Valentine’s Day has been a trigger for me since I first started crushing in the 2nd grade.
Whether I was single or coupled, it always seemed to increase my dissatisfaction with life tenfold. I went through years longing to find my soul’s partner, so I could experience the kind of healing that true love is supposed to bring. After this, I spent years wondering if I had made the right choice of partner, or if I could find someone “better,” who would meet all my needs cheerfully and could be everything I thought I needed someone to be.
This year, I am finally at peace as we approach Valentine’s Day. What is different this time around is that I have spent this past year learning for the first time how to really love myself. When I became my own lover, my own champion and cheerleader, everything changed.
A big part of my problem was that I didn’t know what it meant to love myself or how I could communicate love to myself. I remember an SNL skit where Kristen Wiig’s character makes fun of that “special soap” that’s supposed to make you feel special when you use it, but it doesn’t.
This reminds me of when I thought that self-love was something like taking a bubble bath or painting my nails. But I gradually noticed that even when I felt beautiful or pampered in the moment, the good feelings about myself never seemed to stick for very long. I was not able to shift my underlying attitude about myself, which kept me continually falling back into self-doubt, criticism and despair.
So what’s the secret? It’s definitely not the special soap, or at least not just the special soap.
The secret is learning how to radically re-communicate the messages we send about ourselves to ourselves. I like to think of this as re-training my brain.
If our words and actions about ourselves communicate judgement, embarrassment or hate, that’s how we will see ourselves at a deep, subconscious level—as shameful, despicable creatures. This trickles down into how we carry ourselves in the world, how we act in relationships and how we put ourselves out there.
When our words and actions about ourselves communicate that we treasure, adore and celebrate ourselves, it’s like running a sweet subconscious soundtrack through our minds, telling us on a deeper level, you are worthy, you are worthy, you are loved, you are loved. And when that’s what you believe about yourself, imagine how differently you’d put yourself out there!
For me, the magic happened when I stopped communicating to myself that I was a fake, that I was a disappointment, that I was doing it all wrong, and started communicating how much I treasured myself, how thrilled I am to be in this skin and how I savor the deliciousness of being me.
Here are some of the ways I’ve learned to do this. There are no rules, only that I focus loving attention on myself in as many ways as possible.
I communicate love to myself with actions.
I do small self-love rituals that shower my body with care and adoration. I rub my hands tenderly over my skin, soothing the sore places, feeling the textures and just enjoying the sensation of my own flesh. I rub my body with oil and caress strands of my hair. Sometimes, I adorn it with flowers and jewels. I celebrate glimpses of myself in store windows and mirrors, saying silently, hello my friend.
I communicate love to myself with words.
This one was really hard for me at first. I am learning to graciously accept compliments and furthermore to agree with them. I surrender to whatever tiny impulses arise to spontaneously celebrate something about myself. And I always speak well of myself.
I prioritize things that bring me joy.
One of the most powerful questions on my journey has been, how am I denying myself pleasure? Now in every way possible, I stop withholding pleasure from myself. I accept experiences of joy when they are offered to me, whether or not they fit into my plan for the day.
I heap love on parts of myself that are hurt.
When parts of myself arise that feel shameful, weak, pathetic and embarrassing, instead of trying to shove them back down and get rid of them, I welcome them like a long lost child. I wrap my arms around these parts of myself and say, welcome home. You are mine and I love you.
May this poem be confirmation that everything you know about yourself in your secret heart is true:
If you knew yourself for even one moment,
if you could just glimpse your most beautiful face,
maybe you wouldn’t slumber so deeply in that house of clay.
Why not move into your house of Joy and shine into every crevice!
For you are the secret Treasure-bearer, and always have been.
Didn’t you know?
Author: Bethany Vaccaro
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Author’s Own