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I create a space for the women in my Beacons of Change online sisterhood to feel safe being real. I invite them to give a voice to their struggles or pain without the risk of judgment. During our most recent call, we had a conversation about the pressure of self-love. We know that self-love is important. But there are times when it feels like a burden and even impossible. How can you love yourself when just a minute ago you said the most hurtful words to somebody else? You ate sugar even though you’re trying to stop? Or you just plain hate the way you feel?

Loving yourself can be hard, and it depends on how you define self-love.

I teach my beacons that self-love is not an achievement. Self-love is a practice. But a practice can still feel like a burden. An obligation. Something you “should” do. If hearing the words self and love together causes a negative reaction for you, it is probably because you are remembering all the moments when it was so hard for you to love yourself.

Here is my definition of self-love:

Self-love is an act of shifting to a place of loving yourself and respecting yourself unconditionally.

With this definition, we accept that we spend some of our time and energy disconnected from love. Because that’s life. Stuff happens. At times, we can find ourselves in a place of self-judgment, self-criticism, and self-blame. We continue the downward spiral by being hard on ourselves for not practicing self-love.

What if we stop expecting to be loving and nice to ourselves all the time and instead get curious and excited about switching gears? What if we say, “Interesting, darling! You’re spiraling down again. That’s ok. How can you shift to love right now?”

You see, beacon, this question, “how can I shift to love right now?” is the question that can take away the pressure of loving yourself and make it a lighter practice.

There are lots of reasons why self-love is challenging for many of us. I explored some of the reasons in this article, “Why is Self-Love So Difficult?

But if you embrace the freedom that loving yourself as an act of shifting brings, you will feel more empowered to create the love-shift.

Once you accept that loving yourself is an act of shifting from automatic (“I don’t love myself so much right now”) to intentional (“I choose to love myself more right now”), you probably want the formula. How do you create that shift?

Well…not so fast.  

I can give you the “recipe,” but if you don’t fully embrace the concept first, it will end up hanging unnoticed on your kitchen bulletin board like some dinner recipes that you probably never use.

Before looking at the how, let’s take a deeper look at the why and the what.

What does it mean to love and respect yourself unconditionally?

Remember my definition of self-love?

Self-love is an act of shifting to a place of loving yourself and respecting yourself unconditionally.

Self-love can take different forms.

One form of loving yourself is practicing self-acceptance. Liking who you are, including your imperfections, with no judgment.

Another important form of loving yourself is self-care. Taking care of your physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual needs.

Self-compassion, self-worth, self-forgiveness and self-esteem are also forms of self-love.

Dr. Kristin Neff, a professor of educational psychology, talks about the difference between self-esteem and self-compassion in this excellent talk, “The Three Components of Self-Compassion.”

As Dr. Neff says, self-compassion has the benefits of self-esteem without the need to compare yourself to others.

Helping women (including myself) to shift to a place of loving ourselves more has taught me that, of all the forms of self-love, unconditional love and self-respect are the most critical.

Self-respect means making choices that respect who you are, on a soul level, at your core. Self-respect means honoring the way you feel in the moment—even when how you feel sucks—knowing that part of respecting yourself is to feel better when you can.

Shifting to a place of love is an important part of living at full power because in doing so you:

  • Respect how you feel
  • Accept responsibility for shifting to love when you can
  • Commit to not placing any conditions on the process

That’s the true meaning of loving yourself unconditionally.

The how? That comes later. And it will. I promise I’ll write about it soon.