The Four Pillars of Self-Love

How to understand and harness self-love for improved emotional wellbeing

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The Four Pillars of Self-Love

Why do we need a framework for self-love?

Even as a self-love author and self-proclaimed super-fan, it took me many years to really understand self-love, to learn to love myself and to build my own self-love practice. Self-love as a way to boost emotional wellbeing and happiness is a popular concept, yet is often misunderstood. The term is used to describe many different practices, ranging from physical self-care or pampering to spiritual enlightenment, to manifestation to body positivity. 

Self-love transformed my life for the better and I want to share it with others in a way that makes self-love easy for anyone to understand and practice. Self-love is multi-faceted and holistic – it encompasses mind, body and soul.  So, as I couldn’t find a definition that worked well for me, I designed my own and developed the ‘Four Pillars of Self-Love’ framework to help make sense of the enormous and awesome field.

I want to share the four pillars of self-love: what they are, and why they matter so that you can start to develop their self-love practice on firm foundations, enhancing your emotional wellbeing through self-love.

The Four Pillars of Self-Love 

The four pillars of self-love are: 

  • Acceptance
  • Appreciation
  • Nurture
  • Transformation 

Each supports the other; you need all of them and without one or more, you don’t really have self-love at all. Imagine a chair with four legs; if you take one leg away you have a very wobbly and pretty uncomfortable chair. Let’s take a look at each of the pillars in more detail. 

Acceptance

The first pillar of self-love is acceptance. To achieve self-love you will need to accept yourself as you are today, right now. You’ll then need to accept yourself every day. You will need to accept your flaws and perfect imperfections. 

If we were talking about someone else, this would be super easy. Imagine the person you love most in the world; perhaps a spouse, lover, child, sibling, parent or very best friend. You just accept them as they are, right? You don’t expect them to be perfect, you accept the rough with the smooth because you love them. You accept them and everything about them because you love them unconditionally.  

While we may be used to unconditionally accepting others, self-acceptance, though, is a gnarly stumbling block that so many people struggle with. To some, the very thought of self-acceptance brings fear and dread. To some, it seems an impossibility. Self-love guidance is heavily skewed towards acceptance; perhaps this is because acceptance seems to be the first logical step in the self-love journey.

The fact that some people struggle to accept themselves is a tragedy. But the problem is widespread. I’d even go as far as to say most people have struggled to fully accept themselves at one time in their lives. To solve self-rejection and engender self-acceptance for people would indeed be something very special.

Self-acceptance comes first on my list of four pillars but that doesn’t mean you have to accept yourself before you can move forward with any other aspect of self-love. Far from it. It is perfectly possible to use other aspects of self-love to build self-acceptance. Self-appreciation, for example, can lead quickly to self-acceptance. Nurture can also help you to develop self-acceptance.

It’s important to consider what cannot be fixed with self-love. I believe self-love is something anyone can develop but getting started can be very hard indeed if there are past traumas that need to be healed.  Wherever you are on your self-love journey, and specifically if you struggle with self-acceptance, I hope you can harness some aspect of self-love, however small, that brings you comfort. We all need to start somewhere and doing the small things to get started can quickly enable you to build more and more ambitious self-love activities into your routine.

For many, a lack of self-acceptance comes from years of negative feedback. If the negative feedback comes from you,  for example, via negative self-talk, it can easily be fixed. If the negative self-talk comes from other people, it can also easily be fixed. However, if a lack of self-acceptance comes from past trauma, or there’s been a history of ongoing trauma in your life, it may be necessary to heal that trauma through therapy before you are able to accept yourself.  Where self-love comes in, is that whatever your needs are, self-love helps you to understand those needs and move towards fulfilling them. 

Appreciation

The second pillar of self-love is appreciation. Over and above simply accepting yourself, it is enlightening to deeply appreciate yourself. Appreciation is different from acceptance. If acceptance is simply accepting everything about a person, appreciation is finding the fabulous aspects about a person and feeling awe-inspired. You’ll need to see, understand and appreciate all the wonderful and unique things that make you you and be delighted by those things each day.

