Self-Love | How to Love the ‘Unlovable’ Parts of Ourselves

“Self-love doesn’t come from fixing yourself. It comes from falling in love with the parts of yourself you’ve been trying to fix.”  ~ Hannah Blum


For many years into my recovery I struggled immensely with self-love. I could maybe love the bright and shiny parts of myself, but my dark parts – my tortuous thoughts, my self-judgement and judgement of others, my temper and my rage, my despondency and my depressive tendencies – were impossible to love. 


My shadow was associated with so much shame and I’d frequently fall into spirals of self-hatred instead of self-love, focusing only on what was ‘wrong’ with me.


We can spend so much time focusing on what’s wrong, what hasn’t changed, what hasn’t healed, what we haven’t achieved, that we forget how to love ourselves right now. We lose sight of who we are, and focus on who we want to become or who we think we should be. I’d work hard to ‘fix’ the parts of me I’d labelled as defective, or broken, and as a result, often felt like half a person.

shadow self

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In my mind, I wanted to exist only in light – I wanted my recovery to be from darkness to light and dance around forever in a bubble of euphoria. I didn’t understand that my journey was to be from darkness to wholeness. From hole to whole. 

To be human is to be whole. To be already healed. To encompass light and dark. To sing in the sun and the shadow.
Self-love is to love all of ourselves. All the parts, all the pieces. It’s showering our shadow selves with deep compassion, love and endless tenderness, even when we don’t ‘like’ what we see, even when we’re feeling triggered, even when we’re responding in ways we’re not proud of.
Self-love is being kind to ourselves always, about abandoning the violent ways we treat ourselves, and about letting go of the shame, blame and ways we punish ourselves.
Self-love is welcoming all our emotions, and holding that deep knowing that there are no ‘negative’ emotions. Knowing that everything we feel is valid, worthy, welcome.
Self-love is ‘giving yourself, as best as you can, what your parents would have loved to grant you but probably couldn’t – full hearted attention, full-minded awareness, and compassion.’  ~ Gabor Mate
Self-love is gifting yourself with these qualities every single day, making this life-long process a daily practise.

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The more we love ourselves and consciously cultivate self-love, the more we are able to connect with ourselves and connect with others. And when we exist in a state of interconnectedness and reciprocity, we experience more flow, more ease, more peace.


Without this connection to self-love we can often feel lost, continually looking outside ourselves for love to fix us. But when we seek love from external sources, that hole inside us never gets filled. We create an endless game of cat and mouse, always chasing, seeking, always needy, relying on someone else or something else to make us feel good, make us feel loved, appreciated, valued.


So the more we work on loving ourselves, rather than working on ourselves, the more our hearts open and the more we’re able to release our neediness and expectation of others to make us happy. We can learn to do that for ourselves.


How and why do we have these dark parts? These pieces of ourselves we deem unlovable, undesirable and unworthy. And how can we start to love them?

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Gabor Mate talks about the choice we have as children between attachment and authenticity.


Attachment is the emotional and physical dependence we have on our caregivers required for the regulation of our brain and nurturance of our emotional and physical needs. As humans we need to connect, belong, love and be loved so attachment is a non-negotiable necessity.


Authenticity is the capacity to know what we feel, be in touch with our bodies and deeply know our own truth. It’s the ability to express who we are and manifest who we are in all of our activities and relationships. Without this crucial connection to our bodies and our gut feelings we are not able to discern between what is dangerous and what nurtures us. So authenticity is another universal basic human need.


But as children we are often presented with a choice between the two – attachment vs. authenticity. If there’s an incompatibility between the two needs, ie if I’m authentic then my parents will reject me, then attachment will win over authenticity every time, as we need our parents’ or caregivers’ love and attention for our survival. So for a child, it’s not really a choice.


Through a child’s eyes and bodily experience, love and approval is the only goal, so in order to receive that love and approval, authenticity is often unconsciously sacrificed. 

