The Worst Thing You Can Do On Valentine's Day, According To A Psychotherapist

Photo: Jennifer Brister

I have worked with many women over the years recovering from a bad breakup or lamenting their singleness. And, when February rolls around, the prospect of Valentine’s Day just makes them feel worse. I hear comments such as, "Valentine’s Day is just a dumb Hallmark holiday that I should not care about." Or, "I shouldn’t care if I am in a relationship." Or, "I pride myself on being a liberated woman. I should be happy being alone." Valentine’s Day brings up other shoulds like: "I should be in love," "I should be with a romantic man," "I should be married by now," or "I should get a present on Valentine’s day." Often these words are said to me through tears of sadness and shame. When it comes to feeling bad on Valentine’s Day, the shoulds don’t help!

My work as a trauma and emotion-centered psychotherapist has made me keenly aware of the word should, which almost always signals an underlying, shaming belief that needs attention. When a patient says to me, "I should be..." it's my cue to stop and get curious with my client about the origins of their beliefs and question their validity.

Why we should be wary of saying "I should."

Shoulds are mostly unconscious lessons we learn from our childhoods and society for how to be acceptable—how to fit in. Shoulds cause many emotions, particularly shame, when we use them to judge ourselves. But the things we feel ashamed about are learned in a larger familial or cultural context. All sorts of cultural forces on Valentine’s Day teach women to feel bad for one thing or another.

Instead of accepting our shoulds as facts, we need to question them: Where did I learn this belief? Whose voice is in my head telling me I should? Is there another way to look at it? When we bring a fresh perspective and question our shoulds, we often learn something new.

"Shoulds" lack authenticity and keep us disconnected.

Take the statement I should be over this relationship. The brain doesn’t work like that. Just because you think you should does not change how you actually feel. In fact, shoulds add more pressure to be inauthentic, which causes more disconnection and loneliness, making it harder to move forward. What is helpful is to wholeheartedly accept what you actually feel, not what people say you should feel. Once emotions are uncovered, validated, and processed, people feel calmer and better.

There is internal work you can do to heal Valentine’s Day misery. You can question your shoulds to see whether your beliefs are helpful or hurtful to you. You can remind yourself that you have nothing to be ashamed about even if your shoulds tell you there is. Don’t berate yourself for grieving losses that Valentine’s Day might be bringing up. Allow yourself to mourn losses until they naturally resolve—which they will. Instead of judging yourself, strive to be compassionate toward your sadness.

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Combat the Valentine's Day blues by tending to your inner world.

After tending to your internal world, it’s time to take action in the external world to combat Valentine’s Day misery. Plan an empowered day on February 14. Do yoga or another exercise class. Meet a friend for dinner who can commiserate with you about the unfair power dynamics of Valentine’s Day. Treat yourself to a gift—you don’t need to wait for someone else to buy one for you. Lastly, try doing something nice for a stranger. For example, you could give up your seat on the bus, even if you’re tired, or hold the door for someone as you wish them a Happy Valentine's Day.

Holidays like Valentine’s Day bring up so many shoulds. The key is to not should yourself. Give yourself permission to reject what is harmful to your soul. Strive to understand and accept your feelings. When we recognize, validate, and honor our deepest emotions, we feel better. When we feel better, we deal better with life’s challenges, and that IS something to celebrate!

Haven't decided how to spend your V-Day? Here are some bouquet buying tips and a few low-sugar desserts you can feel good about making to get you started.

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