As we approach Valentine’s Day, attention is commonly drawn to celebrating love and relationships. You may be thinking about celebrating your current relationship with your significant other with a romantic dinner, chocolates and flowers. If there are some stumbling blocks in your current relationship, you may also be reflecting on your partner and whatever struggles you both may be going through. If you are single, your focus this week may be on your desire for a romantic relationship while you process through feelings of loneliness or sadness. This can also be a time to reflect on past relationships, reflecting on why they may not have worked out. You may not even be focusing on romance at all and instead gearing up for an epic celebration of your friendships with some Galentine’s or Palentine’s fun.
Unfortunately, most people forget about the most important relationship of all – the one that we have with ourselves. When you think about it, you are the person that you spend the most time with. You are the person that you talk to the most, the one with whom you are having the deepest, rawest, and most honest conversations. How often do you take the time to focus on the relationship that you have with yourself? How often do you focus on growing self-love and self-appreciation? The way we see ourselves and the way we treat ourselves directly affects how we relate to the world and how we build relationships with others. When we do not offer ourselves love and grace, it is very difficult to build healthy relationships with other people in our lives.
It is, at times, astonishing to me how our society has created such a world that makes it so difficult to find self-love. We are often surrounded by messages of being not enough, messages that tell us how to “fix” ourselves or become better versions of ourselves. We are shown snapshots of others’ lives that appear perfect in their well-filtered images, images that we could never live up to in our real lives because they are not reality in and of themselves. These messages are in our face and at our fingertips all the time. They define how many people choose to measure themselves as they appear to be directed by what society sees as the ideal. Messages hit us from every angle and every form of media, constantly reminding us of what we need to do to change ourselves in order to create happiness. How does one find self-love and happiness when all the messages being received are focused on reasons not to do so? And, how do we avoid the anxiety that we experience when we feel like we can never measure up?
So, when we think about these societal ideals and the messages we ask ourselves about what it would take to create this self-love and happiness, a lot of it comes back to how we set goals. Goals can be a very funny thing in that they can both drive us forward, while also making us feel poorly about ourselves when we don’t think we are getting to our end goal quickly enough. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for goals. I am all for wanting to grow, wanting my clients to become the best version of themselves. I could not and would not be able to do what I do each day without the belief that we all have the ability to create and manifest better versions of ourselves. But, one of the biggest struggles my clients face when it comes to goal-oriented discussions, is how to be both okay with who they are in the present and finding happiness with their accomplished progress, while also continuing to work toward achieving their ultimate goals and not feeling setbacks when they don’t achieve their goals as quickly as they would like.
One of my favorite things to remind my clients is that you can be both a work in progress and a masterpiece at the very same moment. You can have pride in who you are, what you have persevered through, and how you have grown and kept pushing yourself forward to bigger and better things. For some people, it is too easy to get trapped in fear that if they express pride in their progress throughout the process of working toward goals, that they will become complacent and let go of the motivation that was driving them in the first place. Too often in sessions, my clients are struggling with feeling like they are not doing enough and therefore not measuring up to whatever image or status by which they are determining their worth or the progress they are making, and therefore create stories that convince them that they are not enough. These stories affect their ability to maintain the self-love that is so important to developing a healthy relationship with one’s self. Many clients also begin beating themselves up the minute they have a minor setback or the first time they may stray slightly from the very narrow and very straight path that they believe is the only way to get to their ultimate goal. Sometimes the symptoms of both anxiety and depression are rooted in their struggles to see their strengths and abilities and then fuel the negative stories that they tell themselves. Other clients struggle once they achieve a goal. They convince themselves that the value of that goal is no longer enough, never allowing themselves to relish in the positive feelings or accomplishment that they should be allowing themselves to experience. Sometimes, being able to acknowledge a goal being achieved is anxiety provoking as well because it proves to a client their own strengths – something that is difficult to face for a person who struggles with fostering self-love and appreciation. Again, by refusing to see progress and personal strengths, my clients keep riding these merry-go-rounds of emotions and maintain their mood and anxiety symptoms.
So, let’s get off this merry-go-round, lets focus on our accomplishments and our strengths. Let’s realize that we can continue to move forward BECAUSE of these strengths. Let’s give ourselves grace for the stumbling blocks on our path and allow them to show us our strengths, not just our weaknesses. Let’s accept the reasons to love ourselves that are right in front of us each and every day.
I have been practicing therapy for 15 years and have worked with countless individuals, families and couples. While I do not want to claim to be an "expert" on all things therapy or life (because I always believe that there is room to grow and learn) I have noticed throughout my time connecting with my clients that similar struggles and repetitive patterns present themselves that affect how clients experience and see life. I wanted to take this experience with my clients and the knowledge I have gained and share it here, so that maybe it can touch others lives the way it has helped my clients.