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Wanting to Be Loved: 11 Ways to Cultivate a Sense of Love

February 9, 2024

Wanting to be loved is an incredibly lonely feeling. It’s also an incredibly relatable one. Although you might be feeling isolated and ashamed for wanting to be loved so badly, loads of other people feel exactly the same way.

In this article, we’re going to look at why we want to be loved, what happens when we don’t feel loved, and how we can find that feeling of being loved and a sense of belonging.

Understanding the Human Need for Love

Love is a huge part of being human. It’s the subject of a huge amount of art, film, theater, literature, and music. It’s something most of us aspire to have, even if different people are looking for slightly different types or aspects of love.

Love is one of the central needs identified in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs1. This theory suggests that we seek out basic physiological needs first, such as food and water. Next, we ensure our safety. The very next thing on our list is finding ways to feel loved, both socially and romantically.

In fact, some researchers suggest that we seek out love even before our safety needs are met2. It really is at the core of human experience.

We’re sometimes told that wanting to be loved is somehow asking too much of others. We’re going to look more deeply at the idea of “need vs neediness” later, but we are social creatures. We’re not really cut out for an individualistic approach to the world. We want and need close, loving bonds with others.

The desire for love is part of what drives us toward authenticity and vulnerability. We want people to see us for who we are and to love us.

The Impact of Not Feeling Loved on One's Mental Health

The effect of not feeling loved on your mental and emotional well-being differs depending on your age, but it can be dramatic.

Not feeling loved at an early age can lead to an insecure attachment style3. This can influence all of our later relationships, making it difficult to have stable, trusting relationships with others4.

As adults, we are not immune to the effects of not feeling loved on our mental or physical health. It increases our feelings of loneliness, which is associated with anxiety and depression5. It can also influence how likely we are to seek help dealing with our problems.

Your mental and physical health are closely linked. Feelings of social connection and love are associated with lower blood pressure, lower levels of pain, and even increased life span6. Seeking out love, connections, and a sense of belonging can be an act of self-preservation and boosts your wellbeing.

11 Ways to Cultivate a Sense of Love and Belonging

1. Accept that it’s ok to want to be loved

If you find yourself struggling with just wanting to be loved, the first thing you need to do is to find a way to accept that it’s ok to have this need. This isn’t always easy. We’re often taught about the importance of self-sufficiency or that only needy people want love, but that simply isn’t true.

Wanting to be loved isn’t a weakness or a sign that you’re not good enough. It’s a sign that you’re open to loving others. Loving someone and being in love means being vulnerable and letting other people see your real, inner self. It’s a sign of strength.

Unfortunately, knowing that intellectually doesn’t mean that it’s easy to accept your own need for love. Look for something to remove the shame or weakness you feel about wanting to be loved.

You might find journaling can help, as you start to feel more in tune with your own emotions7. Alternatively, you could try imagining that a close friend told you that she was feeling like this. What would you say to her? Remind yourself that the same is true for you.

Affirmations might help you, but only if you can find something that you actually do believe deep down. For example, if you feel ashamed for wanting to be loved, saying “wanting to be loved makes me a strong person” won’t help if you don’t believe it.

Repeating an affirmation you don’t believe just teaches you that you can’t believe the things you say to yourself, which undermines your self-confidence8. Instead, try something you can believe, such as “wanting to be loved is a normal part of life” or “me wanting love doesn’t hurt anyone. It’s a part of how I feel and I’m learning to accept it.”

2. Understand the difference between neediness and need

One of the biggest sources of shame around wanting to be loved comes from the belief that we’re being too “needy.” Being needy and having needs are two completely different things, and it can help you to feel more comfortable about your needs if you understand the difference.

The main difference between your needs and being needy comes from where your focus is and whose behavior is expected to change. Your needs are all about you and your behavior. Being needy becomes about the other person. You’re usually asking them to change how they behave in some way.

For example, you might have a need for more close connections in your life. This need drives you to change something about how you’re currently living. Maybe you join more clubs, start volunteering, or look for other ways to make more friends. You might also start opening up more to acquaintances as you try to form closer relationships.

Your need is driving your behavior.

If you were being needy, it would look very different. You’d be asking your close friends to make more and more time for you. You might tell your partner that you need them to text you every day so that you know they’re thinking of you. You might guilt trip people who are too busy to spend time with you right now or expect others to always be free for 2-hour long phone calls.

Your neediness is putting other people under pressure to change their behavior.

Wanting to be loved is a need. Demanding that others jump through hoops to prove their love is needy.

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It’s also helpful to realize that we can all be a little needy at times and that it’s ok. Being needy doesn’t put you in the same category as murderers or people who kick puppies. It doesn’t make you a bad person and it doesn’t make you undeserving of love. 

