“Love yourself first and everything else falls into line. You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world.” ~Lucille Ball
As Valentine’s Day approaches, we are bombarded with images of romantic love, pictures of couples sharing steak dinners and clinking glasses of champagne. It is a time that can leave many people feeling unfulfilled, as they grapple with their own experiences of love and relationships.
But the key to finding true love, mental health experts say, lies in ourselves. To truly love other people, we must learn to love and accept who we are. The most important act of loving ourselves can be seeking mental health help.
“We have this idea that we have to do everything perfectly and if we are not perfect, then we are faulty or wrong,” says therapist Holly Christensen, LCSW. “One of the reasons mental healthcare is so important is that it teaches us about self-acceptance. When you start on the pathway of compassion for yourself, that becomes a journey toward self-acceptance and self-love. When we can accept ourselves, we can accept others.”
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, about one in four American adults was dealing with mental illness. As the pandemic drags into its third year, an unprecedented number of people are experiencing trauma, grief, anxiety and increases in substance use or sleeping disorders due to the virus.
The good news, Christensen says, is that the stigma around seeking mental healthcare is receding. However, some still think seeing a therapist is a sign of weakness or an indicator that one has a serious mental disorder. Others are so accustomed to their depression, anxiety or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder that they think of it as a part of their identity– not a mental health issue that can resolve with treatment.
Christensen often employs Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART) with her clients. ART enables people to reprocess traumatic memories, allowing them to let go of accompanying feelings of fear, anxiety or pain. Numerous scientific studies have demonstrated that ART is an effective treatment for anxiety, depression and grief. Therapists also use ART for executive coaching, or helping people become their best selves and overcome fear, whether on stage, in the boardroom or on an athletic field. Clients feel a significant improvement in their symptoms after an average of four sessions of ART, much faster than traditional talk therapy.
Christensen says that her clients describe a feeling of lightness when they have addressed their underlying traumas. “When we heal from trauma, we open the gate to new feelings that we might not have been able to feel previously,” she says. “We are able to love ourselves in a completely different light.”
Far from being selfish or self-indulgent, caring for your mental health enables you to better care for those around you. “When you take care of yourself and your needs– mental, physical, spiritual and emotional– then you are better able to give to everyone around you. You are giving from a full bucket rather than scraping from the bottom of an empty bucket,” she says.
“Sometimes we need help from a professional to see strengths in ourselves that are hidden from us,” Christensen says. “To be able to love ourselves and love others is a beautiful strength to have.”