If we were discussing another person, it would be easy to identify the things that make you love that person like crazy. And there are things are different types of wonderful things whether the person is a partner or a child or friend, but in each of those relationships, you’ll know the kind of amazing and unique things that people you love bring to your party. This is the sort of appreciation you want to feel towards yourself, for your own unique amazingness.

Appreciation is an issue for many people because it requires time and focus, and in our busy lives, we often put ourselves last. It may well be that someone has self-acceptance by the bucket load but simply doesn’t have enough time or doesn’t feel like they have enough time to spend even just a small amount of it on self-appreciation. Self-appreciation is vital as it determines the reason why we should love ourselves. We need to appreciate ourselves to understand just how awesome we are, and why therefore we should spend time on all the other types of self-love activities. 

A lack of self-appreciation is easy to fix, as, for the most part, what it requires is just a little thinking space. Self-appreciation helps with all the other aspects of self-love, of course. Learning to appreciate yourself and everything you do and are capable of means you will be able to set and achieve ambitious goals. It means you will dedicate the right level of care and attention to self-nurture and self-care and it means you will know that you are worthy of whatever kind of transformation you desire.

Nurture

The third pillar of self-love is nurture. Nurture is amazing. Is the day-to-day stuff that you do for yourself. It’s the everyday stuff, and much of it might also be described as self-care. 

Imagine nurturing someone else you love, maybe you’d nurture them as a baby, get up in the middle of the night for years to feed them, and as they get older read them a bedtime story every single evening. Maybe you’ve nurtured a child as they’ve grown into an adult? Maybe you’ve driven across the country when a friend needed help, sent someone you care about some money no questions asked, or been there when they wanted to cry, laugh, or go out dancing? Self-nurture is really just showing up for yourself responsibly and reliably so that you live your best day each and every day.

Without nurture, we’d all be in a mess. It is more than just taking responsibility for washing and dressing though, it is also about all the tiny things we do each day to support ourselves. What we eat, what we drink, what other substances we might choose to consume: nicotine, drugs, caffeine and such. How much we move our bodies, in what ways, and what we fill our minds with: TV, news, gossip, social feeds, books, papers, or glossy magazines.

Focusing on how we nurture ourselves allows us to feel a connection with our bodies and listen to what they are telling us. Based on this we can understand what we need to feel really good. Self-love can’t really happen without nurture, and often when you see someone who is obviously lacking in the nurture department, it’s a fair bet that they’re lacking more generally in self-love.

While it’s not first on the list, nurture can be a great first step in developing a self-love practice and creating a sense of self-love. If someone struggles with acceptance and appreciation, any nurturing activities are a less sensitive ask. It’s less personal and more practical; anyone can take action and increase their nurturing activities.

Transformation

The fourth pillar of self-love is Transformation. Transforming, facilitating, enabling, accelerating and investing in yourself is doing whatever it takes to enable you to live your best life in the future. Whereas nurture is the day-to-day stuff you do for yourself to make sure you live your best day, transformation is the stuff you do to make sure you live your best life.

Transformation is the difference between staying overweight, and losing the excess weight forever, between staying stuck in an okay job, and getting your dream job or becoming an entrepreneur and retiring at 40. Transformation is knowing your purpose and fulfilling it. It’s smashing it out of the park.

If we were discussing how you transform another person, you’d be showing up as a life coach extraordinaire, you’d help them create their bold and awe-inspiring vision, and then achieve it. You’d help them do the things they need each day to get there with ease, enjoyment and grace. Transformation is what you do for someone you truly love. It’s super special and you can’t do it for everyone. 

Transformation completes self-love, and I believe without it, while you may have self-acceptance, self-appreciation and a whole lot of nurture, you don’t really have self-love if you aren’t also able to give yourself whatever else it is you desire.

Why Transformation is Vital 

Acceptance is rooted in the past and the present, appreciation and nurture are firmly the here and now, and transformation is the future. Self-love simply isn’t complete without it.

