Valentine's Day: What's love got to do with it? Feb. 2019
As many people will be celebrating Valentine's Day this week by sending cards or buying gifts for their loved ones, it is worth spending some time thinking about love and what it means to us. Over the years Valentine's Day has moved from being a day for lovers to an opportunity to celebrate love for anyone special in our lives. These days we find school children sending cards to their friends to show their affection and some animal lovers write messages about their loves for their pets and their special place in their life. Many people get together with friends and family to mark the day and demonstrate their love for each other. I want to focus on the many benefits of feeling and showing love, not only to those around us, but also to ourselves.
Dr Helen Fisher, Biological Anthropologist, has written about the chemicals which are released in the brain when we feel love. She noted that feelings of trust and attachment are fostered by the release of oxytocin (often referred to as the "love hormone" which can be released simply by touch such as holding hands, being massaged or cuddling in the arms of a loved one. She notes that when we are in love there is more activity in the reward system of the brain and we have more energy, focus and optimism and these have a positive effect on reducing stress. Specific benefits associated with being in a loving relationship include reduction in blood pressure, enhanced mood, better sleep, fewer physical symptoms, healthier skin and increased emotional confidence. Dr Fisher's research revealed that middle aged couples who had been together for many years and reported being happy in their relationship, showed a decrease in anxiety and an increase in calmness in their brains.
Not everyone is lucky enough to be in a loving relationship, but that does not mean that they have to forego the benefits described above. There are many ways to experience these positive effects. They can be found in simple exchanges between close friends or colleagues, or even with strangers whom we encounter in our everyday activities. When we take the time to fully engage with another person, we create the opportunity for these feelings to emerge. The act of helping someone in need, of reaching out to indicate we care or taking the time to really listen to another human being as they share some problem, serves not only to assist that individual, but also ourselves. Simple gestures such as showing courtesy, allowing a stressed mother to go ahead of you in the supermarket queue, picking up a dropped item for someone in the street, are all acts which potentially connect us positively with those around us.
It is often said that in order to be able to love someone we must first love ourselves. Many problems in relationships stem from the fact that some people don't value themselves. They become too focused on their own personal flaws and what they regard as their inadequacies and their perceived failure to live up to their own or others (often unrealistic) expectations. They may hold a core belief that they are unloveable or are not good enough. This means that they can struggle to believe that anyone else could love them for who and what they are. The three most common human fears are not being lovable, not being good enough and having these perceived defects exposed or worse, confirmed. Self love is about the relationship we have with ourselves. It is not about being selfish, self indulgent, arrogant or grandiose, but about genuine acknowledgement and acceptance of who we are.
Psychotherapist Katherine Woodward Thomas, who writes and teaches on the subject of love and relationships, has identified three core capacities people need in order to develop self love and enable us to enter into a healthy relationship:
1. The ability to reflect on our own behaviours in a way that allows for personal growth and development
2. The ability to direct our initial attention to what we feel and what we need before focusing on another person
3. The ability to develop a capacity to tolerate our own autonomy
It is only when we can see ourselves honestly and clearly, rather than how we may like to appear to others, that we can learn to first accept and then come to love ourselves. That does not mean that we may not strive to improve various aspects of ourselves, but rather that we take a compassionate view and do not deny the parts we do not like. In order to connect with someone else, we must connect with ourselves first. How can we expect to know another person if we do not know ourselves? Without self love we place too much responsibility on a potential partner. We may fear the partner may not like us if they really know what we are like or become aware of our fears, our past wounds and our insecurities.
We may feel shame regarding our past behaviours or even for having some of our feelings and succomb to what a favourite meditation teacher of mine Tara Brach, calls "the trance of unworthiness". It is only be developing self awareness and learning to accept ourselves as whole human beings, that we can feel self love and begin to make ourselves open and vulnerable to another and connect in the ways we wish.
Another aspect of self love is being able to spend time alone. This allows space for self reflection and creates opportunities to take responsibility for meeting our own needs rather than expecting someone else to do this for us. Daily meditation can be very useful here as it assists us to get in touch with our physical feelings and emotions. Meditations such as loving kindness practices are particularly relevant with respect to developing self love. When spending time alone we can learn to ask ourselves what we are feeling, what we need at this time, what we can do to make ourselves feel good and what activity we may enjoy. We can also practice taking autonomous actions and making independent decisions which help to make us feel more in charge of our life.
Self love also includes the willingness to engage in self care in all of its forms. These can include the usual pampering such as a warm bath, massages, beauty treatments and other personal indulgences, plus exercise, healthy sleep and eating habits, pleasant activities and social contacts.
Valentine's Day is just a single day and the love that we feel and show to those we care about, including ourselves, needs to be a daily event. I hope these ideas have prompted you to think about love and relationships in a different way. What's love got to do with it? Well, everything really!.
If you would like assistance with your relationships or improving your relationship with yourself, I would be happy to work with you. You can visit my website at www.dawnvincent.com.au or just give me a call on 0438 855328 or email me at email@example.com