Love Yourself First

Millennial Mom, her head and shoulders, directly gazing at viewer.
Love Yourself First, 2018, oil on canvas, 91.4 x 121.9 cm, 36 x 48 in

I have pondered long the difference between selfishness and self-love.

My husband has a problem with this one, says people will take it the wrong way.  Egos will read this as license to think only of themselves.  Mayhem will ensue.  That I fail to acknowledge the true One-Self of the enlightened.

But I trust my readers will understand what I’m saying, largely because many have lived the consequences of what happens when we don’t heed this advice.

Below, I share why this matters, and what it means in our day-to-day life.

We can heal the world by first healing ourselves, rather than focusing on how to improve others, because the truth is we have no control over anything other than our own thoughts and behaviours. Together let’s embrace loving ourselves first, so that we may build a better world, where we are all  living our truest, highest, fullest expression of our being.

You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.

— Buddha


During an interview at Stanford University, Oprah was asked about the balancing of selflessness and selfishness, the tension between putting yourself first, and taking care of others.  I loved her response, which, in essence, was that each of us is here for a reason.  Our purpose in life is to figure that out, and then to do whatever that is to the best of our ability, to help advance humanity and make a better world.  We cannot do that important work – the reason why we are here – if we are empty, due to sacrificing our own needs.  Oprah explains,

“The truth is, you don’t have anything to give that you don’t have. So you have to keep your own self full. That’s your job…

…Your real work is to figure out where your power base is and to work on the alignment of your personality, your gifts that you have to give, with the real reason why you’re here. That’s the number one thing you have to do, is to work on yourself and to fill yourself up and keep your cup full. Keep yourself full.

…honor yourself and that which is greater than yourself, that which was the reason for your being here. There’s no selflessness (sic) in that. Because only through that do you have the ability to offer yourself, your whole self, your full expression of who you are, to the rest of the world.”

Watch Oprah’s Stanford interview here.


As a researcher who studies vulnerability, shame and fear, Brené Brown, Ph.D., L.M.S.W.,  found we cannot give love and compassion to others if we don’t first have it for ourselves.

In her powerful TED talk, The Power of Vulnerability, she speaks of how her research on connection revealed those whom lived connected lives felt a deep worthiness, a trust and belonging, and lived inspiring, joyful, authentic lives. Their compassion was unique. She explains, “They had the compassion to be kind to themselves first, and then to others. Because as it turns out, we can’t practice compassion with other people if we can’t treat ourselves kindly.”

In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, she writes:

“How much we know and understand ourselves is critically important, but there is something that is even more essential to living a wholehearted life: loving ourselves.

Knowledge is important, but only if we’re being kind and gentle with ourselves as we work to discover who we are. Wholeheartedness is as much about embracing our tenderness and vulnerability as it is about developing knowledge and claiming power.

And perhaps the most painful lesson … hit me so hard that it took my breath away: It was clear from the data that we cannot give our children what we don’t have. Where we are on our journey of living and loving with our whole hearts is a much stronger indicator of parenting success than anything we can learn from how-to books.”


We waste so many moments thinking we are not good enough.  We believe we can criticize ourselves into being different, being better.  We turn on ourselves, fearing self compassion is condoning our behavior somehow.  But what we really need is first, for our pain to be seen…recognized, and second, to receive care and kindness.  Acceptance and compassion are the pre-conditions to authentic change/transformation, opening the door to better lives.  Until we stop making war on ourselves, knowing it is natural and loving to seek relief in the face of pain, we put a ceiling on the evolution of our consciousness.  We don’t grow.   It is in the bringing mindfulness into what we are experiencing that we arrive in a new sense of wholeness.

Listen for more at Tara Brach’s March 30, 2011 lecture on self-compassion, here.


The feeling part of us needs love, approval and attention.  If we look to others to meet those needs, we can become manipulative, either trying to control others with blame and anger to make them change, or by being overly nice, compliant and perfect to get others to like us.  We give ourselves away to others, hoping they will give us the love we so desperately need.  We then feel abandoned by our own selves, leading to behavior to try to fill the resulting emptiness and avoid the pain of self-abandonment.

