The Argument for Loving your Self on Valentine’s Day
Today is Valentine’s Day, a day in our society that is synonymous with partnered, romantic love. What if instead we focus on bringing the love inward and sharing with ourselves that which we so freely give to others?
“To return to love, to get the love we always wanted but never had, to have the love we want but are not prepared to give, we seek romantic relationships. We believe these relationships, more than any other, will rescue and redeem us. True love does have the power to redeem but only if we are ready for redemption. Love saves us only if we want to be saved.” — bell hooks
Redemption can follow only when we are ready, and being ready means we have to learn to love ourselves.
This is something I have worked on tirelessly over the last 6 months and will continue to do so until I feel it truly deep down in my soul. My entire life I have been given unconditional love. I am lucky for having received that. But I have spent too many years neglecting to give myself that love. Withholding it until I am thin enough, strong enough, successful enough, graceful enough, quiet enough, kind enough, bold enough…. you get the picture.
In my career, I see this same pattern play itself out daily in my patients. Women who think their bodies are broken because they aren’t conceiving or because they’ve lost babies. Men who think their value is less than because their sperm count is low. People who are in such physical pain that they have a hard time loving themselves for all the restrictions their bodies put upon them. People whose body image causes continual restlessness in their spirits and self-judgment every time they get dressed, walk past their reflection, or even eat a meal. People whose health concerns keep them from enjoying life, and as such they feel like they cannot wholly and fully love a body that doesn’t seem to love them back.
But what if we changed that? Yes, people come to see me so that they can overcome their physical, mental, and emotional issues — and I’m happy to oblige. It is wonderful to get to see people live without pain, or finally have that baby they’ve wanted for so long, or to be able to sleep a restful sleep because their anxiety is under control. But what if we learned to love ourselves BEFORE we were “fixed?”
I’m not suggesting you ignore your flaws, your pain, your despair or to pretend that everything is perfect when it isn’t. I am not suggesting you minimize the importance of these issues. What I am suggesting is that you accept yourself and where you are in this moment. Fully. Unconditionally. I am suggesting is that you practice the same compassion and lovingkindness to yourself that you would offer anyone else you love.
In these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die
Where you invest your love, you invest your life
— Mumford and Sons “Awake my Soul”
Self love is a practice. You commit to it. You perform acts of kindness towards yourself.
How to Begin Cultivating Self-Love
You can start by becoming working on mindfulness. Become aware of your self-talk. What kinds of words travel through your head all day every day? Those words have power. YOU have power, and like it or not you need to take responsibility for that power if you want to truly love yourself. So start paying attention to those thoughts — especially the judgmental ones. Once you start hearing them, you can begin to replace them. Think of what you would tell your best friend if they uttered those self-loathing words. Now say them to yourself. At first it might seem disingenuous or corny. But after a while, this will become your new habit.
Another piece of mindfulness is meditation. Find a guided meditation you like (here is one from Tara Branch), and start doing it. Or pick a phrase, like “today I give myself unconditional love” and repeat the statement in your head while you breathe and relax.
You follow this up by practicing self-care. Meditation is a piece of this. So is healthy eating, drinking plenty of water, getting 7-8 hours of sleep per night. Sometimes those things seem overwhelming. So what if at least once per week you gave yourself time to do something you love? Take a yoga class. Get drinks with a friend. Take a long luxurious bath and listen to music. Return to your piano lessons or your painting or any of the long list of loves that we put aside in favor of being responsible. Feeling good and immersing yourself in your passions is a great way back to self-love.
Start with these things. Do the meditation. Mark the day in your calendar next week that you are going to do something you love. Start being kind to yourself.
Spend the next month committing to being kind to yourself — maybe kinder to yourself than you’ve ever been. And see the world unfold before you.