February can be a scary, painful, uncomfortable time for so many – and, for so many reasons. Many have experienced such painful and traumatic events in their lifetime that February, and any idea of love, sex, intimacy and relationship “stuff” can be triggering. It may also be recent events – a breakup, a negative sexual experience, or maybe being early in recovery where relationships are still very fragile. And yet, for others it could simply be the idea of being alone for the holiday. But, as we know in February, the commercialism of love month surrounds us everywhere. It can be difficult to escape, and can take a detrimental toll on our mental health.
While we at The Bridge to Recovery certainly believe that love is one of the most important and necessary emotions we can ever experience, sadly February and the focus on Valentine’s Day tends to only be on loving others or being loved by others. Flowers, chocolate, candy, romantic dates – even casual sex and hookups are encouraged in the commercialism. But the meaning of love, and to love, is so much deeper than flowers, dates, and sex. Successful love happens when we can love ourselves.
Learning to love ourselves, or nurturing the love we have for ourselves is a critical component that must happen for our own happiness. Additionally, it is a critical component of healthy relationships with others. Below we have identified ways to begin your journey to finding self-love or nurturing your self-love.
- Practice Forgiveness
At the heart of pain is anger, and the result of anger is a disconnect from self and others. By holding on to anger, whether it is anger at ourselves or anger at others, we must learn to forgive. The power of forgiveness lies not in why we forgive but in that we let go – we mentally agree to stop carrying around the pain caused. In doing so, it frees up our energy to turn the pain into empathy and understanding, and furthermore, love.
- Practice Healthy Boundaries
Being safe and comfortable – it’s something we can so easily take for granted, and it’s what we notice immediately when we don’t have it. Without feeling safe we can experience fear, insecurity, self-doubt, vulnerability, and agitation. These are all things that can prohibit our ability to nurture ourselves and our mental health, furthermore disconnecting our ability to love ourselves fully. When we feel unsafe, our personal boundaries have been crossed. Being able to identify what those personal boundaries are, and how we allow others (or ourselves) to trespass on those, helps us to become better able to create a healthy mental environment for the emotion of love to prosper.
- Finding Your “You”
What makes us “us” is defined by so many different factors. During our adolescence we explore the world around us to help discover those things that we most relate to, find enjoyment in, and connect with. Sometimes we miss the opportunity to do so (maybe because during our adolescence, we are experiencing traumatic events), or sometimes we have lost those things. Either way, being connected with who we are as a person is vital to being able to love one’s self. Discovering (or rediscovering) our “you” can only happen when we open ourselves up to the world around us – to trying things that we connect with and things we do not. Seeking things that provide us joy – things that we do for us and only us, not because it is something a friend or partner enjoys, but things that YOU enjoy is a way to begin finding your “you.”
- Practicing Self Care
Just like our bodies need food, exercise, vitamins, medical care, and possibly even medications, it is also crucial that our minds and spirits receive the same care and attention. Without taking care of our physical selves as well as our mental selves, it is impossible to LOVE our whole selves. Finding a healthy balance both mentally and physically then becomes that objective. To achieve that, we must set smaller, achievable goals as a part of our daily and weekly routines. For example, if your physical health has been something that keeps you in the bondage of self-hate, instead of saying “I want to lose weight,” set small achievable goals for yourself like, “I’m going to do 15 sit-ups before bed each night this week,” or, “I’m going to incorporate 1 healthy meal into my diet each day this week.” As you begin to achieve your smaller achievable goals, you can expand to meet your growing accomplishments.
Additionally, it is important to not forget to take care of your mental and emotional health. Finding a therapist or counselor is always something that can be beneficial, as well as practicing yoga or other spiritual-inducing activities. Again, the key is setting small achievable goals for yourself to prevent feelings of failure.