It’s February, which means red and pink are everywhere you look, stores are full of hearts and flowers and chocolates and romantic cards, and if you are lucky enough to get a dinner reservation on the 14th you’ll be surrounded by couples staring lovingly into each other’s eyes. The heightened atmosphere of love in this shortest month of the year can be enough to warm even the coldest heart.
It can be challenging – and even triggering – for those whose hearts have been severely broken, as is the case with many survivors of sexual and relationship abuse. Feelings of anger, loneliness, and despair can surface, even if the abuse occurred well in the past, and even if the survivor is currently in a relationship with someone wonderful.
For clients recovering from sexual or relationship abuse or assault, February might very well be the time of year they need us most. How can we be the best for them?
Here are tangible and actionable techniques you can use to help clients work through the complex feelings triggered by Valentine’s Day:
1 – Talk with them about forgiveness.
Forgiveness can be an intense journey, and it can also be the greatest gift any of us ever gives ourselves. It might never occur to someone who struggles with Valentine’s Day to give themselves a gift to “celebrate” the holiday. Reframe Valentine’s Day as an opportunity to talk openly about where a person is along their forgiveness journey and to highlight forgiveness as a gift they deserve.
2 – Brainstorm with them ways to make Valentine’s Day a celebration of their relationship with themselves.
It might sound cliché to encourage a client to “be their own Valentine,” but as we all know, the relationship a person has with oneself is the most important relationship of all. Maybe your client can take themselves out for lunch at their favorite restaurant…or treat themselves to a funny movie…or put in an extra half hour at the gym…or pamper themselves with a massage. Whatever the activity, it’s important to stress the intention behind it – making meaningful time to be with oneself and deepen self-love.
3 – Encourage them to envision what they want for future Valentine’s Days.
If someone is struggling to see any hope for the current Valentine’s Day, perhaps spend some time with them defining what ideal future Valentine’s Days look like. Using their triggering experience as an opportunity to dream a little and then put an actionable plan together that you can help them work toward can help get some momentum moving in the right direction to make next year’s Valentine’s Day more palatable (or even celebratory!).
4 – Ask if they would like to read a #SurvivorLoveLetter, or even write one of their own.
You may have never heard of this movement, so here is some information directly from the Survivor Love Letter website:
Survivor Love Letter is a movement for survivors of sexual assault and their allies to publicly celebrate their lives. It was started by filmmaker and activist, Tani Ikeda in 2012 on the anniversary of her rape where she penned a letter to her younger self that ended with the words “this is my survivor love letter.” Since then, #SurvivorLoveLetter has rippled out and become a hashtag, a letter writing campaign, a national mural project, and a viral social movement. These letters have immersed thousands of survivors with the message that not only are they believed, not only are they supported, they are loved.https://www.survivorloveletter.com/about/
If it feels too daunting a task to write their own love letter, consider sharing this information with your client and inviting them to read what others have written. Suggest that maybe writing themselves a Survivor Love Letter can be a part of their vision for a future Valentine’s Day.
Above all, the greatest thing you can do for a survivor who has adverse feelings this month – or any month – is to encourage intense self-care and teach clients how to cultivate their self-love.
Are there actionable techniques you have used with sexual/relationship abuse survivors around Valentine’s Day that have been successful? I would love if you shared them in the comments!
Thank you, Adena. Your message is very helpful. It hit me reading it that the sexual abuse I went through years ago is still bothering me, and I have not thought of it for years. I will try writing myself that letter next year.