By Cathy Canfield
Another Valentine’s Day has come and gone, and the heart-shaped chocolates are marked down to 75% off. Like the 75%-off aisle, it can be depressing to have this holiday pass as a reminder that love, in your ideal version, did not show itself. I challenge you to empower your Valentine’s Day – and more importantly, your daily experience – of love by demonstrating love for yourself.
We hear talk of self-love and self-care, but what is it, actually? I’m going to give you some clues so you can do your own detective work to find some optimal ways to love yourself and understand why self-love is such an important practice.
When imagining love, we most often think of others loving us and how they express their love – whether it’s friends, family or a romantic partner. So, on Valentine’s Day, if we don’t feel we have this love in our life, we feel like we’re in a space of deficit or loneliness. I used to wear black on Valentine’s Day, even if I had a “special someone,” because I felt it was unfair to highlight love on a day when not everyone had it.
Love can be empowered through a practice of daily self-love, taking charge of how love is expressed to ourselves not just on Valentine’s Day but the other 364 days of the year. This is where it can feel intangible – hang in there. First, I want you to imagine what this other person would do to show their love to you.
Are they a good listener? Do they remember your favorite things? Maybe they get you in a way no one else does, show up for you in your worst moments or know how to make you laugh. It could be as simple as a warm hug and saying, “I love you.” You may have other ways that come to mind. The first challenge is to write these down. Perhaps take it a step further and write down what your ideal love looks and feels like.
The next step is to get creative. Take your list and find ways that you can translate feeling love from others into love for yourself.
Let me give you an example: One of your favorite ways to be loved is spontaneously receiving flowers. Here’s a crazy idea: Buy yourself flowers, spontaneously. If you can’t fathom this or feel like it’s not deserved or silly, let’s explore that feeling together. What comes to mind? Is there a physical or emotional feeling that comes with this idea? A belief or thought about yourself? If not, congratulations, buy yourself flowers.
If so, congratulations anyways because this begins the true process of loving yourself. Celebrate and buy yourself flowers. Just be curious about and notice what may come up for you. Take just a small moment, a few breaths, to observe your response to this idea. Perhaps write some of those thoughts down.
You might say to yourself, “It’s dumb to waste money buying myself flowers.” Does this mean, “I’m not worth flowers? Even ones from the grocery store? I’m not worth having joy?” Or, “This doesn’t mean anything because I bought them for myself.”
This reminds me of a story from middle school. An organization at school was selling carnations for a fundraiser around Valentine’s Day. The color of the flower indicated a message, red for love, pink for friendship, etc.
The popular kids, of course, received bouquets from admirers. Some students received a few from friends. Some got none at all. I was typically in the “no flowers received” category. No big deal. One year I decided to buy myself flowers. And as amazing as that was, my only regret is that I didn’t claim it. When a rude middle-schooler yelled out, “She probably bought them for herself,” I was completely embarrassed and ran. If I could travel back in time, I would go back and proudly declare that “I love myself and yes I bought myself flowers!”
So try it. Buy yourself the flowers. For no reason. Any day of the year. Maybe not carnations though – you deserve better than that. Start with the most important relationship: to you, from you.
The writer is director of Counseling of Alexandria, a small counseling practice that has served the Alexandria community since 2011.