Valentine's Day and Self-Love
Contains some references to ED thoughts and behaviours that may be triggering
Ah, Valentine's day.
We all know it's become heavily commercialised and laden with expectation, but it was once a day when people earnestly showed love and affection for another person, and despite how it seems now, it wasn't actually invented by greetings-cards companies, or by people needing a bit of attention from inattentive partners . Written Valentine's started to appear in the 1400s,and the feast to honour St Valentine on February 14 was first established way back in 496 by Pope Gelasius I, who included Valentine among all those "... whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose acts are known only to God."
While the details of who St Valentine was are contested, one thing is sure: he was martyred and buried on February 14 at the Roman cemetery on the Via Flaminia, the ancient road from Rome to Rimini. (yep, I'm an unashamed history geek)
But rather than get caught up in feeling bad about what you haven't got, or why you're not where you 'should' be at this point in your life, why not take this day as an opportunity to practice something that's so difficult for those of us with ED wiring? What about showing yourself some love and appreciation?
Self-love is vital for health and happiness. Love is a powerful, positive energy that is necessary for a healthy balance between mind, body and spirit. We cannot recognise love in others unless we have it for ourselves. It allows us to understand we have something genuine to share with the world, and when you believe you are worthy, your life will reflect it.
The concept of self-love should not be confused with narcissism and selfishness. A lot of our understanding of the importance of self-love and self-compassion comes to contemporary therapy and coaching from ancient wisdom of Buddhism. Self-compassion was emphasised often in Buddhist teachings and can lead us to the steps we need to take towards loving ourselves in a natural, organic and healthy way.
“You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” The Buddha
Loving and accepting ourselves unconditionally, flaws and all, exactly the same way we love our children and pets is what we should be striving for. Instead, we love ourselves with conditions. We expect to be happy with ourselves only when we get the job we want, or get the praise we need, or after getting the house, and if you're struggling with an ED, dangerous conditions, like staying under X number of calories. When we achieve these things we then, (usually for a short space of time, until we set the next condition) and only then do we feel worthy of self-compassion.
Spiritual author Eckhart Tolle claims that if we "get the inside right, the outside will fall into place" . Although this can sound simplistic when we're really struggling with circumstances, it is largely true; if we have 'the inside right' , we have the resources, the resilience, the optimism and the determination to face and overcome difficult situations.
And why wait for the outside circumstances to change? for most of us, there is never going to be a'perfect' point, when everything is resolved and achieved. Inside is where we can create a reservoir of self-love, so we can be open to give and receive love freely, right now.
TIPS FOR SELF-LOVE
Self-love is liberating, but it takes dedication and effort to get to that place. For those recovering from an eating disorder, self-care can really help send yourself the message that you're worth the time and the effort- that you have value. This is an especially important part of your recovery.
1. Be mindful of how you’re really feeling. Paying attention to how you are feeling and what you need is important. Do you need to be with your family? Alone? Do you need to watch an episode of your favourite comfort show? Do you need a cup of tea? A long hot bath? A cuddle? Stay curious and open to how you’re feeling throughout the day and respect what you need moment to moment.
2. Nurture yourself. Self-love can only really flourish when you stop behaviours that are satisfying yet destructive. Try and focus instead on what you truly need. The compulsion to partake in harmful behaviours feels overwhelming, but the urge will pass, and , believe it or not, you can choose not to act on them. Yes, the goal for recovery is unrestricted eating and no exercise but today try choosing even one health-promoting way ( a gentle therapeutic yoga class rather than another brutal overly long walk), to fulfil your physical and emotional needs could be enough to set self-nurturing and healing in motion. And when you've managed it, stop and acknowledge the achievement.
3.Be kind to yourself. “Whatever words we utter should be chosen with care.” The Buddha
A good way to start practising self-love on Valentine's day is to focus on improving our self-talk and quiet the inner critic that's always judging and condemning us for what we do and how we feel. We may think that being hard on yourself, and having exacting expectations, is a good motivator, but the opposite is true. If you think about it, we generally give more attention and nurture things we love rather than things we consider hopeless and unworthy.
So try activating true self-love by imagining the caring way you would speak to a loved one who had experienced failure or disappointment: you would make them feel better about themselves, reassure them and help them see it wasn't the end of the world, that it was just a bad day.
