Happy Valentine's Day! Today is traditionally the day on which we celebrate romantic love, because of a variety of stories about a guy named Valentin. Depending on which story you buy, he was either a saint or a rogue. Either way, he was martyred for love (and, if you believe the stories, exhumed by his followers to give him a proper burial), and we celebrate his contribution every year.
There is a greater love than the one you'll have with your partner, though. It's the relationship you'll have with someone you've known all your life, the person who's with you every minute of every day. Yourself.
A lot has been written about self-esteem and self-image, and those are good things. But they rely on you being exceptional at something. What if you're not at the top at the moment? What happens to all those buzzy feelings of self-esteem then?
It's been said that self-compassion and self-love are far more important than self-esteem and self-image. Compassion and love are possible in moments when high esteem isn't. Compassion and love are states of being, patterns of thinking, ways of relating on a daily basis.
When you've just been sacked, esteem isn't possible, but love and compassion are. Same goes for the depressed spell after you lose a major sponsor, or find out you didn't get the job/drive/promotion/scholarship/place at uni, or when a relationship ends. I can guarantee that, at some point, you'll experience one of those low moments.
Self-love can only come from compassion, acceptance – even accepting the quirks, failures, and things you've been told are 'wrong' with you – and forgiveness. Think about it, you can't love someone you're holding a grudge against. If you're holding a grudge against yourself for things that happened in the past, you're going to really struggle to love yourself.
So, how do we go about building a solid sense of self-love and self-compassion? The problem is there's no easy three-step plan to loving yourself. There are no hacks for this, and it's not a skill-set any of us were taught in school or our families of origin. That said, here are a few actions you can take when the going gets tough to put yourself on the road to self-love.
Can you name the feelings you're feeling in the aftermath of an upset? Write them down, even if the closest description you can come up with is 'that feeling where I don't know whether to scream, or smash a face, or crawl under the sofa to cry.' Obviously, the closer you can get to the name of an emotion, the better, because you can read up on how to deal with it. The goal here is simply to understand what is happening in your head, and give yourself the space to acknowledge it. Whatever you do, don't bury it, because emotion buried is always buried alive, and it festers. Is there a connection with something you think about yourself, the other person, or the situation? How does it impact what you do?
Like understanding, this includes an element of non-judgement. Try avoid value judgements like 'good' or 'bad;' it is what it is. Fully acknowledge the facts of the situation – the facts, not the conspiracy theories or confabulations (when you fill in missing data with something false you believe to be true) you've told yourself. And yes, we're all prone to thinking conspiracy theories and confabulations. How can you own this incident as part of the ongoing story of your life? If you don't own your story, it will own you, and acceptance of the facts is the first step to owning your story.
Okay, so you're not perfect...do you know anyone who is? Let go of the blame. Sure, you would've, should've, could've done something differently. Maybe it's someone else whose woulda-shoulda-coulda is the reason things went wrong. But hanging onto that blame doesn't allow you to move forward; it'll keep you stuck right where you are, growing bitter roots into that situation. Brene Brown has a saying that goes along the lines of 'talk to yourself like you'd talk to someone you love'. Think of your best friend...would you ever say to him/her 'You're such an idiot; you could've done that so much better' when they're having a time about it? No. Without getting stuck in a rut, how can you be sensitive to your distress and alleviate your pain?
WHAT YOU LOVE
Is there something you love doing? Something that fills you with ecstasy, and draws you to a place where you feel spiritual. It could be racing, or writing Supernatural fanfiction, or making models of race cars, or hiking through the wilderness, or dancing around the house in your underpants and singing into a hairbrush. Maybe you're a multipotentialite and have several things that make you feel transcendent, and that's okay too. The point is to do it every day, or every weekend, or as often as humanly possible. It's something you do for you, regardless of whether people think it's cool.
WHERE YOU CAME FROM
Look back over the last few years. What have you learned in that time that's helping you right now? What changes have you made in yourself for the better? How much better are you dealing with this situation now than you would've dealt with it in the past? You have made progress. You've grown as a person. You will continue to grow; whether you like it or not, we're never done growing.
WHAT YOU BRING
I know you bring something of real value to the people who know you. Write that down, setting aside the cynical voice who tells you they only love you because they get [something superficial] from you. If you're struggling to come up with a proper list, ask people you trust who love you. Refer to this list when you feel down, remembering that they love you for a reason.
There's nothing to stretch your confidence muscles like going somewhere alone. If you've never done it before, start with a solo trip to the movies before you set off to travel South Asia on your own. The point is to spend time with yourself. Most of us do everything in pairs or groups for safety reasons. While it's wise to look after your personal safety, it's also important to go somewhere without needing the constant affirmation of selfie-ing for social media, or taking a gang of friends. If you feel lonely doing this, ask yourself why. Alone doesn't need to feel lonely.
The above-mentioned activities are a small part of all that you can do for self-love. If you feel like you need a permission slip to do some of the things, ping one of our social media accounts or email firstname.lastname@example.org. We'd love to help you out if you need a push in this area. We've been there, and understand how important it is to love oneself in order to reach out and take those big, dangerous steps. We're here to support you.