Do you ever find it difficult to love yourself because you think you're unlovable, you're a failure, or you're just not worth the time? Does your inner critic put you down when you fail live up to your own expectations?

If so, and you're looking for a way to win the inner battle with yourself and find true happiness and a sense of self worth, then this article is for you. Read on and you'll discover important insights about why you're so hard on yourself, and more importantly, how you can turn your inner critic into your inner mentor and develop a true caring, loving relationship with yourself.

How can you learn to love yourself unconditionally?

Let’s begin by exploring the definition of unconditional love. Wikipedia defines this as: “Showing love towards someone regardless of their actions or beliefs."

It’s much easier to understand what unconditional love is than it is for us to practice it. But why do some of us struggle so much with self acceptance?

Let’s get to the root of the problem by looking at what prevents us from offering unconditional love in the first place. We believe that this is results from the way we've been conditioned to respond to other people's actions and beliefs.

From a very young age we've learned that the most effective way to change someone's attitude or behavior is to criticize, blame, judge, humiliate, threaten, or punish them. We use these or any number of other tactics that will cause them to fear acting the same way in the future.

On the flip side, we learn to use rewards to reinforce the behaviors we do like. This punishment and rewards system is basically a "behavior control" technique. It's the same system used to train circus animals.

The Down Side of Using Punishment to Control Behavior

What do most people learn from being subjected to these "behavior control" techniques? We quickly learn how to avoid being on the receiving end of the "punishment." When we're caught, most of us learn how to be very, very careful so we don't get caught again!

If this is the "right" way to control how others act then it's not surprising that, at a very young age, we begin to use this behavior control system on ourselves whenever we don't live up to our own expectations.

To illustrate this, we've put together a video called Be Happy. It describes how this process can happen to us, and how the effects play out later in life. You can find it by going to our website and clicking on the Articles and Videos link on the left hand side of the screen.

The video shows how this process plays out in our relationships with other people, but the process works pretty much the same way in our relationship with ourselves. When you watch the video it won't be hard to see how the habitual ways we learn to react to situations can hinder our ability to love ourselves unconditionally. (If you pay attention toward the end of the video you'll actually find an insight into one powerful thing you can do to overcome this problem.)

The Two Questions

First, it's helpful to understand how completely misguided these "behavior control" techniques are in achieving the true underlying goals we desire. Answering the following two questions will help you understand why this method is not the best way to accomplish what we want or get people to act the way we hope they will:

The first question is:
What do we want people to do?

If you only consider this first question then a system of punishment and rewards may seem like a very effective system because it does produce the desired results--at least some of the time.

The problem is that when people are only motivated by fear of punishment or promise of reward you'll likely get the highest prison population in the developed world, and large numbers of company executives defrauding their shareholders. Why? Because people have only learned to focus on avoiding the punishments and getting the rewards.

The second, and much more important question is:
What do we want people's motives to be for doing what we want them to do?
(Or: Why do we want them to want to do it?)

So stop for a moment and think about the very basic kinds of things we want other people (and ourselves) to do. It's easy to understand that we basically want people to be truthful, honest, respectful, kind, considerate, fair, etc. And we want them to act in these ways because these behaviors reflect what we most highly value.

When you answer the second question it becomes obvious that threatening punishment or enticing with rewards doesn't foster the kind of inner motivation that would cause someone to adopt these values for themselves. Why? Because punishments and rewards are out of harmony with the underlying values we are trying to promote.

Self Love = Changing Your Inner Punishment and Reward Habit!

The way to create unconditional love for yourself is to turn your attention from the system of punishment and rewards that you've learned to use to control your own behavior. Instead, you must learn how to maintain focused attention on what you value most. Acting in harmony with what you value is the best way to love yourself.

You practice this whenever you feel the discomfort that is bound to occur in situations where what you value is missing in what you've said or done. These feelings of discomfort are your alarm telling you that it's time to focus all of your attention on how to create what you value in that situation. This is how you turn your inner critic into your inner mentor who guides you to act in harmony with your values rather than punishing yourself for having done something "wrong."

(We offer a Values Exercise worksheet that you're welcome to download free from our site. You will find it in the "Free Stuff" section of our website. You can use this exercise any time you want to get clear about what's most important to you in any situation.)

Maintaining focused attention on what you value is the essence we point to at the end of our Be Happy video. What you focus your attention on will grow. This makes it essential for you to learn how to dig below any disappointment in yourself or your behavior, and discover for yourself what you value that is missing in the situation.

What Is Love

If you agree that love is a commitment to support someone in reaching their highest potential, ensuring that all of their needs are met, being as happy as they possibly can, and achieving what is important to them in their life, then unconditional love can only occur when you're able to keep your attention focused on what you truly value and finding ways to create that. You can't do this if you have your attention focused on using a punishments and rewards system to control behavior.

As an example: Let's say that you fail to arrive to meet someone when you said you would be there. What kind of thoughts might be going on in your head? "I'm so stupid I should've left earlier." "It's not my fault there was so much traffic." "Now they're going to be angry and it will ruin the meeting." "They probably won't trust me in the future." This is your inner critic at work.

How do you feel with these kinds of thoughts going on? Does this feel like unconditional love?

Now imagine just stopping and experiencing the discomfort of these thoughts without mentally punishing yourself for being late. Consider that these thoughts probably reflect your value for respect, punctuality, consideration, cooperation, and trust. Then realize that your discomfort is being stimulated because these values are missing for you when you show up late.

Focus Attention on What You Do Want

The next step is simply to start identifying strategies that will help ensure you act more in harmony with your values in the future. What could you do to make sure that you left earlier? What could you do to determine whether or not you would run into traffic along the way? If they were angry could you do anything that would help resolve this so you could have a successful meeting? Could you have a conversation with the other person to see if there is anything that they would like you to do in order to restore these values in your relationship with them?

Think about it. How does it feel when you have your attention focused on what you value and what you can do about it? Does this feel more like unconditional love?

We realize that it takes many more understandings and skills than we can offer in a brief article like this to overcome years of conditioned thinking that may be preventing you from experiencing unconditional love for yourself. We hope this article provides some value for you as you seek new possibilities for how to love yourself unconditionally.

Author's Bio: 

Consider showing yourself some love right now by learning more about this and other personal growth and self-help techniques by signing up for our free thought-provoking and motivational Weekly Action Tips eMail series.

Or visit our blog at: