How To Start Developing Self-Love?

When we endure narcissistic abuse, our sense of self-love erodes. It’s a paradox, but healing not only requires self-love to occur but at the same time helps us restore this inborn ability. Here is an introduction to how to start this process.




  • Experiencing abuse and neglect for a prolonged time often develops a belief that we are not worthy of love, including our own. When we act on this belief by ignoring our needs and feelings, criticizing and punishing ourselves, we reinforce these beliefs. This means that we have an internal abuser in us, but also their victim. To recover healthy self-love, we need to heal and restore the inner bond between these different parts of our Self.

  • You can treat it as an internal couple’s therapy, where the different parts of your psyche need to learn to communicate with each other in a way that fosters understanding, validation, trust, and compassion. This way, you might realize that you can rely on yourself.

  • You don’t need to feel good about yourself to start treating yourself better. But taking positive, caring action towards yourself will, over time, earn you your own trust, gratitude, and eventually love.


What and Why of this article


In a previous article, I have talked about why we might feel aversion and disbelief in the concept of self-love after the trauma of narcissistic abuse and how to undo it. In another one, I tried to briefly define what self-love is and what it is not in an approachable way for the survivors.


Now I will let you know how to start developing and reclaiming it.



In me: myself and I


Previously, we established that self-love is a healthy love directed towards oneself, an act of treating ourselves lovingly, and it’s also our responsibility. But suppose we don’t take it. Instead, we neglect, overcriticize, and diminish ourselves by saying – inside our heads and to others – what a loser we are. But that so called looser in us, being the recipient of all that hatred and cruelty – hates us back too. And rightfully so. Because we hate people who treat us with disrespect, and that includes us too.

Inside you there is a part of you that might be saying these nasty things to yourself, but there is also a part of you who is receiving all that crap. You’re ending up hurting your own feelings.


‘Be careful what you say to yourself – cause you’re listening’


So if you want to develop some self-love, you’ve got to earn it with yourself. It would help if you treated yourself like you wanted others to treat you.


Do you want others to treat you like you matter? Then show yourself some respect. Do you want honesty from people? Don’t lie to yourself either. Do you want understanding? Learn to understand yourself. Do you want support, encouragement, and cheering up? Same. Name all the things that make you feel bad when others do them to you, figure out what is the opposite and ask yourself – ‘how can I give myself, in the privacy of my own mind, a little bit more of that?’


This way, you create reasons for self-appreciation, a beginning foundation of a loving bond with yourself, where feelings of gratitude and warmth stop being difficult, unrealistic, and a mystery.


Love is not just a romantic, passionate infatuation but a lasting bond based on deep care between people, and so, in essence, is self-love. It is unconditional positive regard towards oneself rooted in factual self-helpfulness. Our culture advises to use the ‘magic words’ – ‘please, thank you, you’re welcome, I’m sorry, it’s ok’. Watch how your perception of yourself changes over time when you start using these words in your own inner dialogue.


Love, like trust, may need time to develop


Can you start practicing treating yourself with more love without feeling it? Does it still count? 


Of course, it does! It’s like this: if someone used to mistreat you, but they did therapy, now they’re committed to treating you better, and they do, you can see their remorse and growing self-awareness, and their newfound respect towards you – will you feel burning love towards them straight away? No. It takes time to develop trust in someone after getting hurt. You want to see if they are still going to treat you the same good way when they’re cranky, when they’re tired, day in and day out, week after week after week. It takes some sense of safety to forgive, and that takes time. What it also definitely takes is a conversation about it. 


Your interaction with yourself works based on the same rules because, as already mentioned, inside you, there is you who is giving you the treatment and you who is this treatment receiving. Does it mean you have to start talking to yourself as if you had an imaginary friend? It would certainly be great if you started talking to yourself as a friend anyway. That would be a good start.


