We’ve all learned about the importance of loving ourselves. Even kids today pick it up from popular media. And there’s no shortage of advice for how to love yourself, most of which is very helpful. But I’m sorry to say that all of the conventional wisdom about self love is inadequate. I’ll explain why.
The fundamental misunderstanding about self love is the mistaken notion that the self is a singular entity that needs to be loved. In reality, our selves are not singular in nature. The truth is that we have a multiplicity of selves in our subconscious minds. Remember Freud’s Id, Ego, and Superego? He was one of the first to recognize the multiplicity within the mind.
Over the 140 years since Freud shared this insight there have been many psychotherapy models based entirely on working with what psychologists refer to as subpersonalities. Every subpersonality serves a unique purpose in our lives, purposes that often conflict with one another. The latest of these models is called Internal Family Systems (IFS). IFS is aptly named because the best way to think of your mind’s subpersonalities is that they function just like a real family does. And like all families, its members clash, often resulting in distressing thoughts and feelings.
When troubled families go to therapy, their therapists essentially teach family members how to replace unloving relationship patterns with loving ones. This is the same thing you need to teach your own subpersonalities how to do. In order to experience the fullness of self love, every part of you needs to learn how to love and collaborate with one other. That’s what’s missing from conventional self love advice.
In order for your entire self to be loved, you’ll need to teach your subpersonalities how to love one another. This might sound complicated, but it’s easier than you’d think. It doesn’t take years of therapy to learn how to love yourself (your selves) completely. The process can be simplified and the method made easy. It’s not unlike learning to ride a bike or swim — weird in the beginning, then natural in no time. Once your subpersonalities learn to love one another, your life will improve in dramatic ways. That’s because learning how to cultivate internal love is one of the most valuable tools there is for personal transformation.
As a clinical psychologist, I regard self love as the most valuable capability for healing emotional wounds. It’s also one of the most effective ways to manage anxiety, stress, fear, sadness, depression, anger, and conflict. If you’ve ever benefited from a good heart-to-heart talk with someone who loves you, that’s the kind of experience you can have within yourself whenever you need it. Having an inner family that understands, cooperates, and loves one another is essential for mental health. There’s more.
Self love is the best path to greater wholeness and empowerment, both of which offer countless benefits. Problem solving, conflict management, creativity, coping with adversity, even physical health all improve. So does motivation, spiritual growth, and relationships with others.
There are two paths available for cultivating complete self love. Seeking a therapist trained in IFS is one choice to consider for expert help. For those lacking access to a qualified therapist, there is also the do-it-yourself option.
The DYI option mostly requires a good guide book, and there are several of them available. I first learned how to do this 29 years ago from Lucia Capacchion’s books, The Power of Your Other Hand (1988, 2019) and Recovery of Your Inner Child (1991). The IFS manual, Internal Family Systems (Schwartz 1997, 2017) is also another excellent choice. But I give my highest endorsement to Whole Mind Healing: A Simple Path for Changing Your Life by Healing Your Mind (Kandle, 2020), (an author I’ve really come to love).
The goal of self love is to promote greater wholeness, health, and inner peace. Self care will always be a valuable part of self love, so keep that up in whatever ways you do it. But when you’re ready to enjoy the fullest benefits of self love, take the next step toward integrating and harmonizing your inner family. Both your inner life and your outer life will be dramatically transformed.