What Is Your Self-Love Language?

In an age where championing and supporting others is second nature, have you ever paused to consider what truly makes you feel valued and cherished? Mastering the art of self-care isn't just a luxury—it's the cornerstone of genuine satisfaction and well-being. Welcome to your introductory course on discovering your personal self-love language.

2/26/20249 min read

woman in red tank top smiling
woman in red tank top smiling

If you've ever navigated the complexities of relationships or taken a casual dive into the world of pop psychology, chances are you've encountered the concept of love languages. These modes of expressing and receiving love—be it through physical touch, words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, or quality time—help us understand our emotional dialects. But, have you ever paused to reflect on how you express love towards yourself?

It's not unusual if this question feels unfamiliar or even a bit awkward. According to Kristin Neff, PhD, an associate professor of educational psychology at the University of Texas at Austin and a trailblazer in the field of self-compassion research, it's common for individuals to question their deservingness of self-love, viewing it as a hurdle to overcome. Neff champions the idea that self-love is an innate right, not something to be earned. "Consider a newborn," she proposes, "Does it need to prove its worthiness for affection and care? Absolutely not!" Neff argues that embracing self-love isn't an act of egotism but a profound gift to oneself and, by extension, to those around us. After all, someone who has mastered the art of self-compassion invariably contributes to a more positive and nurturing environment.

Expanding on Neff's insights, this article invites you on a journey to uncover and cultivate your self-love language. By doing so, you not only enrich your relationship with yourself but also enhance your interactions with the world. Let's explore how to articulate and practice self-love, transforming it from a concept into a lived experience that elevates every aspect of your life.

Self-Love Language No. 1: Delight

For those who've mastered the art of pleasing others, it's time to redirect that skill towards yourself. You're already familiar with what brings you joy, yet the relentless tick of the clock often pushes your own pleasures to the bottom of your to-do list. This self-love language focuses on carving out moments for joy by intentionally planning them, suggests Niro Feliciano, a cognitive psychotherapist and author of 'This Book Won’t Make You Happy'. Begin by identifying activities that offer genuine happiness—far beyond the temporary contentment of a TV marathon. Perhaps it's immersing yourself in uplifting music, engaging in outdoor sports, diving into creative hobbies, or rediscovering pastimes you've set aside as life's complexities took over.

If you're unsure where to start, consider prioritizing connections with others. Feliciano references the long-term Harvard Study of Adult Development, which links well-being to authentic relationships, community involvement, and meaningful connections. For Feliciano, a simple yet effective practice is scheduling regular walks with a friend. "Despite a hectic schedule, I strive to balance exercise with socializing, and this strategy allows me to achieve both," she explains. "It significantly boosts my physical and emotional health." Engaging in such activities not only enriches your life with delight but also strengthens your sense of well-being through the power of connection.

The Delight Challenge:

Reflect on what genuinely makes you happy and ensure you make it a part of your life.

  1. Organize a joyous rendezvous. It could be a post-meeting coffee catch-up with a workmate, a yoga session alongside a buddy, or arriving early for an appointment to cherish a car conversation with your sister.

  2. Allocate 'choice' time. Cast your mind back to the freedom of kindergarten days when you could choose your activity. If sketching was your go-to, indulge in a new sketchpad and let your creativity flow. If you were first to the reading corner, dedicate time to meander through a local bookstore, with no agenda other than to enjoy.

  3. Indulge in self-romance. Spoil yourself with a bouquet from the farmers' market or savor a cosmo at that trendy café you've been eyeing in your neighborhood.

Self-Love Language No. 2 :Grace

For the perfectionists among us, embracing imperfection is a critical self-love language to cultivate. Grace extends beyond simply forgiving yourself for errors (as you would for others); it's about permitting yourself the vulnerability to err from the outset. "Mistakes are a universal human experience. Why, then, are we taken aback or upset by our own?" Feliciano queries. "Recognizing our mistakes as just that allows us to move forward, fostering resilience and the emotional agility needed to navigate challenges." Next time an error occurs, seek the understandable or humorous side of the mishap, remind yourself that anyone could have done the same, consider the valuable insights gained, and reaffirm your worthiness. You're still a person of value, one who will inevitably stumble again, yet remains deserving of kindness and acceptance.

The Grace Challenge:

Become a more compassionate ally to yourself.

