Love Yourself in a Harsh World


Eight Ways to Stop Seeking Happiness “Out There” and Learn to Embrace, Appreciate, and Love Yourself Now

Tired of looking for self-worth and acceptance in all the wrong places? Author and speaker Maria Nhambu explains that happiness and real love begin closer than you likely imagine; they start with you and nowhere else.

When you face ongoing struggle and disappointment, it’s hard to feel good about yourself. Maybe despite countless bad dates you just can’t find a suitable partner. Maybe you lost your job and can’t find a new one. Maybe you’ve poured your life into your children only to be disappointed by their lack of gratitude, ambition, or empathy. Whatever the circumstances, when you face frequent rejection, strife, and loneliness, it can take a toll on your self-esteem.

          Can you feel good about yourself even if no one else recognizes, validates, or otherwise acknowledges your worth? Absolutely yes, says author and speaker Maria Nhambu. “Life will wear you down if you let it, but people who fully love and nurture themselves can face the hard parts of life without it damaging their core,” says Nhambu.

          In her book, Africa’s Child Nhambu describes a childhood with more than her fair share of heartache, abuse, and sorrow. Raised in an African orphanage for mixed-race children, she experienced routine physical abuse, poverty, sexual exploitation, and illnesses that nearly killed her—all before her eighteenth birthday. Further, she was frequently reminded by the nuns running the orphanage that she was a “child of sin.” One might predict that such trials would all but destroy a person’s self-worth for good.

          Nhambu rejects the idea that the brutality of life can sabotage the human spirit. “I always knew I had the inner resources to deal with whatever happened to me,” she asserts. “I understood very early that I was responsible for my own happiness, and that happiness begins with loving myself unconditionally. And if I can love myself after everything I’ve endured, anyone can.”

          Keep reading for Nhambu’s advice to find your way along the path to self-love.

First, make sure you’re really “showing up” for your life. If you’re feeling worthless or beaten down by “failure,” ask yourself if you’re giving anything less than your best in all areas of life. If you’re not giving your best, vow to make a change today and put forth the effort and passion required to achieve success.

Remember that you have a choice. Regardless of what happens to you, you ultimately choose how you feel about yourself. Make power choices instead of giving in to self-pity or feeling useless. Each day, resolve to treat yourself in a positive and supportive way and dwell on what you know is good about yourself.

Respect your own uniqueness. Stop comparing yourself to anybody else and never, ever put yourself down, instructs Nhambu. “People tend to judge themselves mercilessly,” she says. “We constantly get messages from the media telling us how we should be, but don’t listen to them. Accept yourself as you are and don’t waste your time rating yourself in relation to others.”

Be present to yourself. “Tuning in and being present with yourself is one of the greatest ways to love yourself,” explains Nhambu. “Go within and listen carefully to how you are feeling when things are happening around you. Because that space within is where you will find the truth and be comfortable.”

Figure out what makes you happy and focus on that. Imagine situations and activities that give you the most happiness. It could be hiking, singing, reading, or anything that energizes you and brings you joy. What activities make you feel best? Nhambu points out that doing what you love is a powerful way of caring for yourself.

For Nhambu—who is the creator of the popular Aerobics With Soul® African dance workout—dancing is soul-restoring and brings release and happiness. Dance helped her survive and find joy in her difficult childhood. “For me there’s no judgment in dancing,” says Nhambu. “Everything flows and I’m very present. I send my mind on vacation, and let my body just dance freely.”

Be proud of your talents and gifts. Don’t sell yourself short by overlooking or downplaying your natural strengths and talents—even if no one is acknowledging them.

“Accepting your gifts shows that you know and trust yourself,” points out Nhambu. “Remind yourself of your gifts, whatever they are, and feel gratitude for them. Keep in mind that when you learn to appreciate yourself, others will sense and be attracted to your confidence.”

Find someone to talk with. As a child, “Fat Mary” (the nickname given to Nhambu by the nuns who ran the orphanage) created another “Fat Mary”—part friend, part consoler, part counselor—who loved her unconditionally and held her sorrows, traumas, and joys until she was able to understand them. For Nhambu, Fat Mary was a steadfast source of love that carried her through the highs and lows of her life.

“Talking about events and feelings is important,” asserts Nhambu. “As a child, I talked to Fat Mary, but also with friends and adults. Finding someone you trust to confide in when you’re feeling sad or depressed will lighten the burden.”

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Create a “family” of your own. Being raised an orphan taught Nhambu that “family” doesn’t always have to mean your blood relatives. She encourages people to create intentional families of friends and to find belonging in the community you make together.

“I’ve learned that my friends were really my family,” reveals Nhambu. “Your family doesn’t have to be the one you were born into—it can be the one you intentionally choose.”

          “Despite the negative external messages I so often received in my life, I never allowed them to alter how I feel about myself,” concludes Nhambu. “If you are walking through a valley of sorrow and self-doubt, know that you already have the tools to love yourself again. Though it may not always be easy, you can reconnect to your own goodness and become the strong, confident, and capable person you were meant to be.”

About the Author:
Maria Nhambu is the author of Africa’s Child, the first book of the Dancing Soul Trilogy, as well as a speaker, dancer, and educator. Born in Tanzania, East Africa, and raised in an orphanage run by German nuns for mixed-race children, she sustained her spirit through dance and kept alive her dream of further education in the United States. There she created the popular workout based on African dance (Aerobics With Soul®). To learn more about Nhambu, please visit

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