A Different Sort of Love…

So it’s Valentine’s Day and everywhere you look, there are signs for Valentine’s Day specials, Facebook posts, and couples strolling arm and arm or deep in conversation over a glass of wine or a cup of coffee. There are people who love celebrating Valentine’s Day and there are those who see it as just another day. Some see it as just a Hallmark holiday that makes those of us in a relationship feel like we have to go all out and spend a ton of money for our significant other. But what if Valentine’s Day didn’t have to be about romantic love? What if it wasn’t even about platonic love or the love one might have for a friend or a parent or family member? What if we look at Valentine’s Day as a way to reflect on the love we have for ourselves?

Self-love has always appeared to me as a strange sort of subject, and it’s not something we think about much. But that doesn’t make it any less important. Maybe it’s time we ask ourselves “Do I really love myself? Do I love the person I am? And if I don’t, what is it about myself that keeps me from loving that person?” As a music therapist working in mental illness and substance abuse, I come across people every single day who have serious issues, and much of it goes back to self-esteem and how they feel about themselves, among other things, of course.

How we feel about ourselves dictates the way we act towards others and the way we allow ourselves to be treated. And the way we allow others to treat us flows down to our children. If they don’t see us taking care of ourselves, they won’t know that it’s important to take care of themselves. I know that seems impossible when you think about a child who is selfish and always puts himself first, but eventually that child will grow up and much of what they do at that point will be affected by what they saw and experienced in their own childhood.

So how do you know if you love yourself? I don’t think it’s an all or nothing situation, unfortunately. You may love certain aspects of yourself or your life but absolutely loathe others, and I imagine that the balance of those things puts us all on a sort of continuum of self-love that measures how content we are with ourselves.

Some questions to ask yourself…

1. Do you allow yourself to take a break from time to time? Do you allow yourself time to do things you enjoy? Many of us don’t give ourselves this kind of time unless we are finished with everything else we have to do, which is never, because the list is usually never-ending. This means that we don’t do a lot of things for ourselves unless someone pushes us. There has to be some sort of balance here. We can’t just go around doing nothing all the time and not getting things done, but we also can’t do anything BUT work, either.

2. How do the people around you treat you? If we are surrounded by people who don’t value our needs, then that will often rub off on us and make us feel like our needs aren’t important. Do you let the people around you talk you out of things you know you’d like or want? Or are they supportive of your desires and goals?

3. Do you mentally beat yourself up if you don’t do everything you think you’re supposed to do? Are you the kind of person who tells your best friend to take a break but then expects yourself to get it all done because “I should be able to handle it?”

4. Do you value your needs and see them as important, or do you always find yourself doing what others need first? If you are a parent or a “giver,” you might feel the need to always be looking out for others before yourself. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing…the world needs people like this. But the truth is, you can’t pour from your cup if it’s empty. In other words, if you aren’t taking care of yourself, then you can’t really do as much as you think you can for other people.

I could literally go on and on, but I won’t. What it all boils down to is that how we feel about ourselves is every bit as important as how we feel in the relationships we’re in. So maybe this year, that is something to ponder. I won’t pretend that I have it all figured out, because I don’t, but it’s something that I’ve been working on in my own life for a few years now. Yes, I said a few years. It’s not an overnight thing…stuff like this takes time and it’s a process.

I suppose it began with the realization that I am not at the top of anyone’s list of priorities. In fact, I’m not even sure I’m #2 on any of those lists, either. The sad part was that I wasn’t sure if I was even on my own list at all. I found myself wanting to do things, but then I would think “but (someone else) would rather I do this instead” and then I would proceed to do what someone else would prefer that I do instead of what I wanted to do in the first place. Of course, there’s a time and place for that, but that’s not every time it comes up. It sounds weird to say but the first couple of times I did what I wanted to do anyway, it felt weird because I hadn’t really done it all that much before. But I can tell you that it gets easier the more you do it, and I am slowly, but surely, starting to sink into a new way of thinking. You should try it sometime!

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