We have all heard of the 5 Love Languages, right? Before diving headfirst into this blog, let me just say, it’s so special and great to fall in love and have someone to share life with! I always use the analogy with my patients that romantic partnership is the icing on the cake of life. Cake is still delicious without icing, icing just tends to make it a little sweeter. Often times I work with patients on creating their own personal cake batter, filled with hobbies, spirituality, healthy lifestyle choices, friends, individual activities, gratitude lists, reading, etc. That way they have a good base of SELF fulfillment even without a partner. Then when one does meet Mr. or Mrs. Right she/he only become the sweetness on top of our already happy life.
We live in a society which preaches icing as a must have – meaning: "you will find fulfillment once you find a partner who makes your life worth living" (ugh, so even uttering that statement sends a small cringe down my back, because life should (as is) worth living even without a partner). Trust me, I get it, I LOVE icing too! ;)
So, that leads me to this week’s blog, in perfect timing for Valentine’s Day. Before you go on reading, know that I find the love languages extremely helpful when working with couple’s in treatment. It is important that once we commit to someone, we take the time to learn how they receive love. It’s also important for us to know how we too like to receive love, as we work together in maintaining a healthy loving partnership (while navigating all the challenge we will face). Furthermore, keep in mind that your love language(s) may change over time. Psychotherapist, John Gottman, refers to this change as a shifting in your LOVE MAP (your blueprint of your love language, self-soothing techniques, significant personal experiences, and emotional and physical needs in your relationship when you meet your person). We often forget that LOVE MAPS change at least 3 - 4xs over the length of the relationship and must be looked at and communicated about.
So, now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s take a look at why the love language philosophy drives me a little crazy. The obvious, because there is an undertone of codependency. I.e. – “Here is a go to guide on how you need to love your partner.” My problem with this… what if we don’t even know how to love ourselves, or take the time to learn? We focus so much time on learning how to provide love outward that we neglect the most important relationship we will ever have – the one with ourselves. My dad, who also does work in psychotherapy, used to say to me as a teen (and mind you, it's a little morbid) "every relationship you ever have will end in death." On the surface this used to make me sad, but as a grew older and dare I say wiser I realized this meant to cherish what I have and also cherish myself, because at the end of the day I have just me - so THANKS, Dad!
So, what if we take the time to invest and apply the love languages to self-love? What if we work on ourselves, and our partners also work on themselves and we become two healthy separate individuals that are then more capable of fostering and maintaining a healthy partnership, not because we learned how to care for someone else but because we learned to care and love ourselves. #LoveYoDamnSelf
So, let’s take a simple look at how you can apply the 5 Love Languages to yourself, becauseL YOU. ARE. WORTH. IT. PERIOD.
Words of Affirmation – How you speak to yourself is huge. Take a moment and look at your inner dialogue (especially when you have a rough day). Are you speaking kind to yourself or are you critical, disappointed and down right mean? Can you change the narratives? Can you give yourself props for when you do something well? Can you be compassionate with yourself when you have a misstep? Can you acknowledge a moment where you feel beautiful? The answer is, YES, you CAN! It takes practice and time. It may also require you took look at where those message even came from (and then look at your audience and decide if they had the credentials to tell you who you were). One starter tip – use affirmations or positive self-statements daily like “I am worthy because I a human” or “I am uniquely me.” A second starter tip, when someone gives you a compliment SAY THANK YOU and leave it there.
Quality Time – Taking time for yourself is often masked as one being self-centered or selfish. Yet again another faulty belief that codependency has created. There are studies that specifically look at building self-confidence by TENDING TO YOURSELF. This means self-care. And this is tied directly to self-worth. Because you are human you deserve to care for yourself, regardless of what narratives other people have placed upon you. And stop feeling guilty. Stop feeling like you can’t go to a fitness class, schedule a pedicure, skip cooking a family dinner just because it’s time away from your partner and children -- don't you want your child to create healthy individuality in her later years. What if she sees mom caring from herself, and instead of her interpreting that as selfish she too realizes it's okay to set limits with people and tend to yourself? Don’t you see, that will allow you to be a better partner, more caring mother and generally happier person because you have neglected yourself. So, schedule some quality time for yourself. For me, it’s a monthly massages and morning jog.
Physical Touch – This one is pretty straight forward. Get your head out of the gutter. 😉 – Do you ground self, by placing a hand on your heart during a stressful day? Could you give yourself a self-massage to your temples? Can you lightly comb your hair, do a face or hair mask? Can you hug you hug yourself? Can you touch your body with care and not judgement because it allows your to do some many things? Allow your body to receive the energy of a personal touch and learn to nurture yourself, rather than pull, pluck and find disappointment in a few extra pounds.
Acts of Service – This one is a skill I often teach patients in trying to find a purpose driven life. I often have people say to me in session, “I want to be happy.”
The definition I choose to give them for happiness is: “Happiness is JOY + MEANING.”
Meaning sometimes can translate into purpose and contribution. While our life’s purpose should not be to find validation through what we can do for others, doing kind gestures has been proven to play a direct role in purpose. Do something kind for someone else, but not because you want acknowledgement for the act, but because you want to be kind. Notice how an act of service (sweet note, small gift, completing a task or chore for your lover) give you those “feel good” vibes.
Gifts – Finally, gifts! Who does not love a gift? This one is often difficult for parents and people in commitment. Not to mention the impact our own view of self-worth has on if we deserve gifts. Stop thinking you don’t deserve to buy yourself that sweater, that box of candy or that new techy device. You do. Forget your money blocks, and how you were told to “responsibly spend money” (but pay your bills! LOL). Buy yourself something nice for no reason. Cherish the gift. Enjoy it.
In closing, give these all a try! See which ones resonate a bit more with you and rinse and repeat. Remember, value and love your partner, children and friends, but don’t forget to NOURISH yourself.