asserts that there is presently a crisis of self-love both in this country and worldwide.

“We aren’t at peace with ourselves, we don’t fully know ourselves, and as a result, we don’t feel comfortable or safe. Sometimes this lack of self-love reflects our psychological underpinnings, but often it’s a reaction to stuff fully out of our control. And when people don’t fully know or understand themselves, they lash out, punishing either themselves or the outside world for something they can’t fully explain or describe.”  The authors go on to make the case for their simple thesis: everything we do starts with self-love.

What happens when we don’t love ourselves?

We lose our self-esteem and self-respect, and begin to doubt ourselves. We blame ourselves for everything that goes wrong in our lives. We become overly self-critical. Dr. Davis says that negative feelings and self-focused emotions begin to grow, including feelings of inadequacy, shame and anger. We feel we are not capable of anything. Guilt, loneliness and a sense of rejection will typically follow.  This can sometimes lead to potentially self-hurtful behavior and harmful addiction to alcohol, drugs, food or sex. Lack of self-love eventually impacts our lives, work and relationships.  

Most of us find ourselves in this state either due to some trauma, or because of a series of events and experiences driven by issues with our personal lives, relationships or work. When we find ourselves in our own “crisis of self-love,” we need to recognize it as such, and make an effort to learn to love ourselves once again. As the co-founders of the Holistic Life Foundation tell us, we can change our lives by loving ourselves. “Learning to love yourself is the work of a lifetime,” they add.

How exactly do we learn self-love?

It’s a process that takes time, effort and dedication. The process begins with positive thoughts and actions to help promote feelings of self-worth and self-esteem. These feelings and actions generate additional thoughts and actions that enhance more self-loving actions. In this way, we slowly progress towards self-love.

The key to a successful self-love practice lies in developing an ability to look inward, reflect on ourselves, and learn to accept who we are without judgement. We should give ourselves the time we need to develop a practice that suits us and our needs. Psychologists, therapists and other experts recommend that the practice includes the following ingredients:

Being self-compassionate 

This involves being kind to yourself and learning not to judge yourself. Learning to accept and tolerate what you perceive as your flaws or inadequacies. Understanding that you are not alone in feeling this way; that such feelings are commonplace and part of the human condition. Learning to be mindful of yourself, to explore and understand your feelings and emotions with objectivity.

Practicing loving kindness towards yourself and others

In her best-selling book, Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness, Sharon Salzberg describes how this Buddhist practice can help us find joy within us, creating happiness and compassion for ourselves and others.  Many people find that meditation and breathing practices help this practice.

In addition to these learned behaviors, you should learn to forgive yourself and practice gratitude. Instead of focusing on your perceived flaws, seek to understand and focus on your strengths and positive qualities.

If you find yourself in a crisis of self-love, and realize that you invariably put yourself down or blame yourself for everything, look in the mirror. Tell that person who looks back at you that you love him or her; how much he or she is worth. Practice self-love!


Mukund Acharya

Mukund Acharya is a regular columnist for India Currents. He is also President and a co-founder of Sukham, an all-volunteer non-profit organization in the Bay Area that advocates for healthy aging within...