Some might say that self-love is all about, or rather only about accepting yourself as you are today. Well, that’s nice and all, but I want more; most people want more. Actually, I think everyone wants more but some find it hard to admit that for want of upsetting people. Well, self-love is about you; being true to yourself, and so if you are to be true to yourself you have to stop worrying about what others think of you and get really clear on what you want. And if you want a different future it’s totally 100% okay for you to want it and to go and get it. 

I suspect that the belief that self-love is simply acceptance is born of well-meaning people trying to help others in difficult situations. For example, it’s easier to suggest you can accept yourself than to suggest you might want to make a change.

Just like all the other pillars of self-love, in order to transform you need the rest of the four pillars in place too. You have to accept yourself today as a precursor to defining your future life, you have to appreciate yourself to believe yourself to be worthy of your future life and you’ll need to nurture yourself to get there. Transformation is a crucial pillar of self-love, and for me, it is the most exciting one.

Why You Need All Four Pillars

If we don’t have self-love across all of the four pillars we will be lacking in one or more vital areas we need to enjoy a happy, balanced life.  Let’s think for a while about the four pillars and what happens if one or more of them is missing; if your self-love isn’t built on solid foundations.

Without Acceptance

First, let’s take acceptance. If someone is unable to accept themself they might suffer from a range of problems including insecurity, a lack of confidence, worrying about what others think of them, overthinking the meaning of actions or conversations, spending disproportionate amounts of time and attention to what they look like, or what they wear or what they say or how they say it. It can become overwhelming and all-consuming and mean that they are so self-absorbed they are unable to do much else.  The impact of all that might mean that a person may be envious or jealous of others, they might not trust others and certainly won’t feel comfortable around others whom they may feel are more deserving of acceptance.  A lack of acceptance can also lead to endless comparison further perpetuating the lack of acceptance. 

Without Appreciation

Now, let’s look at appreciation. On the surface of it, this one might seem less important. “If I accept myself, it doesn’t matter so much if I don’t appreciate myself, maybe it’ll all still be okay?” Well, if someone doesn’t appreciate themselves, they might not have the problems associated with a lack of self-acceptance, but they won’t feel they’re all that special either. Without appreciation, there’s no joy, there’s just a lot of ‘meh’. It’s like not hating or loathing yourself, but it’s still pretty disappointing. Let’s look at it another way, if you were not talking about yourself but talking about a partner, it would be like being with someone you just didn’t appreciate. Imagine that. Nothing they do would be awesome, they wouldn’t possess any brilliant qualities that made you want to be with them. Not appreciating yourself would be like dating someone you were just really ambivalent about. You could take or leave them. Feeling this way about yourself is rather sad, isn’t it?

Without Nurture

Nurture’s role should need no explanation. As a pillar of self-love, nurture means we show up for ourselves every day and do all the things required to make sure we live our best day every day. If you take this away you’d be in trouble. A person who lacks nurture won’t be doing much for themselves. I don’t mean they won’t eat or wash, no, it won’t be that serious as a basic survival instinct will kick in for our basic needs. If a person is lacking the nurture part of self-love they won’t do anything else much that’s good for them each day. They may just be functioning rather than deriving enjoyment or pleasure from life. Without nurture, there’s just basic existence. There’s no taking pride in one’s self, no enjoyment of simple pleasures, no enjoyment of physical activity, no self-development, no learning, no progression. It’s likely that people lacking in nurture will be stuck and unable to fully enjoy life.

Without Transformation

And finally transformation; this one should need little explanation. If a person is lacking transformation they may have appreciation, acceptance and nurture but won’t be able to create a new future for themselves. They won’t have what it takes to show up for themselves to make the big changes, the transformation needed to change their lives for the better, long term. There might be other reasons too why someone fails to transform, and that may be due to a lack of acceptance or appreciation. Transformation is a vital pillar of self-love because it recognises that we are not complete, never stop learning, have endless potential and should all be growing towards our goals each day. Without this, we have a limited sense of self and our potential, and that’s a sub-optimal place to be, in my opinion.

By working on all these pillars of self-love together, it’s possible to grow in so many ways, to acquire newfound self-love and to build a sustainable and life-long self-love practice.

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