We must learn to hold love and compassion for ourselves to feel peaceful, and alive and passionate about life in the midst of the pain of life.

If we make others responsible for defining our worth, we then try to control how others feel about us. We try to get love, rather than share love…Only when we accept the responsibility of defining our own worth and learn to be loving toward ourselves will we have love to share with others.

— Margaret Paul, Ph.D., Inner Bonding 


For much of my life, I felt I had to be better to be worthy of the good things in life.  I tried to fix my life and myself — my looks, weight,  fitness, career, hobbies,  social life, home, marriage, parenting, then my spirituality, trying to learn my way into being better.  Some efforts helped.  Others were harmful.  But nothing healed the wound in me.  I was broken deep inside, and that affected everything in my life.

It was through these cracks that the light shone through.  I stopped trying so hard to fix everything.   In the giving up trying to control my life, in surrender, something magical happened.  I found acceptance, peace.  I am who I am, right now.  I can live fully, without wasting my moments trying to meet some mythical standard.  I may not be accomplished,  important, nor exceptional, but am worthy nonetheless.

Meditation helps me to find what I’ve always wanted – to be present, happy, joyous and free, loving and loved, and engaged in life as who I am.  I am not broken.

We are what we are, as we are made.  Worthy, enough, beautiful, just as we are.

Nothing has to be achieved in order to be at peace. All we have to do is stop doing – stop wanting things to be different, stop worrying, stop getting upset when things don’t go as we would wish, or when people don’t behave as we think they should. When we stop doing all the things that obscure the peace that is there at our core, we find that what we have been seeking all along is there, waiting silently for us.

— Peter Russel, From Science to God


How does loving yourself first show up in daily life?

  • As a compassionate inner voice, NOT beating ourselves up over missteps (I can’t believe I said that/ did that/ ate that / forgot that! What an <insert derogatory word here>!)
  • We stop looking to others’ approval to define our worth. We no longer attempt to get others’ attention, respect and approval by trying to be “better.” We know we are worthy, no matter who approves or disapproves of us.
  • Allowing ourselves to feel feelings of loss, heartbreak, sadness, helpessness, rather than numbing them out with busyness, food, alcohol, work, tv, etc.
  • Saying no, setting limits, on how much of ourselves we will give to others. This requires setting priorities in our lives, and as few as possible.  I’ve settled on health and fitness, my art, and my family.
  • Being open to learning and growth in times of conflict. Not expecting others to behave in ways that will be good for us, but rather, listening to our own body, our feelings, and taking loving action on our own behalf, as well as being loving toward others.
  • Honouring our bodies as the miracle they are, with food, movement and recovery habits that lead to our feeling healthy, energetic and strong.
  • Speaking our truth and risking rejection, rather than being false to gain others’ approval.
  • Being responsible with the business end of life – the finances, the organizational side – so we are not welcoming unnecessary distraction and drama into our lives.
  • Learning to be responsible for our own feelings, their cause, and their management, rather than blaming others for how we feel, and expecting others to make us feel better.
  • Finding a spiritual practice. Trusting in a higher power.  Knowing we do not have to be in control. Opening our hearts and surrendering to let that power in to help manage our lives.


A disclaimer here.  My writing process works like this: I read a lot.  I take notes on material that resonates with me.   I do my best to record where I get ideas, but…I’m not perfect.  I use my journal notes to compile my posts.  So, what I’m saying, is that none of these ideas are mine originally.  Think of me as a curator of others’ ideas of which I approve and support.  I am certain I am occasionally using beautiful turns of phrase, which… I did not author.  I know, not cool.  I try to give credit where I can.  Let’s just assume this is not my writing.


Love Yourself First and other works from the Millennial Mom collection will exhibit September-October, 2019, at Capitol Theatre in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada.



  1. Great post, thanks for sharing!


  2. Carol Pippy

    I love the way you express your thoughts and feelings. 💓


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