  1. Confide in a compassionate confidant about a mishap. Silence is a breeding ground for shame, so sharing your blunder with someone who understands, exploring its lessons, and moving past it can be transformative.

  2. Employ third-person self-talk. This approach has been scientifically proven to lower your heart rate and enhance rational thinking. "We excel at giving advice to others but often falter when advising ourselves," states Ethan Kross, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of Michigan and author of 'Chatter'. He adds, "Neuroscience research demonstrates that addressing yourself by name or using 'you' when pondering dilemmas facilitates a swift mental shift." Posing questions like, "What led [your name] to act in such a manner, and what steps should they take next?" helps create emotional distance, making it easier to tackle the issue more logically than the more direct, "Why did I do this, and what can I do now?"

  3. Incorporate grace intervals. On Neff’s website, the Self-Compassion Guided Practices and Exercises section provides short exercises ranging from five to twenty minutes, including writing a compassionate letter to yourself or employing self-soothing touch techniques. These practices aim to stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system, encouraging a state of calm and recovery.

Self-Love Language No. 3: Encouragement

If the phrase "You're your own worst enemy" resonates with you, it's time to familiarize yourself with the language of encouragement. This involves—prepare yourself—becoming your most enthusiastic supporter. If the thought of greeting your reflection with a spirited "Good morning, queen!" feels too ambitious, begin with the kind of encouragement you'd offer a friend. "Even on days when spirits are low, a simple, supportive phrase like 'Just try your best' can ring true," advises Neff. This approach is about nurturing a mindset where you are as kind and uplifting to yourself as you would be to someone you care about.

As you move through your day, seize moments to appreciate qualities you truly admire in yourself—perhaps your knack for guiding younger individuals or your patience with elderly family members. "We often look outside ourselves for affirmation, yet relying on external sources for our sense of identity and self-esteem can be precarious," Feliciano points out. "Acknowledging our own goodness, capability, and strength allows us to self-validate." For Feliciano, this meant transforming her initial daily worry—contemplating the logistical challenge of transporting four children to various activities—into a positive affirmation: I am capable of handling this. And if things don't go as planned, that's okay too.

The Encouragement Challenge:

Implement these strategies until self-praise becomes a natural part of your routine.

  1. Grant yourself some easy wins. Familiar with the concept of negativity bias? Our brains are inherently designed to highlight and remember mistakes, dangers, and unpleasant feelings over positive ones—a trait that once served our ancestors well for survival. Challenge this predisposition by consciously acknowledging what you do right, including the effortless tasks you complete daily without recognition. For those who love to make lists, add a few straightforward tasks: Send that email to Dad. Order sunscreen for the upcoming trip. Prepare a salad for lunch. Celebrate their completion with a sense of achievement.

  2. Offer yourself a sincere compliment. Stand in front of the mirror and find something you genuinely admire about yourself. It could be the unique hue of your eyes or the way a dimple plays on your cheek when you smile—acknowledge it!

  3. Boost your morale with an empowering playlist. Imagine yourself as an elite athlete, headphones in, as you make your entrance onto the field or court, embodying the epitome of concentration and determination.

Self-Love Language No. 4: Establishing Boundaries

If you find yourself unable to refuse requests for your time or skills, or if you've been labeled as too accommodating, you're not alone. For many, the journey to setting boundaries is a lifelong one. Feliciano emphasizes that establishing limits is crucial for our mental well-being. It not only maintains our sanity and enhances our capacity for compassion but also helps ward off feelings of bitterness. In essence, as much as we enjoy assisting others, there are times we must decline requests—from the coworker who struggles with technology, the demanding family member, to the all-too-enthusiastic leader of the neighborhood committee. It's about prioritizing our own needs and saying yes to ourselves.

The Boundaries Challenge:

Recognizing and respecting our own limitations is a profound act of self-love, according to Feliciano. Here's how to begin:

  1. Adopt "quiet hours." Inspired by Shonda Rhimes, whose email signature sets clear boundaries: "I do not answer calls or emails after 7 p.m. or on weekends, and if you work for me, I encourage you to disconnect as well." Inform your colleagues of the time you disconnect daily and commit to it.

