With Valentine’s Day on its way, you might be thinking about how you will show affection to a loved one. Or, you might be hoping to receive an expression of love from them. But what if you didn’t look outside of yourself for love and appreciation? Could you be your own valentine?

What gets in the way of self-love?

We might fear that if we love ourselves exactly as we are, we will not have any motivation to grow or improve ourselves. We might not believe we deserve to be loved. We may be struggling with the voice of our inner critic. It is tempting to reject this critical voice, to ignore it, or attempt to drown it out with positive affirmations. But, as annoying as it can be, our inner critic often has our best interests at heart. It may be trying to protect us. And it is a part of us. In order for us to love our whole self, we must befriend our inner critic too.

How can we fall in love with our inner critic?

How can we love something, or someone, that is so judgmental, intrusive, and seemingly unhelpful? We can work on developing the kind of unconditional love for our inner critic that we would have for a dear friend or a young child that doesn’t know any better. Your inner critic is doing the best it can. When it screams at you, “Hey! You can’t wear that!” it might be trying to protect you from humiliation. When it yells, “Don’t even try for that promotion!” it may be a fear response coming out instead of your authentic voice.

The heart is like a garden. It can grow compassion or fear, resentment or love. What seeds will you plant there?

Jack Kornfield

The problem is, the inner critic doesn’t really know what’s true, and it isn’t aware that its approach is ineffective and damaging. And like a small child, when we ignore it or angrily tell it to stop, the behavior usually escalates. Instead, we can listen to the inner critic. We can say, “Ah, yes, I hear your concern. Thank you for trying to protect me. I love you.” Just like with a child, we do not have to give in to our inner critic’s tantrums or let it run the show. We can simply acknowledge the inner critic’s contribution, offer compassion and gratitude, and move forward.

How mindfulness leads us to self-love

When we love ourselves, we accept every part of ourselves – including our inner critic – unconditionally. In order to accept these parts, we must become familiar with them. It is difficult to accept something if you are not aware of its existence. We can become familiar with our wants, needs, feelings, and characteristics through meditation. Mindfulness is one way to practice meditation and get to know ourselves better and develop an appreciation for ourselves. We can also practice mindfulness throughout our day by taking the time to observe what we are thinking, feeling, and experiencing in the moment instead of over-identifying with thoughts. Allowing the thought to flow past instead of holding on tight as if it were gospel.

Getting our needs met

As we get to know ourselves better, we will gain clarity around our needs. As a result, we will have a much better chance of getting those needs met. The first way this can happen is by asking others for what we need. We can let a friend know we’d like to spend time with them. We can ask our partner to spend time with the kids while we take some time to ourselves. We can ask a co-worker to take on part of a project if we are overwhelmed. Of course, when we ask for help, we may or may not receive it. But, the odds of receiving the help are much higher than if we don’t ask. By making our needs known, we also avoid the resentment that builds up over time. Simply voicing our needs and taking the next step forward is one aspect of self-care.

The second way to get our needs met is by meeting them ourselves. This can be done through the practice of self-care and self-compassion. We can meet our need for love and affection by loving and being affectionate with ourselves, even in simple ways like the tone and words we use with our inner voice. A little non-judgmental tenderness or fierceness goes a long way to soften our inner-landscape.

We can meet our need for adequate rest and relaxation by setting boundaries and saying no. It may feel uncomfortable to prioritize our own needs if we are used to people-pleasing or afraid of disappointing others. Remember that you are not responsible for changing or fixing their feelings. Honor yourself by meeting your own needs. When our own needs are met, we can then choose to do things for others without obligation or resentment.

Take yourself on a date

Even couples who have been together for a long time benefit from dating each other. You will be in a relationship with yourself your entire life, so why not spend some quality time with yourself? Taking yourself on a date is an opportunity to honor and appreciate yourself. If your inner critic has some choice words about this idea, listen compassionately, then go enjoy yourself!

If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.

Jack Kornfield

Photo by Laura Briedis