Love is all around—so they say. It seems everyone is coupled up this Valentine’s Day. But whether you’re in a two-some, or going at it alone, there’s one element to having a great Valentine’s Day that promises a day full of love. Self-love is the key ingredient that can make any relationship, especially the one with yourself, even stronger, and more vibrant, so you can consistently feel a secure, an unconditional source of love. And who, with a beating heart, doesn’t want that?
If you’re currently in a relationship you might be rolling your eyes at this point, thinking, “Yeah, but being in a relationship means its someone else’s job to give me love,” and you’re not wrong. But relying on someone else to give you love creates a lot of issues. What happens when your spouse is stressed at work and forgets you exist? What happens when your partner’s mother dies, rendering them useless in the giving department, and in total need of your love for an undeterminable amount of time? Do you file for divorce? If you’ve ever been in a relationship before, then you know firsthand that they are not a cure-all solution to your bottomless hungry, heart.
If you’re currently single, and have been navigating the world of dating in order to put an end to that overwhelming feeling of loneliness, bear with me. As explained above, relationships are not a viable solution to any void you feel within. While they typically offer an attractive person to distract you from that void, they also often leave you feeling disappointed and empty. Unlike being single, relationships ask you to consistently give love to someone else. It can truly be a wonderful thing…if it’s consistently returned.
Feeling a bit duped? As a woman who grew up with Disney-princess culture and the belief that genuine love was just a relationship away, I’m right there with you. All this time, I thought like most people, that love was to be sought outside of oneself. The good news is, we can begin to foster self-love within ourselves anytime, anywhere, and what a better time than now?
In her research on self-compassion, Dr. Kristin Neff, approaches understanding self-love as showing the same kindness to yourself, that you would a loved one. As a therapist who sees both individuals and couples, I cannot emphasize enough, how hard people are willing to work in order to receive love in their relationships. The real issue is not that it’s not reciprocated, it’s that their efforts are expended on the wrong person. Clinical Psychologist, Aleks George Srbinoski explains, “It’s how people feel around you, that determines how attracted they are to you, much more than the physical body.” This information is extremely compelling for two reasons: we can give up the battle trying to harness love from those that refuse to give it, and we can actually attract the kind of epic love we dream for, by loving ourselves first. And if you needed further persuasion, according to Dr. Neff’s research reported in the New York Times, practicing self-compassion reduces risk of anxiety and depression, while increasing your optimism.
So how do we start the process of loving ourselves? First make a commitment to yourself, as you would a partner, declaring the relationship. Many people are delighted to celebrate milestones and anniversaries with loved ones. The concept of exclusivity with another is officially marked, why not do the same with your relationship to you? Make the commitment right now to yourself, that you promise to prioritize this relationship, treat yourself with loving-kindness, and will consistently nurture and care for this relationship so that it may blossom into a reliable source of love.
Now, begin to engage in this relationship. This part will vary depending on your unique love-style, but it resembles the way in which you would love someone else. Do you love receiving a luscious bouquet of flowers? Send them to yourself! Do you feel supported and secure when your partner points out your strengths after a terrible day? Write down those affirmations on your own and read them back. How you show yourself love is all up to you. The next time you feel that particularly, plaguing-hole of emptiness from within, ask yourself how you wish someone else would fill it, and then fill it yourself. It may feel strange at first, but don’t all new relationships experience ‘clunkiness’ in the beginning?
Unlike our relationships with others, which often face waves of highs and lows, you are in total control of the relationship with yourself. You set the bar for how much love you want to give and receive. Even after a moment of criticism and shame, you can choose forgiveness and loving acceptance. Even after months of little to no special attention, you can choose to re-commit to self-love and practice it instantly. In no other relationship do we have that sort of direct control. Self-love is the most rewarding form of love in existence because you always reap what you sow. This Valentine’s Day, treat yourself to a personal act of self-love. Write a thoughtful card to yourself, make a decadent meal just for you, or go get a solo massage on a day in which everyone is in pairs. Commit to loving yourself year round, and you will never feel a shortage of love on Valentine’s Day again.