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Are you familiar with the concept of self-love? We’re told that to be truly loved and respected by others we should first learn to love and respect ourselves. This sounds like it makes sense but unfortunately doesn’t come with an instruction manual.

Firstly, what does it mean to love myself, I mean truly love myself? Is eating cupcakes every evening true self-love, just because I like them? Or is early morning walk true self-love although I hate waking up early?

Secondly, is self-love universal or does it mean different things to different people? It’d be nice to give people an instruction to follow steps A, B, C to reach true self-love and then it’s all sorted, and we can all get on with our lives.

Lastly, how does self-love relate to how others feel about us? Will the toxic person in my life suddenly become less toxic if I master the art of self-love?

Many people confuse self-love with self-indulgence, arrogance, superiority, selfishness and pursuing goals at others’ expense. It’s a behaviour of a 2-year-old and has nothing to do with self-love. Why? Because it will bring us to a harsh stop sooner or later in life – like hitting a brick wall – which will be a very painful lesson. Surely, it’s not self-love. So, what is?

Human know thyself

“Know thyself”, “Find who you really are”, “Understand yourself”. Even the Emotional Intelligence theory is based on this aphorism. Understanding your feelings, discovering your strengths and weaknesses is an action of self-knowledge. Aristotle said that “Knowing ourselves is the beginning of all wisdom”. - Google

If we don’t know who we really are deep inside, we can’t love ourselves. Maybe we love someone who we think is us, but in reality, we love an impostor, someone else, a fake person, but not us – who we really are. Self-knowledge is impossible without emotional intelligence and … intellect to help sort out and process the facts that our emotional side is providing us. Self-knowledge means understanding our true motivations, desires, values, perspectives, thought patterns, feelings, temperament and behaviour patterns.

Start small: discover your favourite hobbies, try different things - what motivates you? what gives you energy? When do you feel most yourself? How would you ideally express yourself? Do you feel that you often have to suppress what you think and feel?


If we don’t know who we are and pretend to be someone else, then we attract people who love the same impostor because people only see what we show them. So, obviously these aren’t ‘our’ people, and they can’t be blamed that we tricked them into loving someone who has nothing to do with the real us.

Discovering our true self is a life-time journey, because it’s an ongoing process of filtering out our own self from what society projects on us, including our parents’ behaviour patterns and the expectations from our family and friends.

On top of that, we all change as we mature (well, hopefully most of us mature and change). So, our values and motivations should change, too, to adjust to the circumstances and the environment.

Stay flexible

I love saying this. Everything should be flexible: from our mental patterns through to how we master feelings and how we respond to the circumstances. Our values should change, too, as life goes on. We aren’t robots and we aren’t dealing with robots, so we can’t assume all circumstances are similar, all people are the same with similar behaviour patterns, and we behave exactly the same in all situations.

Life is diverse and full of surprises. Circumstances change, people surprise us, and our communication style should be tailored to that. One size doesn’t fit all. To change sizes on the go we should learn flexibility.

For people, self-love might mean learning to set boundaries with people. For others, self-love may mean pushing their own boundaries. And for other people, self-love is about learning to stay calm and indulging themselves in peace and balance. What's more self-love will change with time, because we all evolve and change.

Was there a saying along the lines of the flexible is less likely to break in a storm? Exactly. So, to me, mental flexibility is a key component of self-love. We simply can’t survive without flexibility.

Use common sense

The good old common sense is often totally forgotten. Yet, in a confusing situation, when lost in between conflicting values and emotions, or in conflict with other people common sense is vital and yes, it does help. That is if people care to use it.

Common sense can mean different things to different people, but to me common sense is about balance, a measured approach, thinking about the consequences and negotiating – with ourselves and other people.

In the darkest moments in our life, common sense is the only light. I’d argue that common sense is in fact our intuition, but this really depends on the person’s readiness to listen to their intuition and not confusing common sense with ‘common knowledge’.

Believe nothing,
No matter where you read it,
Or who has said it,
Not even if I have said it,
Unless it agrees with your own reason
And your own common sense.
Gautama Buddha

It’s common sense that will help us decide if we want to eat sweets or go with morning exercise, or perhaps find the middle ground; or better yet – retrain our brain to hate sweets and like exercising.

Stay in control

Knowing yourself and accepting your own weaknesses and temperament doesn’t mean going wild and letting it all out, forgetting about manners, etiquette and social norms. Staying in control is about knowing what motivates you and what triggers you and channeling this the right way; plus, it doesn’t hurt explaining this to people.

We can acknowledge and express our temper but not let it out on people. There’re activities that can give you some adrenaline after all. Vocal outgoing people with loud voices and hot temperament are unlikely to turn into reserved quiet thoughtful people, and vice versa. And they shouldn’t. But we all can control our personalities and adjust our behaviour to the environment we are in.

Staying in control to me also means protecting our boundaries. People are usually good at protecting their physical boundaries, yet mental and emotional boundaries are also important. Any type of manipulation, not to mention excessive criticism, gaslighting and so on are examples of our mental and emotional boundaries being violated and shouldn’t be allowed. More subtle manipulation like marketing campaigns and TV news should be monitored at all times.

This sounds like we should always be on guard expecting a catch. It shouldn’t be like that. It’s a habit, that’s all. We don’t buy and eat absolutely everything we see in the supermarket. Why do we accept values and perspectives forced on us by other people? Keeping our physical, mental and emotional space clean, as much as possible, from external influence is a key component of self-love.

Stay put and persevere

I said earlier something about toxic people becoming less toxic if we learn to love ourselves. No, they won’t become less toxic. They will simply walk away from our life when we show them our true self. Yes, they will make some noise before they go, believe me. I can totally understand these people, especially the ones who spent years thinking they were with someone else (we showed them a fake person, remember?).

The great revelation rarely happens overnight though. Usually we take baby steps to discover who we are and let our true self show. Then the ones who are meant to support and love us try to go back to the old scenario wanting to see our old self – at the end of the day that’s who they’ve known all this time. If we refuse, they put pressure trying to convince you that something is wrong with you. It’s life testing your commitment to discovering your true self.

Give others freedom

Similarly, give other people freedom to learn who they are and express themselves. Sometimes it doesn’t fit into our scenario, this is true and very sad. Sometimes it’s devastatingly disappointing to see people revealing their true self, because we obviously projected our own nice little picture of what we wanted them to be. What can be more painful than a strong feeling of disappointment? Only a strong feeling of loss, regret and guilt.

Forcing other people to fit into our scenario and the way we want to see them, will backfire sooner or later. In addition, it’s a violation of free will and this will backfire, too. Usually when we least expect it.

Letting people express their true self has benefits though. It reveals their true personalities, so we – in turn – can reveal ours and select people who best suit us and see us for who we really are. That’s about nurturing sincere relationships based on trust and respect. And yes, finding people who love us for who we are and not being scared to see us change.


To fall in love with yourself is the first secret to happiness. - Robert Morley
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