Self-love is the hardest kind of love.

Agnieszka Zbieranska
6 min readJul 21, 2019

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The more I practice yoga, and the more I go through life, the more I realise that the most important thing we need to sort out to be able to show up in the world as our authentic selves, is to learn to love ourselves.

And, I believe, it’s also the hardest skill we’ll have to learn.

Photo by Pixabay Pexels

Now, you’re probably thinking that I’ve got it all mixed up; that the real problem of this world is that people are too egoistic, which is commonly understood as excessively self-loving, too self-absorbed, and completely oblivious to other people’s needs.

Yes, we are too egoistic and perhaps too self-absorbed, but I think we’ve got the meaning of the word ‘egoism’ wrong.

In yoga, to live and love egoistically means living and loving through the prism of external comparisons and attributes, which by virtue will make us feel small, insignificant, worthless.

Our ego-self, defined by all that is external and changeable, looks at the world through constricted lenses, identifying only with the body, mind, and feelings.

And there’s always going to be someone more beautiful than you, more successful, smarter — whatever it is that you ascribe your self-love to.

Sadly, most of us have been taught to exist and value ourselves through these kind of external comparisons and attributes.

And that, I believe, makes us egoistic. Instead of looking at a beautiful, kind person without any judgment and with recognition they deserve, we’ll look at them as a threat to our own beauty and kindness. And so we not only start hating ourselves, but we also cannot truly celebrate the other, either.

So what is self-love?

Though we commonly equate egoism with excessive self-love, in yoga, self-love is the polar opposite of ego-ism. It’s an ego-less love.

Self-love enables us to connect with our true self, which recognises and cherishes our essence irrespective of its temporary physical attributes. Your looks will pass, your success may vanish (though I cincerely hope it won’t), your brain will inevitably deteriorate as well. The nature of the physical world is change, and so an attachment to all that’s changeable is futile — and prone to cause distress and relentless self-bullying.

That’s why I see egoism — which so many of us are accused of these days— as an ultimate manifestation of deeply ingrained self-hatred.

Is egoism a glorified term for self-hatred?

I believe it is.

Let me give you an example.

I’m writing these words in a severe cold. Coughing, sneezing, looking ugly, being unable to move, feeling too emotional about literally everything — the full package.

Not a biggie — we all get a cold from time to time, we wither in bed for a few days, binge-watch on brainless TV series, and then we get better and carry on with our lives.

Well, not me. I’ve got to be in my top form all the frickin’ time, especially on a sunny weekend when most people in London are out and about, bbq-ing and sunbathing (in fact, I was going to go to a bbq party today, but instead I’m bed-ridden, on my own, pouring my frustrations out on Medium).

Now, imagine that it’s your best friend or partner going through it. Provided you actually care about them, you would tuck them in, serve them hot soup, feed them some strong medications, and tell them to just relax, rest, and take care of themselves. That’s in fact what my boyfriend did before heading out to a wedding reception.

And this is how you should treat yourself, too.

Instead, what went through my head today as I missed my morning tennis lesson, halved the time spent with my friends over brunch, and excused myself from the bbq party, instead withering on the sofa, were such statements as:

  • You failure, you will never learn how to play tennis properly. The summer season is almost over, so good luck with keeping it up in the autumn and winter. That is if your tennis coach will even want to play with you after you bailed on him last minute today.
  • Your boyfriend is going out with his friends and you’re bailing on yours? What kind of a friend are you? Don’t complain that you feel lonely next time you do.
  • Weekend is the only time that you can be productive with everything work-unrelated. You’re taking the whole weekend to wallow in bed? No wonder that your yoga business is growing so slowly. I mean, look at X’s Instagram page. She’s doing so much better than you.
  • You haven’t exercised enough during the week and now you’re not going to make up for it over the weekend. You’ll get fat and no one will love you.
  • Your boyfriend is going out without you, looking so smart and smokin’ hot. You’re punching waaaaay above your weight.

I mean — WTF!

Only writing it all ‘out loud’, made me realise how horrible my ego is.

Yes — it is self-absorbed, but it’s by no means self-loving.

It’s self-hatred in its pure form. I would’ve never said that to my boyfriend, friend, mum, or dad. Not even to my worst enemy.

Why is self-love so important?

I started this article with a strong claim — that self-love is the most difficult and yet the most important skill we’ll have to learn.

Why is it so important?

Firstly, lacking self-love feels horrible. It makes you feel inadequate and perpetuate habits, attitudes, and choices that harm you rather than benefit you.

It makes you become insecure, clingy, or manipulative toward others, deprive yourself of good nutrition or quality sleep, among other things we do to ourselves out of egoistic self-love.

But most importantly, egoistic self-love hinders everything that — as a human — you’re likely to crave in this physical world. To be loved.

As Aristotle said, humans are social animals, and indeed, pretty much everything we do in this world is related to others. We are somebody’s children, somebody’s parents, somebody’s friends or partners, somebody’s bosses or team mates; even when we work independently, the degree to which we can succeed is a direct measure of how well we can relate to others — our clients, customers, or students.

And so, our experience in this world depends on the quality of relationships that we can build with others.

But if we cannot love ourselves, we won’t ever be able to authentically and fully relate to others and others, quite likely, won’t be able to truly relate to us either.

Deepak Chopra[1] put it better than I possibly could —

Relationships depend on the flow of giving and receiving that begins in the fullness of our own heart. (…) and we can only give love in relationships if we have it available within us.

Now, this isn’t to say that all of us struggling with self-love aren’t capable of or willing to love. We are. To paraphrase a saying I came across a while back, ‘we are wired for generosity but educated for greed’:

Humans are wired for love, but educated for egoism.

The ego trying to act lovingly in a relationship can never replace or achieve equal outcomes as the genuine ego that arises spontaneously when we nurture our innermost self.

What can we do about it?

To be honest, I don’t have a clear answer; but I am learning and working on it.

I mean, I am much better at treating myself nicely than the 15 or 20-year-old me; but as you can see in the example above, I still have moments of utter egoism, when not meeting my external definitions of self-worth turns me into a little, cruel tyrant, poking mercileslly into my deepest vulnerabilities.

And self-love, just like love toward others, is a process and it goes through stages.

So whenever I fall into a vicious cycle of looking at myself and the world through my ego’s eyes, I try to stop and adopt the behaviours of those who actually care about me.

To put it simply, I try to ask myself — what would Mama and Papa do?

Would they scorn me? Would they make me work, when my body is clearly incapable of carrying me any further? Would they criticise me for not achieving something, even though I’ve put all my energy into getting it? Would they call me unlovable when the relationship I cared about fails?

No.

They would tuck me in, serve me hot soup, feed me some strong medications, and tell me to just relax, rest, and take care of myself. Everything else will fall into place on its own accord.

[1] I’ve recently signed up to a 21-day meditation course, Miraculous Relationships, led by Oprah Winfrey and Deepak Chopra, in which every day is focused on a different aspect of self-love and loving others. Every guided meditation is like a balm to my soul and 20-minutes pass faster that a blink of an eye. Highly, highly recommend it.

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Agnieszka Zbieranska

Business Psychologist, Life Coach & NLP Practitioner, 200hr Yoga Teacher. A firm believer that we can all be better than ‘ok’, in every area of our lives.