Name it to claim it


If we want it to really stick, we need to clearly define the objective – what would self-love mean to you? When you manage to figure out and formulate what would it be to you, it will be much easier to start practicing it. However, in order to develop a healthy, working definition of self-love for ourselves, we need to do a little bit of ‘know thyself’ so that we can identify our old beliefs that are not serving us no more, and update them, so that now they’ll be able to help us make our lives easier.


There is a full coaching exercise for that and an explanation of the process in a separate article.


Theory in practice


So how practically does it look like to practice self-love?


First of all, by understanding that it is a practice, an ongoing process, not a goal that once we achieve, it’s finished and done. Life will constantly push us off the track, not because it’s mean, but because something is continuously happening, we always cross our paths with the paths of others, and randomness is a rule. Sometimes we’re high, and sometimes we’re low. Life and other people won’t always meet our expectations, so we need to remind ourselves to get back to that self-love in the face of frustrations and setbacks. We have to keep re-establishing the balance because we don’t live in a vacuum. And balance every day will look different.


Learning to listen to ourselves will help us determine when we need to encourage and push ourselves and when we need to slow down, replenish, and preserve. When you’re stressed by life, chances are you need to slow down and get to safety, to stop feeling threatened and overwhelmed. And when we feel stagnated and stuck in the same rotten routine, we need encouragement to challenge ourselves, step outside that comfort zone, take a risk and try something new. And when it gets too scary, or if we get hurt, then get back to our safe cave again, and heal our wounds in peace and isolation until we’re ready to take on the world again.


This is how it looks like to take responsibility for keeping yourself safe and well-nourished and at the right time to encourage yourself to grow. And this is how we practice empowering ourselves to do things for the highest good of ourselves and others. That’s what we do when we wish ourselves well.


Stepping up and showing up for ourselves


To practice self-love also means the ability to acknowledge our imperfection and admit to a mistake, but not in a self-defeating way. By punishing ourselves, we only make ourselves feel smaller. It might make us avoid that mistake once or twice, but it won’t make us avoid it altogether in the future because nobody’s perfect. It will only teach us to look down on ourselves and feel oppressed. That way, we only have more of that to look forward to. It’s much more effective to treat ourselves with dignity and self-respect, acknowledge that we’re no different from the rest, and failure will be a part of our lives from time to time. It is better to see the full context of the situation and check what we can learn to improve and grow. Even more importantly, we need to remember how we overcame similar things in the past. Reassurance, validation, and appreciation of oneself are potent personal development tools. The ability to empower yourself is the best indicator of future success.


So when will you start noticing a change?


Do you have to wait until you feel that self-love or believe that you have it? No, just ACT AS IF you loved yourself. It is about behavior anyway. No feelings will do anything if that’s not there.


You are the only one in your entire life who will always be with you. It will help you beyond measure if you’ve invested in developing a healthy, supportive and reliable relationship with yourself. Imagine what you could do, who you could become, how you could change your life and others’ if you knew you would always have your back, you would never give up on yourself, you’ll always be there for you, supporting yourself through struggles and championing your accomplishments. Think what it would be like to always have a nice word for yourself and count on your own kindness. How trusting, peaceful and confident, you could feel in life knowing you will always do your best to find a way out of any circumstances. To see it over time that you can always pick yourself up. Imagine where you could get if you knew you can keep going because you have help all the way.


Life is built mainly from small things, and we rarely make significant steps at a time, so keep things in perspective and give yourself credit when it’s due. Keep making these baby steps. It beats going around in circles, staying stuck in one place, or worse – going backward. Every step means progress, be fair with yourself and notice that. You’ll thank yourself for it. That’s gratitude towards the self, and it’s a part of self-love.



Self-love affirmation


I am open to the idea that by taking proper effort over enough time I can learn how to slowly develop a little bit of self-love.




When inward tenderness
Finds the secret hurt,
Pain itself will crack the rock
And, Ah! Let the soul emerge.

– Rumi