Self-love is often overlooked on February’s romantic day, but it’s the key to a happy life and to attracting and maintaining the love you want.

Valentine’s Day celebrations are traditionally focused on romantic love between individuals: chocolates, roses, wine, candlelight. But how often do we think of self-love as a state worth cultivating and celebrating? 

Contrary to how the term may sound, “self-love” does not emanate from the ego. It’s not conceit, self-importance, smugness or narcissism. 

“Loving yourself is treating yourself the way you’d like others to treat you,” says Sherry Nash, a West Island-based life coach, naturopath and wedding officiant who specializes in helping people live love-filled lives. “Some people are hard on themselves,” she says. “They judge themselves harshly. In fact, if you love yourself, there is no self-judgment; you accept yourself. Self-love is about living in integrity and alignment with your heart.”

She says humans are programmed to judge themselves from an early age. “As children, we compare ourselves to others at school, on sports teams, in spelling bees. The outer world—families, friends, authority figures—places us, too. For instance, as a small child, you tripped and a relative told you that you were clumsy. You stored that judgment in your subconscious mind and it may keep you from trying out for a sport that requires finesse or coordination. This is how we’re programmed.”

Those messages, especially prior to age six, are downloaded into the subconscious level of the mind, creating a self-image, says Ms. Nash, who is known as the Love Coach. “It’s powerful stuff and it can hold you back,” she says, adding that one way of assessing what self-limiting messages you may have in your subconscious mind is to “ask yourself what parts of your life are holding you back.”

Loving oneself also involves saying no to requests you don’t want to honour. “Many people are afraid to say ‘no’,” Ms. Nash says. “They say ‘yes’ when they don’t mean it.  Doing that is not respecting yourself. Self-love is also about self-respect.”

Negative self-talk signals a lack of self-love, too. To wit: “Why did I do that? I’m such an idiot. I look awful today. This outfit makes me look fat. I don’t want to go to that social event because no one will talk to me.” And so on. “Be hyper aware of your thoughts. They’re clues about how you feel about yourself,” she says.

Taking good care of one’s physical well-being is another form of self-love that suggests a sense of self-worth, she says. 

So how do we learn to love ourselves? The Love Coach has some helpful exercises:

* Start by writing your own eulogy and imagine someone reading it at your funeral, she suggests. “Ask yourself important questions: Who was I in my life? What is my legacy? What was important to me? Did I make an impact? If you’re a parent, ask yourself how you have impacted your children’s lives.”

* Approach five people whom you trust to respond honestly. Ask each of them for five attributes you have that have had an impact on their lives. “We don’t spend a lot of time telling people what we love about each other,” she says. “This exercise can give you a greater sense of who you are by teaching you how others see you.”

* Identify something you want to change. “You may be doing something that isn’t for your highest good,” she says. “What can you do that uplifts you, fills you with gratitude daily? What would you like to be remembered for? The better you feel and the happier you are, the more in touch with your heart you become.”

Ms. Nash says judgment of others is a key to discerning if a person is deficient in self-love. “When we judge others, we are really judging ourselves,” she says.

She recalls attending a weekend retreat where she caught herself thinking judgmental thoughts about the others there. “I know that whatever negative attributes we see in others points right back at us,” she says. “Judging others was the clue that I had to adjust my own self-judgment meter. I returned to my room that evening and told myself that we are all where we are meant to be in each divine moment. I did this at bedtime. The next morning, I saw only beauty everywhere in all of the other participants.

“We filter everything we see based on our programs and mood in the moment. Everything and everyone is a mirror reflecting back what needs to be changed or healed in us. The heart knows this even if the head doesn’t. Life is not happening to you, it is happening because of you. You are not a victim.”

According to the universal Law of Attraction, she says, the heart emanates a vibration that attracts others who have a matching frequency. “Keep telling yourself that in this divine moment, you are perfect as you are,” she says. “And you will attract others who confirm this.”

Finally, if you know you’re lacking self-love and want to shift into a caring, respectful relationship with yourself, do it gradually. “Take baby steps toward it,” Ms. Nash counsels. “Surround yourself with friends and groups who support and uphold you. You can leave notes for yourself around the house that simply say ‘I LOVE YOU’. Every time you see one, you’ll smile. Harness that love, and feel gratitude for your life, your body, your surroundings, your time on Earth. These simple strategies lead to much love of self and others.”

Happy Valentine’s Day.