Unconditional Love, Self-Kindness and a 4 Step Practice to Get You Started!

Girl showing unconditional love for herself with hands over heart

Do you find it easier to be kind to others than to yourself? Being kind and gentle with ourselves is something many of us find challenging.

And a rarely talked about topic that underpins self-kindness is unconditional self-love.

An easy way to describe unconditional love is this: I love you no matter what. In other words, there is nothing you can do, be or say that will make me love you any less.

Few of us received unconditional love from others, never mind ourselves. And here’s why:

Growing up, we learned that when we were not the way others wanted us to be, there was a penalty. We learned that certain behaviours and outcomes were rewarded, and that certain behaviours and outcomes led to people loving us less.

Or at least that’s how it seemed at the time…

We believed there were conditions on our lovability. And so we learned to wear a mask/persona and hide who we really are. We turned up the parts of ourselves that got rewarded, and turned down – or off – the parts of ourselves that didn’t.

And many of us still live our lives by these conditions and internal rules – the things we believe we must do to deserve acceptance and love. Even from ourselves.

While we can’t turn the clock back, we can learn new ways of being with ourselves…

What were the conditions you needed to meet to be lovable?

The clues are in what you were regularly rewarded for as a child, what you needed to do to earn praise – and what you needed to do to avoid displeasing others.

For example, did you need to be polite and considerate, thin, look pretty or smart, do well in school, be loyal, clean everything off your plate, be tough, always be happy or something else?

A great journaling exercise is to ask yourself: “What conditions did I need to meet, in order to receive the love I needed growing up?”

So, what does unconditional self-love look like?

Unconditional self-love goes one step beyond self-acceptance. Whereas self-acceptance accepts our flaws and mistakes and allows us to be whole, unconditional self-love offers us an unconditional positive regard that sets us free!

Unconditional self-love means we love ourselves the same whether we pass or fail that exam, whether we’re a size 4 or 16, whether we exercised or not, and whether we say yes – or no – to whatever we’re asked. And we love ourselves the same whether we do the ‘right’ or wrong’ thing, whether we succeed, make a mistake – or utterly fail.

I love you no matter what means:

  • No matter how you look, I love you.
  • No matter how you behave, I love you.
  • No matter whether you succeed or not, I love you.
  • No matter what other people think, I love you.
  • No matter what you do or don’t do, I love you

It no longer matters what others think of you – or what your critic might say, because you love yourself UNCONDITIONALLY.

In fact, when you unconditionally love yourself, everything is easier.

There is more flow, and less fear and worry: when we fall out with others, we still have ourselves; when we have a decision to make, we’re stronger and more confident; when things go wrong, we’re more resilient; and because we value ourselves more highly, we take better care of our health and well-being.

Importantly we also gain freedom. We become free of the need to please others to get love, because we already have all the love we need right here. And we get closer to inner peace because we no longer have to please – or appease – our critic.

Unconditional self-love is a noble goal, but it’s not easy!

Learning to love ourselves unconditionally takes a lot of personal work. We need to unpick decades of assumptions about who we are, how we should be as well as learn how to manage an inner critic that tries to keep us small and safe, by following “the rules”.

For many of us, this is a life’s work.

In the meantime we can all practice Fierce Kindness!

Kindness is a universal form of love. It may not be as intense as love, but it’s easier to practice both with ourselves and others.

Fierce Kindness is a deep, abiding kindness we can learn that stands by us no matter what happens in our lives.

Some examples of Fierce Kindness in action:

When we’re Fiercely Kind with ourselves it’s about being our own unconditionally nurturing parent, best friend and wise counsel – all rolled into one.

  • Instead of criticising ourselves when we mess up, Fierce Kindness says, “That sucks. Well, at least you learned a lot so you’ll do better next time.”
  • Instead of judging ourselves when we snap or behave badly because we’re stressed, Fierce Kindness says, “That wasn’t your best you. You must be feeling bad, what do you need right now?”
  • When we succeed but feel hurt because no-one notices or is able to acknowledge us, Fierce Kindness says, “Well that hurts. I know you did a fantastic job, no matter what anyone else thinks.”
  • And when we look in the mirror and don’t like what we see, Fierce Kindness says, “It’s YOU that matters. The soul or spirit inside this body. This is all surface.”

A Fierce Kindness Practice

This self-kindness practice is easier – and harder – than you think, but the process is simple!

WHEN TO USE THIS PRACTICE: When you next feel judged – whether it’s by yourself or someone else.

Here are 4 Easy Steps to Practice Unconditional Self-Kindness:

STEP 1 – Notice you feel judged

  • Once you notice you feel judged (whether it’s your critic or someone else), simply be quiet for a moment and take a deep breath. And another.
  • Allow the feeling to be. Remember: it’s just a feeling, and “we need to feel to heal”.

STEP 2 – Locate your fiercely kind and wise self

  • Next, look inside for a fiercely kind, wise you.
    • This person is wise, nurturing – and fiercely kind. They even know how to protect you from – and soothe – your inner critic.
  • If this is your first time locating your fiercely kind, wise self, it may take a moment. So be patient.
    • If you need to, in the beginning it can be helpful to imagine someone kind and wise. This could be a religious or spiritual leader like Jesus or the Dalai Lama – or it could be a kind, wise character out of a book, TV show or movie. It could even be someone you know.
    • Another idea is to imagine your ‘judged self’ as a small defenceless child. Now imagine you’re going to comfort them. What would you say to them? How would you comfort them?
  • Know that your critic may try to distract you:
    • If there’s a voice in your head, saying, “This is silly” or, “I’m not going to talk to myself” (I hope you see the irony in this statement!) or, “You’re such an idiot” that’ll be your critic at work. Notice your critic, but choose not to get drawn in.
    • Now look for the counterpoint to your critic – a fiercely kind, wise and nurturing self.
    • If they say anything critical or judgemental you’ve not found the kind, wise self yet. Take another deep breath (or three), let go and try again.
    • Breathe. Trust. And keep looking, until you find someone compassionate with the kind words you need.

STEP 3 – Listen

  • Once you’ve found and connected with your fiercely kind and wise self, listen to their words of comfort. (That’s really all there is to it.)
    • If your kind, wise self isn’t saying anything, try asking yourself, “What is it that I need most deeply to hear right now?”
  • You’ll know when this Fierce Kindness practice has worked because you’ll feel lighter. You may even feel a bit tearful (these good tears that mean you’ve connected with the part of you that MOST needs love and support). Good work!

STEP 4 – Make this a Practice

The final step in this process is to notice and reflect, and begin to create your own practice around it.

  • How did it feel to connect to an unconditionally and fiercely kind, wise self?
  • What happened to your inner critic or judge as you heard the words you deeply needed to hear?
  • How will you remember to do this next time?
  • How can you make this a practice or habit?

Wrap-up – and Ponder:

Wouldn’t it be nice to know that no matter what we do or don’t do, we are still loved the same – at least by ourselves! Are you ready to begin the journey to love yourself unconditionally, as you are?

And how does it feel to know that you have a kind and wise self that you can connect with any time, for advice, healing and support?

Everyone needs love and acceptance – no matter what. If you won’t give it to yourself, who will?

Unconditional Love and the 3 Connections:

  1. Connection to ourselves: Unconditional love is probably the deepest kind of connection we can have with ourselves. It’s total acceptance and positive regard of ourselves, as we are, without needing to change anything. And it feels amazing.
  2. Connection to others: We can’t make people love us unconditionally. But we can work towards loving others unconditionally. As we do this, we begin to see beyond the surface to the person we love underneath, and relationships deepen.
  3. Connection to something bigger than ourselves. The ultimate in unconditional love is simply to accept everyone – and everything – around us, as it is, without requiring anything to change. When we get to this place of non-resistance, we see our world in a whole new way.

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Remember to “Change the world, start with you!”

Image of child showing unconditional love for themselves by Prostock-Studio via Shutterstock

Image of Mother and Child via Unsplash

2 Comments

  1. Alaine Marie

    Love, love, love this article!! It is just what I needed. Not only for myself but for others around me that are going through difficult situations on top of the Covid-19 restrictions.
    Thank you, Emma-Louise, for your wonderful articles and all the resources that you share with us. As a (very) new life coach, I find them extremely helpful in adding to my “toolbox” of information and exercises.
    With Unconditional love,
    Alaine Marie

    Reply
    • Emma-Louise Elsey

      Dear Alaine Marie! It is so lovely to hear from you, and I’m glad these articles and resources are helpful 🙂 Thank-you for taking the time to comment – as a new venture, it’s great to hear I’m on the right track! Warmly, Emma x

      Reply

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