By Ellie Arnott, SATEDA volunteer
Every person deserves and is entitled to respect, love and empathy in a romantic relationship. But if you’ve experienced abuse this probably won’t be what you experienced from your partner. The relationship likely left you with feelings of worthlessness, sadness, fear, anger, harrowing memories, trauma and emotional and physical scars.
Those painful memories, which leave you feeling alone and unloved, are one of the many reasons why Valentine’s Day can be difficult for survivors of domestic abuse today. Maybe you desire a new relationship but are fearful of abuse occurring again; the mental and emotional scars from the abuse may have changed how you view yourself, your body and narrowed your aspirations. Your faith in romance may seem like a faraway dream now.
Valentine’s Day has also become the commercialisation of romantic love. Another excuse for brands to fill our screens and billboards with adverts to try and sell us lingerie, chocolates and flowers to signal the depth of our feelings for our other half. But this can be especially triggering for domestic abuse survivors as it mirrors behaviours of love-bombing. Abusers often use these type of gifts as a way of wiping their slate clean and apologising for their abuse, only to do it again and again. So seeing these adverts may trigger flashbacks and the resurfacing of traumatic memories.
That’s why I want to remind you that Valentine’s Day is also about self-love and the respect, empathy and kindness you show yourself.
Loving yourself and self-care may sound indulgent, but you are so worthy of it. You deserve to be loved by others of course, but most importantly, you need to love yourself. Self-worth is not selfishness, it’s essential for your physical, emotional and mental well-being. Self-care strategies can help regain your confidence and self-belief and are an important component of post-trauma recovery and healing.
So below I’ve put together some suggestions for self-care on Valentine’s Day to help regain your sense of your inherent place and value in the community and wider world:
- Seek out your support network- Let friends and family members support you on Valentine’s Day, by showing their love to you this should help you feel comforted, not alone and less likely to return to your abuser.
- Treat yourself to a massage or a manicure- This involves expense, but it helps by giving you the positive attention you deserve. Especially if you were told what you could wear or spend money on. It could help with reclaiming your independence. If touch is a trigger, maybe a trusted friend could try manicuring or massaging you instead.
- Read a favourite book or watch a movie- Reading or watching a movie with a hot chocolate could provide relaxation and comfort and is an activity that could be shared or done alone if you enjoy your own space.
- Have a relaxing Bath or Shower- Pampering your body is good for the skin and helps with relaxation. It’s time to yourself to focus on your needs.
- Cook a meal or get a takeaway- Deciding what to eat may be liberating. Your ability to have choices about what you do is vital to regain confidence. Nurturing your body with food is good for your general well-being.
- Think about starting therapy/ or joining a support group. – Not necessarily starting therapy on Valentine’s Day but considering this as an option, may be another step in the healing journey. Likewise meeting others in a support group may help with isolation and hearing other’s stories could be comforting.
- Go for a walk- If a barrier to doing this is fear of walking alone, try going out with someone in your support network. Walking is meditative, good for physical, mental and emotional well-being and being out in nature reconnects us to the outside world and reemphasises our place in it.
- Call a Domestic Abuse helpline/charity for advice- Charities and help lines are excellent sources of advice and support and help sign post you for what to do next.
- Ask for child care support– Even the best parent needs some time off so why not ask friends or family if they could look after the children on Valentine’s.
- Write yourself a love letter– You are worthy of love and writing a letter to yourself of all your best traits and qualities may be empowering and remind you in dark times that no matter what or how you feel, you’re a person who deserves love.
- Keep a gratitude journal- Perhaps start this on Valentine’s Day, writing down three things you are grateful for everyday and revisit this every day. It doesn’t have to be big things you could start small. This exercise helps you assess your life and studies from positive psychology suggests it helps improve mood.
There are many self-care activities that could be done on Valentine’s Day, it doesn’t matter what they are, but if they help you feel less alone, and help you feel loved and supported then it could mean a more positive experience for you this Valentine’s Day. These tips could be useful in everyday life to help you begin healing and sustain you while you process trauma.