Begin to mentally speak to yourself, interrupting and replacing the negative self-talk, with kindness and a gentle, light-hearted tone. So the next time you fall short of your goals for yourself, you don't get that interview or you can't get out of bed, speak to yourself with kindness and no judgement. Cut out the words like 'stupid' 'useless' or 'worthless' and soften them . Change that critical, mean inner voice to a warm, loving, expression of who you really are.
4. Volunteer. Volunteering has always helped me. It can give you a healthy distraction from the ED noise and negative self-talk , it can be challenging and fun, help you meet new people (countering the isolating tendencies of ED), provide an emotional gratification that can really boost your sense of self-worth and has been proven to help minimise stress and depression. Try the Do-it.org site in the UK for ideas and opportunities.
5.Positive people. Start working on surrounding yourself with with people who are good for you. You are important enough to be selective about those you spend time with; Don't let them be energy and self-esteem vampires: the people who make you feel badly about yourself, or who trigger your worst ED thoughts and urges, or who do anything other than accept you for who you are, your complete wonderful, perfectly imperfect self.
6.Time out from social media. Start a regular period of putting down the devices, whether it is for an hour or for a day once a week. Removing ourselves from the online world allows us to stop comparing ourselves to other people, what they look like, what they're eating/not eating and what they're doing in their lives. Remember, social media allows a person to post what they want the world to see,which usually just includes the good parts, (and a filtered, altered, retouched version of the good as well). , not the arguments or the failures, stresses and worries. Giving ourselves a moment to separate from the virtual world reminds us of what is valuable to us and what's special about our own lives and the moment we're in
7. Write a love letter to yourself. This one may be a challenge, but it's really worth a try. People with eating disorders are notoriously hard on themselves, and negative self-talk is a default setting (see #1 ) Practice investing as much energy into remembering what you're grateful for. Think about your achievements, (yes, you've had them, if you look honestly at your life and they don't have to be huge to count), and about the things you're grateful for; for me, I'm really grateful for my cat Baxter dozing beside me as I write this, and for the suggestions of Spring in the garden today. Studies show that contemplating something personally meaningful before engaging in stressful activities reduces stress and improves performance by a huge 50 percent.
8. Ask for help. If you need help ask for it. We're made to feel like we should always show the best side of ourselves, when we're coping, in control, feeling really good about ourselves. This is another toxic effect of social media and all the air-brushed, filtered 'insta-winners'; it's also a particular issue for a lot of us with ED wiring who are such perfectionists we have a deep sense of shame and guilt when things aren't going perfectly. Try to fight this. Everyone has bad patches, everyone has times when they feel overwhelmed or just can't cope and everyone needs help sometimes. If you are not feeling well, and need the love and care of others, reach out to someone in a way that feels safe for you : phone, text, video chat, meet for a cup of tea. Also remember, if your special person isn't immediately available, it's nothing to do with your worth as a person.
9. Start regular Meditation. Regular meditation practice has been proven to have amazing effects on the chemistry (and even changes the structure) of our brain.
External things can only give you a temporary feeling of satisfaction, and really should never be equated with self-value. No matter how hard it is to believe sometimes, peace can be found inside us all, past the external distractions just waiting for us to be relaxed and calm enough to feel it . We aren't born with these feelings of guilt, or self-hatred; right at our centre is the person we were born to be, before the labels, judgements , fear and criticism, and to give and receive love we must become aware of our true, loving nature. Regular meditation can help you access a sense of peace and real contentment at any time you choose.
There are so many meditation apps and programmes online you can try, or see if you can find a local meditation class (often where you find yoga classes) or a Buddhist centre
10. Start dating yourself. Ok, this may sound a little weird for the more self-conscious of us, and I don't mean going out for a meal somewhere on your own, especially on Valentine's night. Too many of us don't make the effort if we're on our own, and, as I said earlier, we put work into things that matter. So taking yourself on a date is about time and attention, making it the way you would if you were having dinner with someone you really care about; Lay the table, put on some music, light some candles, take your time with the meal, enjoying the way the food looks and smells. Carve out regular time for yourself, like an evening that includes a foamy bath and your favourite film, or going to an art gallery or to live music.
Regularly working on your capacity to love and value yourself will have a positive effect on every aspect of your life, including your relationships with other people. Believing that you're worthy of love means you can start to believe that you're worthy of health, of recovery and ultimately of true happiness. And belief is a huge part of the journey.
The Telegraph feb. 2019
special thanks to -
Deborah Khoshaba, Psy.D