3. Recognize that you deserve to be loved

recognize that you deserve to be loved

In fact, it’s really important to understand (and believe) that you deserve to be loved. This can be surprisingly difficult for many people, but believing that you deserve love removes one of the biggest barriers to being loved; self-sabotage.

It’s so easy to sabotage our own attempts at finding love. You might delay replying to that wonderful guy you met online, or decide not to hang out with a dear friend who you know loves you because, subconsciously, you don’t feel as though you deserve their love.

There are many reasons that we can struggle to believe that we deserve love. If we didn’t get enough love from our parents, we might internalize the message that we’re not worthy of love. If we’ve had abusive relationships in the past, we might have been told repeatedly that we weren’t good enough to be loved.

And sometimes it isn’t anyone’s fault. We see everything about ourselves, including all of those secret, awful thoughts that we’d never say out loud. We know all of our own shameful secrets. We look at what other people show to the world and we compare that with all of the deepest, darkest aspects of ourselves. 

It’s just like the way that we compare the messy, chaotic, boring parts of our lives with the highlight reel of everyone else’s lives that we see on social media. We feel inadequate because we’re trying to create our reality with their carefully constructed image. The same is true of our sense of self and our self-worth.

There are lots of different ways to build up your self-worth. Try to find one that works for you. You could try spending time with people you care about, volunteering, or learning a new skill. Anything that boosts your self-confidence and self-worth will benefit your mental health in many ways, as well as make you feel more comfortable about needing love.

4. Understand exactly what you mean by love

Sometimes, we will tell ourselves that we desperately want to be loved, but we’re only thinking of a specific type of love. For example, you might be in a perfectly nice relationship with a kind guy, but you find yourself wanting the desperate passion of a more tumultuous relationship

That’s not quite the same as wanting to be loved. It’s more that you have a picture in your mind of what love looks like, and anything else doesn’t really feel like you’re loved. This can be a huge problem for people who are coming out of abusive relationships, as they will often lack a clear sense of what a genuinely loving relationship looks like.

When you say that you want to be loved, try to be really clear with yourself about what you mean by the word love. Ask yourself what it means to you, and how you can recognize it. If you have a relatively narrow definition of love, try to explore what else might make you feel loved.

5. Look for the ways you are loved

Often, when we feel as though we desperately want to be loved, we’re really talking about romantic love. We feel alone, unworthy, and unloved because we don’t have that special someone to share our life with.

The trouble is that this isn’t a great mindset for finding a romantic partner. Looking for a relationship when you’re feeling lonely and unloved makes it more likely that you’ll ignore red flag behaviors and that you’ll settle for the first person who shows an interest.

Make sure that you’re not putting all of your need for love onto your (prospective) romantic partner. Love from your friends, family, and others can and should be an important part of your life.

You can also try to reach out for signs of love from friends and family. For example, it’s ok to ask for a hug if you need physical contact to feel loved. 

6. Put yourself out there

Whether you’re looking for more close friends and a social circle who love you or a close romantic partner, you still need to find ways to put yourself out there and connect with people. It’s almost impossible to find people who are going to love you if you’re always alone.

Think about places where you’re likely to find people who share your values or who will have something important in common with you. If you’re passionate about animals, for example, you could do some volunteering at a local pet rescue or animal charity.

Online dating might be rife with people looking for casual hookups, but you can also find people who want meaningful connections and long-term, loving relationships.

7. Be authentic

be authentic

Although putting yourself out there to meet new people or spend time with people you already care about is a great first step, there’s almost always an even scarier second step to take that will help you feel loved. You don’t just need to put yourself out there. You need to put your real self out there.

It’s completely normal to have lots of different versions of yourself. It’s necessary in many ways in our lives today. You’re probably better off not bringing your “first date” version of yourself to work and you might not want to bring your “talking to the boss at work” self to a first date. We adapt the aspects of ourselves that we bring to different situations.

The trouble with that is that it can feel as though no one ever sees your true, authentic self. And how can you be loved for your real self if no one ever gets to see her?

The solution to this sounds easy but is probably the hardest tip in this article to achieve. You have to be your true, authentic self around people you want to love you.

This is really scary. When we want someone to love us, we’ll usually do everything we can to make a good impression. This will often mean trying to hide any of our flaws or things we’re not proud of. Letting the other person see our true self means trusting that they can love us even after seeing our worst attributes.

That’s a huge amount of vulnerability, especially if you’re not sure whether you actually love those parts of yourself.

Worse, there’s another layer of vulnerability on top of that. If we keep our social “mask” on, it doesn’t hurt quite so much if someone doesn’t love us. They haven’t rejected our true self. They’ve only rejected our mask9.