  2. Redefine the conversation. Drawing from a tactic attributed to Robert McNamara, President Kennedy’s secretary of defense, who famously said, “Never answer the question that is asked of you. Answer the question that you wish had been asked of you.” Utilize this strategy by offering what you're willing to contribute: "I won’t be baking for the sale, but I’ll contribute $20 to the class trip fund."

  3. Prepare a selection of polite yet firm rejections. Reflect on courteous declinations you've encountered—they serve as legitimate responses for you as well. “I’d love to assist, but I can’t commit the time.” “I’m currently unavailable.” When unsure, a simple smile followed by, “No, thank you,” is effective.

Self-Love Language No. 5: Rest

For those who excel at pushing themselves to the limit, rest speaks volumes. "Our overall well-being, including longevity, hinges on our ability to rest, particularly as we age beyond 50," Feliciano advises. "Optimal brain function and a robust immune system are byproducts of adequate rest, a component of health that many of us lack." And by rest, she means more than just sleep—it's about allowing yourself inactive downtime. Can you find moments to be still, to reflect, or simply to observe your surroundings?

The Rest Challenge:

It might initially unsettle your brain, but the benefits are undeniable.

  1. Embrace True Breaks: Ever noticed how meals with friends encourage us to unwind and enjoy the moment, yet solitary lunches often involve multitasking between bites? Honor your alone time as you would social engagements. Savor your morning coffee at the counter, gazing out the window instead of getting lost in digital distractions. Choose to dine in, enjoying your meal at an outdoor table, letting the world unfold around you.

  2. Dive into a Novel: Swap out digital scrolling, which drains more than it enriches, with getting lost in a good book. A 2015 study from the Yale University School of Public Health found that reading for just 30 minutes a day can not only ward off dementia but also potentially extend your life by two years.

  3. Venture Outdoors: If pets can revel in the simplicity of walks and basking in the sun, so can we. Embrace their contentment. Beyond the ample evidence that nature exposure diminishes anxiety and depression, the goal here is leisure. Give yourself the opportunity to breathe in fresh air and unwind.

Self-Love Language No. 6: Dreams

For those who often find themselves being the responsible one among adults, it's time to reconnect with your inner dreamer. Remember the boundless imagination of your childhood, envisioning the endless possibilities of your future? Why should such dreaming cease in adulthood? "We frequently invest our energies into realizing the dreams of others—our children, family, employers," notes Feliciano. "Yet, it's crucial to nurture your own aspirations. Consider where you want to be and what you wish to be doing five years from now." Identifying your dreams and taking even small steps towards them can significantly enhance your sense of satisfaction and fulfillment.

The Dreaming Challenge:

Not inclined towards creating a vision board? Here are alternative strategies.

  1. Engage in Creative Visualization: Pen down a scene from your life five years into the future, using the present tense to describe it. For example, instead of saying, "I will be hosting a dinner for friends at our lake cottage," write, "I am hosting a dinner for friends at our lake cottage." While owning a lake house may not be in your immediate future, perhaps you'll begin to rent one annually, embracing the essence of your dream.

  2. Embrace New Beginnings: Even if you're a seasoned professional in your field, like a dental surgeon accustomed to routine procedures, stepping into an entirely new and somewhat intimidating activity can reinvigorate your mind. Try something you've never done before, such as singing lessons or joining an adult ballet class, without setting any expectations. This not only stimulates your brain but might also lead you to discover a new hobby.

  3. Plan an Adventure: Whether it's a short getaway or an extravagant vacation, planning a trip can be incredibly rewarding. Research from Psychological Science suggests that people experience more joy from the anticipation of an upcoming experience than from awaiting a tangible purchase. Additionally, a survey by Washington State University revealed that frequent travelers report being about 7% happier compared to those who travel less, even if it's just a short distance from home.

In embracing these six self-love languages—Delight, Grace, Encouragement, Boundaries, Rest, and Dreaming—we embark on a transformative journey towards self-compassion and fulfillment. Each language offers a unique perspective on how to nurture and affirm ourselves, challenging us to prioritize our well-being amidst life's demands. By integrating these practices into our daily lives, we not only enhance our personal growth but also enrich our relationships with others. Remember, the journey to self-love is continuous, and each step, no matter how small, is a step towards a more content and authentic self. Let us commit to treating ourselves with the same kindness, patience, and encouragement we readily offer to those we care about, unlocking the door to a life brimming with self-acceptance and joy.