Loving your shadow

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Through the lens of their own trauma, repression and stress, parents often unconsciously transmit the message that we are not acceptable the way we are. 
If we have traits that are met with disapproval, disdain, anger or punishment by our parents, we will learn to suppress those parts.
If our overzealousness is silenced, we may learn to suppress our enthusiasm. If our curiosity is squashed, we may cease asking questions and internalise a sense of shame about learning and growth. If our requests for help are ignored or belittled, we may learn to separate ourselves from our innate needs and develop an imbalanced self-sufficiency. If our anger is punished, we may learn to classify our emotions as ‘wrong’ and repress our rage.
By suppressing these integral parts of who we are, we become deeply disconnected from ourselves. We lose a sense of our needs and we lose who we are. We lose our authenticity.
To meet our parents’ approval we therefore learn to present a masked version of ourselves, a palatable version, hiding our real emotions in fear of rejection. We learn to repress the parts that our parents reject, banishing the emotions that would threaten the attachment, and in turn reject ourselves for having these ‘unwanted’ parts.   
These unwanted parts then create the shadow.
Shadow self-love

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Self-love is therefore about embracing the shadow and bringing these dissociated parts back into our arms, healing ourselves into wholeness.  Instead of ostracising these parts, we need to integrate them into our being with love.  


If you’re feeling stuck, overwhelmed, confused at this prospect, it may be supportive to ask yourself: What if the parts I judge about myself actually helped me to survive?


How to Cultivate Self-Love

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Develop and intimate relationship with your needs & feelings

– tenderly unearthing their invitation for nurturance and attention. We all share the same basic, universal human needs. When we can connect with and honour our needs, without shoulding or shaming ourselves for having them, we can create an inner-harmony, happiness and flow. Often what we label as ‘negative’ emotions are simply messengers of our unmet needs. 
For an in depth understanding and clarification of needs, Marshall Rosenberg’s Non-Violent Communication (NVC) is an amazing place to start.

Treat your feelings and emotions as messengers

There is always gold in the gloom. Instead of internal beratings and self-flagellation for feeling ways you don’t ‘want’ to feel, try re-labelling ‘negative’ emotions as needs that need nourishing and wondrous whispers from your soul.
If we can tend to our emotions with compassionate curiosity and open-hearted acceptance, we can create space for softening and a subsequent shift.

Pay attention to your inner dialogue

We often speak to ourselves with so much violence and self-judgement, much of which is wrapped up in the word ‘should’. Every time we ‘should’ ourselves we create another layer of shame within our souls, obscuring our truth and our peace. We create a turbulent war within our psyche.
So can you listen with love for those ‘shoulds’? Even the unconscious ones that aren’t always immediately audible. ‘I should have known better. I shouldn’t have done that. I shouldn’t be feeling like this.’
When instead we welcome with our words the power of choice and intention over guilt and entrapment, and compassion over criticism, we allow the self-love to flow.
How to love yourself

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Appreciate and celebrate yourself often

With self-appreciation we are connecting to our essence – the true core of who we are beneath the stories, patterning and conditioning. The more we connect to ourselves on this level, the less we attach to the mental stories and false beliefs clamouring for our attention.  Where attention goes, energy flows.
Note, there is a distinction between praise and appreciation. Praise is more of a shallow observation often predicated on an outcome, whereas deep self-appreciation is so much more. It is the acknowledgement of actions we take and decisions we make in order to meet our innate needs, thus contributing to our emotional and physical well-being. It also allows us to offer self-forgiveness for our less-than ideal behaviours, as we start to see these as misguided attempts to get our needs met.

Perseverence furthers

Self-love is not something that happens quickly. It requires persistence, commitment, and the deep knowledge and acceptance that setbacks are inevitable. We will oscillate between love and despair, between acceptance and resistance, but know that this being human. Release the expectation of perfection, of a perfect, unwavering self-love, and see it more as a lighthouse, guiding you home again and again and again.

Hold space for your mistakes

Holding space for ourselves is to be fully present in our unfolding, without judgment or criticism. To know that big emotions and being triggered are all part of the human experience. To know that ‘mistakes’ are unavoidable, and making a mistake doesn’t equate to being a mistake.