When you take the mask off, you’re not just showing them all of the worst bits of yourself. You’re also opening yourself up to even more hurt if they reject you.

So being fully authentic means taking a risk. You’re trying to open yourself up and allow others to love you with no absolute guarantee that they will. The good news is that you don’t have to do it all at once.

It’s ok to open up to people slowly. You don’t need to leap in as your complete, authentic self and expose your vulnerable heart on a first date. You can be increasingly authentic and vulnerable as you build trust with them.

8. Love yourself for who you are

If you want others to love you, try to love yourself exactly as you are. Lots of us offer ourselves conditional love. We’ll think that we’ll be happy with ourselves or proud if we lose a few pounds, pass an exam, or achieve a particular goal.

We keep holding out self-love as a form of motivation. While this might seem like a great way to move towards self-improvement, it actually just means that we never learn to love ourselves exactly as we are. And that’s a key part of understanding that we deserve love in our lives.

Think about the people you love in your life. How many of them are completely perfect? Of course none of them are. They will all have things that they want to improve or change, but that doesn’t affect how much you love them. 

Rather than focusing on your flaws and the things that you want to change about yourself, look for things that you love. Remind yourself that you love your kindness toward others, or that you’re proud of your dedication.

Try creating a gratitude journal and including something you love about yourself each day as well.

9. Become someone you love, and treat yourself with love

This might seem like a contradiction with the previous point, but it’s actually a continuation of it. Once you love yourself for who you are, you start to want better for yourself. You want to become someone who fulfills your own expectations.

Most of the changes that you make here will also come under the heading of self-care. This is because, once you love yourself, you also start treating yourself better. For example, you might start doing more exercise. When this comes from a place of self-love, you’re much more likely to enjoy yourself than if you exercise as a way to change or punish yourself.

10. Show your love to others

If you want to be loved by other people, try leading the way by showing the people who matter to you that you love them. This will help you to build better, stronger relationships. You might also feel better about yourself when you know that you’re bringing joy and love to people you care about.

Think about the different ways that you can show love to others. You might want to bake a friend’s favorite treat or hug a family member “just because.”

Showing your love to others, especially if you look for different ways to do it, can also help you to recognize how others show their love. It can help you recalibrate your expectations in all of your relationships. This makes you less vulnerable to love-bombing and other abusive tactics while also making it easier for you to identify real love and affection.

11. Get support from a qualified professional

get support from qualified professional

If you’re still struggling to feel as though you’re getting the kind of love you want and need in your life, it might be helpful to speak with a trained therapist or counselor. They will be able to create a safe, supportive space for you to open up about your difficulties and work through any deep insecurities you might have.

FAQs

Is love an important need for people?

Wanting to be loved is a fundamental need. Maslow placed it third (out of five), after physical needs such as food and the need for safety. Given that we will sometimes put ourselves in harm’s way for people we love, it might be even more fundamental than that.

Is it normal to want to be loved?

Wanting to be loved is a completely normal part of being a person. We all want positive social connections and love and support. Try to use your desire for love as motivation to meet more people and to be your authentic self.

Is wanting to be loved selfish?

There is nothing selfish about wanting to be loved. It’s a basic human need that we all share. Shaming yourself for wanting to be loved is counter-productive and makes it harder for you to find the kind of loving connections you want.

Conclusion

Did you enjoy reading about how wanting to be loved is a normal part of being human? Understanding the ways that you’re already loved and building your self-love can make it easier to find romantic love in the long term.

How have you cultivated a sense of love? What fulfilled your need for love? Let us know in the comments and don’t forget to share this with someone you care about.

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  3. Feeney, J. A., & Noller, P. (1990). Attachment style as a predictor of adult romantic relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58(2), 281–291. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.58.2.281
  4. Obegi, J. H., & Ety Berant. (2010). Attachment theory and research in clinical work with adults. Guilford Press.
  5. Leary, M. R. (1990). Responses to Social Exclusion: Social Anxiety, Jealousy, Loneliness, Depression, and Low Self-Esteem. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 9(2), 221–229. https://doi.org/10.1521/jscp.1990.9.2.221
  6. Seeman, T. E. (1996). Social ties and health: The benefits of social integration. Annals of Epidemiology, 6(5), 442–451. https://doi.org/10.1016/s1047-2797(96)00095-6
  7. Pennebaker, J. W. (1997). Writing About Emotional Experiences as a Therapeutic Process. Psychological Science, 8(3), 162–166. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9280.1997.tb00403.x
  8. Sherman, D. K., & Cohen, G. L. (2006). The Psychology of Self‐defense: Self‐Affirmation Theory. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 38, 183–242. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0065-2601(06)38004-5
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