It is THAT time of year again. Lovey-dovey cards, heart-shaped chocolates, and flowers fill the shelves in every grocery store across the nation. Restaurant reservations are booked out weeks in advance. The weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day overflow with romantic movies, cheesy commercials, and an endless stream of social media posts of what seems like everyone celebrating with someone special, whether that be a partner, friends, family, or a four-legged companion.
Perhaps you enjoy this day to rekindle romance, express love and appreciation, or spend quality time with your special someone. Or perhaps this is a day you do not enjoy so much. This time of year can be a glaring pink-and-red reminder of feeling lonely, remembering romantic disappointments, or having expectations that go unfulfilled. Whether you have recently suffered a breakup or are experiencing major dating app fatigue, for many, this day can be, understandably, downright painful.
The bottom line is that Valentine’s Day is centered around the theme of “love.” Generally, when society talks about love on February 14th, it is talking exclusively about love with someone else. Our culture has conditioned many of us to seek out that love from our external world or to feel obligated on this day to provide it to our special someone.
No matter what feelings you experience on V-Day, there is something we can all benefit from – practicing self-love. Studies prove that the relationship we have with ourselves is just as important as, and often the foundation of, all the relationships we have with others in our adolescent and adult lives. Mental health professionals refer to the act loving yourself as self-love or self-compassion. Both of which have been extensively researched and are associated with improved mental health and well-being, reduced depression, and healthier eating and improved body image. Research also suggests that loving yourself reduces stress, improves self-esteem and immune function, and boosts happiness.
If you are cringing at the idea of “self-love,” admittedly a stereotyped mental health, or just have no idea how to get started, you are not alone. Even with consideration to the research, many people feel like loving themselves is downright selfish, self-indulging, or a form of weakness. These conditioned beliefs are far from the truth though and you can learn that for yourself by using this Valentine’s Day as an opportunity to practice and explore the invaluable art of loving yourself!
Dr. Karen Neff, a pioneer in self-compassion research, describes self-compassion as a three-step process:
Self-kindness. Many of us have a little voice inside filled with negative self-talk. Self-kindness is all about replacing this internal critical voice with kinder words. Instead of telling yourself, “I’m unlovable. I’m going to be alone forever,” try saying “I’m lonelier than I want to be. Perhaps now is the time to connect to myself more or explore more ways to connect with others.”
Common humanity. Suffering is a universal experience and not a personal fault or failure. Try reminding yourself that “Everyone experiences loneliness sometimes. I’m not the only person who feels down today and therefore I am not alone in this.
“Mindfulness. Observe your negative emotions without focusing on them. Practice telling yourself, “I’m feeling lonely today, and that makes me sad. This will pass.”
This process can feel rather unusual at first. Here are some strategies you can use to help you get started:
While this process and these strategies are useful practices, it is important to stay in tune with yourself and identify when and if you need support from a professional. If you or someone you know needs support, don’t hesitate to reach out. Jefferson Center is here for YOU!