Whatever your relationship status, it’s likely that Valentine’s Day is a holiday that brings up a few emotions for you. Most of us long to be with our soulmates, and whether we are single or paired up, we sometimes wonder if our soulmate is out there or whether the person we are with really is that soulmate.
For people who are missing out on the satisfaction of a healthy and fulfilling romantic relationship (which is a lot of us), Valentine’s Day is a difficult observance. Sometimes a lack of satisfaction comes from having very high expectations of the person who is supposed to “complete” us. But no one human being can do that. Instead, we need to feel complete in ourselves before we can have a healthy romantic relationship.
If you are looking for improved romance this Valentine’s Day, start by loving yourself: Show yourself some self-compassion.
Self-compassion is permission to go easy on yourself in the midst of your struggles. It is based on the idea that we – like all humans – are imperfect. We will make mistakes, but that’s OK. Making mistakes is normal because we are people, and people make mistakes. Once you grasp this truth, your mistakes are no longer occasions to be hard on yourself, leading to self-loathing. Instead, mistakes can become stepping stones on your journey of personal growth.
Two educational psychologists, Dr. Kristen Neff and Dr. Chris Germer, have done much work to develop this concept of self-compassion and teach it to others. They have found that people who practice self-compassion have reduced levels of stress, depression and performance anxiety. Military veterans who score high in self-compassion are less likely to experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Self-compassion is a more positive approach than focusing on self-esteem because self-esteem comes from comparing ourselves to others. To have self-esteem, we need to feel as if we are better than other people. Unfortunately, this means that we gain self-esteem by competing with others or putting them down. Self-esteem divides us from other people, and ultimately alienates us from them. Self-compassion is different because it accepts our common humanity. Self-compassion is an approach that unifies us with others, allowing us to love them even as we love ourselves in all of our imperfections.
Dr. Neff explains three qualities of self-compassion:
- Self-kindness – When we fail, instead of criticizing ourselves, we can instead choose to be warm and compassionate. Because we can’t always get what we want, accepting this reality will improve how we feel and lessen our stress and negative emotions.
- Common humanity – When we are suffering, it’s tempting to feel like we are alone and that the rest of the world is happy. However, this is not true. “Everybody hurts,” sang the rock band REM, and it helps to remember that we all go through difficult times.
- Mindfulness – When we have negative emotions, a common response is to either exaggerate those feelings and allow them to take over our lives, or else try to make them go away. Both of these approaches make the bad feelings worse. A better option is to allow oneself to feel negative emotions and observe them without judgment. By admitting our pain, we can show ourselves compassion. Think of how you would react to a child who is crying after skinning their knee. That’s the kind of compassion you might want to show yourself when you are hurting.
Dr. Neff recommends treating yourself like a good friend. Think about when one of your close friends was going through a hard time, and describe what you did to help them feel better. Then think about a time when you yourself were suffering. How did you treat yourself? Did you show yourself as much compassion as you did your friend?
Once we learn how to practice self-compassion, we begin to love ourselves. And when we love ourselves, magical things happen. We respect our own desires, which means that we can approach a romantic relationship like the partnership it could be. We may realize that we’re better off single than with a romantic partner who is, for whatever reason, not ideal for us. And because we love ourselves, we are better equipped to love others. We become better lovers all around. And isn’t that what Valentine’s Day really is all about?
If you could use some help learning how to show yourself compassion, call 304-433-7212 for an appointment with one of the therapists at Be Well Betterment Counseling Services. We can help you put your suffering into perspective so you can feel well again.