Love is a tricky subject for many people. We have so many societal pressures, not only to find 'the one' but also the 'right' one. There are such crazy ideas surrounding love, that many of us grow up sort of conflicted about relationships and what we want in life.
Not only that, but we are sort of taught to believe that if we aren't with someone, then we are somehow lacking, as if we can't be a whole and amazing person on our own. And yet, we also tell people if they can't love themselves, how is anyone else going to love them (or how will they ever love someone else)?
I think there is great value to loving yourself, and it has nothing to do with how you interact with other people. I do think that if you love yourself that will spill over into all your relationships (not just romantic ones), but I think that the reasons for loving yourself have absolutely nothing to do with others.
Self-worth is something that I feel like I have struggled with for all my life. Most of my childhood memories involve being an outsider. When I was little, my Chinese looks made me stand out when we lived in America, and when we lived in Hong-Kong (my father was military), being American made me stand out (and not speaking Chinese). As I grew, I was definitely drawn to sub-cultures, from Goth to Pagan. I started to embrace the things that made me different, but it wasn't an easy process. I was often envious of the 'normal' kids, the ones who fit in and (I assumed) didn't worry about what other people think.
But the truth is, that everyone worries about what other people think (at least sometimes). We all compare ourselves to people we see, both in our personal life and in the media. Comparison is sort of a fact of life. You don't have to let it define you thought. Much like we can look at an apple and a book and say we love them both. We can acknowledge they are different without making a judgement on which is 'better'.
One of the things that I have always liked about witchcraft is that it has tools for shadow work. I think that there is something very powerful in exploring all the parts of yourself and coming to not only accept the 'darker' aspects but seeing how they serve you and learning how to not let them control you. Taking that power into our own hands is something that many people never learn how to do.
I think the first step to loving yourself is being honest about who you are. You can't love yourself if you are denying parts you don't like. This can be really rough, especially if you have deeply rooted issues. But it can also be very liberating to claim those parts of ourselves. We are all perfect exactly as we are....even if we may want to change and grow and become better versions of ourselves.
It is highly contradictory, but we can be perfect and imperfect at the same time. I think of it in terms of soul and body. My Self, the inner ME that is who I am is absolutely and utterly perfect. It can't be anything less than perfect because I am a unique person and my Self is all the things that make me up. My body or my mind may have things that I don't care for, and those are things I can work on. But those aren't part of my true Self, the part of me that exists beyond this body and this mind.
I also have learned that there are many sides to each thing. What may at first seem like a detrimental trait may actually be a strength. Or what you thought was a strength might be holding you back. If you are struggling with seeing things in a new (or true) light, it can be helpful to ask a trusted friend or family member, someone who really cares for you, to help you see how things are (or could be). There are lots of physical things about myself that I'm not too fond of, but my husband see's completely different (and isn't shy about telling me how much he loves them). He is also pretty good at letting me know when he doesn't like something (after much assurance that Yes I do actually want to know).
A good exercise for learning to see yourself truly is to pretend you are looking at someone else. You might want to start very small, pick one tiny part of yourself to actually look at. Maybe you will examine your hand, or use a mirror to look at an eye. Try to see as much detail as possible. Experiment with writing out a description of that part of you, as if you were explaining it to someone else. Start by using as many descriptive words, but without any type of judgement. So you could use smooth or wrinkly but not ugly. You may find that you don't like certain words and want to explore why those things have negative connotations to you.
The next step is to start finding things you like about that part of you. If this is really hard for you, start with very basic things. I like my hand because it lets me type, it lets me touch things, I have all my fingers. Don't think about things you don't like. I get nerve pain in my left hand/arm, that is pretty consistent, and I don't have full feeling in all my fingers. But I still have full range of motion, and most days it doesn't stop me from doing things. So I can look at the positives, I can choose to focus on the good and wonderful things that my left hand can do (like write and feed me....even though I am right handed!)
This is the first step to loving your Self...loving small parts of yourself. You don't have to limit it to physical things either! Think about qualities you have. You may be punctual, creative or stubborn. Think about why these are good qualities! And just because you spend time focusing on why you love a quality doesn't mean that you can't also do shadow work on it. I am definitely stubborn, which most of the time is a wonderful quality. I know that I can dig my heels in and get things done...just because I made the decision to do them. But I also know that I can beat my head against a wall for no (good) reason. I can work to change the latter while still embracing the former!
The same goes for physical things. In fact, it can be quite helpful to focus on the things you love about the things you are trying to change. By keeping your mind on what is great about a thing, that is what you are calling more of into your life. By thinking only about what you dislike.....that is also what you are calling more of. Thoughts are very powerful things, and we can let them control us or we can use them to make change.
Another good exercise involves self-talk. There are many things we tell ourselves, throughout the day. If the thoughts you have are negative, this can create a lot of obstacles in your life that aren't necessary! Changing those thoughts can be quite a process, but one simple thing to do is to start paying attention to the thoughts that go through your head. You may be surprised how many times you have certain thoughts once you start making an effort to keep track of them! Once you notice that you have a pattern of a particular thought that isn't serving you, try modifying it. It can be quite hard to not think things, but instead, every time you find yourself having that thought that you want to be rid of, add a modifier to it. If you often think to yourself, "I'm so tired," you can add on, "Because I worked really hard yesterday." To take it a step further, you can also include a small action that will help counteract your negative thought. In this case, you might add, "so I am going to spend several minutes doing a breathing meditation." Then go do it!
Self-love is definitely a work in progress kind of thing. We all have bits of ourselves we aren't so fond of. Hopefully, we all have things we also like about ourselves, even if we have to dig a little to uncover them. The more you can recognize all the wonderful things that YOU do and all the things that make you special, the more you will come to love your whole self...even the parts you don't really care for.