From a shame-brain’s perspective, our ‘mistakes’ in thought and behaviour can easily floor us and become overwhelming. We can quickly descend down the rabbit hole of self-doubt, questioning our value, safety, and belonging, and in a micro-flash we’re drowning in self-condemnation, blame and shame.
Instead, can we start to see our mistakes and dramatic emotional responses as indicative of disconnection, and as an opportunity for limitless expansion and reconnection with our needs?  By becoming conscious of the self-blame and the stories attached to it, we can then see how our mistake is simply a tragic expression of an unmet need. When we can view ourselves in terms of our needs, we create a shift in energy, a dissipation of shame and an opening of the heart. 

Stay centred in the face of disapproval

When deeply connected with our truth, we may not always receive approval or agreement from other people. Each and every person sees the world through their own unique lens of experience and trauma, so it’s integral to remember that another person’s perspective is a reflection of their history, not of you.
When we start to understand that our own behaviour, emotions and opinions stem from a complex tapestry of everything that’s happened to us, we can also start to humanise the other and see their disapproval as a means of self-expression, not an undermining of who we are. It’s definitely not easy, but by connecting to our own underlying needs and the needs of the other, we can create a spaciousness for self-love and acceptance in the midst of contempt.


Self-love community

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Every human being is a uniquely intricate symphony, comprised of a unique and complex blend of notes. We all find what works for us, what nourishes us, what creates the spaciousness for self-love. My top 3 are:


We don’t heal in isolation, we heal in community. Sometimes when we can’t access that place of self-love within us, being seen, being heard, being understood by others can open that valve. Surround yourself with cheerleaders and space holders – the kind of people who can witness you in all the colours of your emotional rainbow, who can empathise with your feelings instead of trying to fix you.
We are interdependent beings – we need support, connection and a sense of belonging in order to thrive and help create our own container for self-love. This is why I created The Soul Library – a book lover’s weekly healing circle where together we journey through spiritual books.


Externalising our thoughts and feelings onto paper can be a transformative practise. It helps to declutter mental mess and untangle confusion, thereby gifting us with clarity, peace and ease. It can help connect us to our life force, whilst also meeting our shadow with love.
Michael Joseph Ferguson offers a brilliant NVC-inspired journaling technique in his podcast here, whereby we write down our feelings, from which we extract our needs, from which we determine how to meet those needs.
Journaling prompts around specific themes can also support deeper insight into ourselves and connect us to our gigantic beating heart instead of our limiting, pulsating thoughts. My lovingly crafted Journal Circle offering incorporates daily journal prompts and a monthly women’s circle around the same theme, integrating two of my biggest loves – community and journaling.


This exquisite practise weaves its metamorphic magic in unimaginable, inconceivable ways. I’ve experienced energetic sensations and emotional revelations where there was pain and indecision, profound inspiration & direction where there was emptiness and stagnancy, and awe-inspiring expansion with floods of self-love where there was constriction and despair.

It’s a practise that bypasses our cognitive and intellectual attempts to ‘fix’ ourselves and one that heals us at an invisible cellular level. Words can neither conjure nor convey the alchemic power of Breathwork. It needs to be experienced to be believed.
If you’d like to experience the magical capacities of your own breath, the heart medicine that lies within you, I am available for 1:1 healing sessions as well as group Breathwork. Message me to enquire about booking a session.
There will always be a gap between our idealised selves and our actual selves, so it’s vital to embody this understanding for our self-love to flourish.
Instead of striving for change, can we strive for acceptance? Because paradoxically, when we lean into acceptance without judgement, we create the fertile soil for self-love.
Can you pour honey on our heart and instead of telling yourself there’s something wrong with you, can you start to look at what happened to you? 
When we can see our ‘faults’ as not our fault but our places of wounding, our tender, innocent hearts can start to burst wide open and allow self-love to flood in.

Olivia is passionate about all things healing. Having spent the last 12 years on a personal recovery journey from substance abuse and self-harming, she has a uniquely gentle and compassionate insight into this world.


She believes that connection with others and connection with ourselves is at the root of all healing and uses different modalities to explore this essential truth – 1:1 and group Breathwork, women’s healing circles, creative arts.

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