Life + Love, Love + Sex

If Valentine’s Day is a trigger for you because of past abuse, here’s how to survive it

You are not pathetic. You are human. Based on your experiences, what you're feeling makes complete sense.

Lots of us feel a little bit lonely on Valentine’s Day if we’re single because seeing couples out and about serves to highlight our aloneness. For some of us, we see how much attention and affection people are giving one another and we can’t relate. We can’t help but remember the pain and fear our significant other gave us. We start to wonder, for the millionth time: why me? 

We start to wonder, for the millionth time: why me? Click To Tweet

I try my best not to entertain the feeling much myself, because I know that romantic relationships are not the most important thing in the world. I know that Valentine’s Day (although it’s great to celebrate something as beautiful as love!) is more or less a commercial holiday that encourages us to spend money on each other. I know that for most people it’s just an excuse to go on a fancy date (and there’s nothing wrong with that).

Still, it hurts. No matter how much I try to logic my way out of it, I cannot escape the overwhelming feeling that everyone around me is celebrating something beautiful that I didn’t experience in my past relationship (and will probably not experience in the future, a voice in my head tells me). This feeling very quickly morphs into low self-esteem and low self-worth. Memories come flooding back. As much as I hate to admit it, as someone who considers herself a staunch, and fiercely independent feminist, I have a habit of spiraling downward.

You can feel sad on Valentine's Day and still be a feminist. Click To Tweet

I am here to tell you, though, that if you spiral downward like me, it is okay. You can feel sad on Valentine’s Day and still be a feminist. You are not pathetic. You are human. Based on your experiences, what you feel makes sense, whether or not others can understand. And to be honest, people won’t always understand, but in my own way, I do.

Step 1: You are not alone.

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People don’t talk about abuse, even if they’ve experienced it. They don’t talk about it for a number of completely understandable reasons. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen to other people. No, that doesn’t make it any better or any easier to stomach (and honestly this knowledge makes me sadder), but I want you to know this because it proves one thing: what happened was not, and could not have been, your fault.

Nothing justifies tormenting someone for even a moment. Click To Tweet

Nothing justifies physically, mentally or emotionally tormenting someone for even a moment, let alone an extended period of time. The person who hurt you is the bad guy, not you. They’ve already beaten you down in so many ways, so please try not to beat yourself down even more. You didn’t deserve abuse from him or her back then, and you don’t deserve abuse from yourself now. Try to treat yourself the way they should have treated you: with kindness.

I am awful and selfish because I look at other people who are happy, even my friends, and I am not happy for them. I don’t want to be around them. I only think about myself.

Step 2: You are allowed to feel anything and everything.

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You are not a bad person for feeling jealous if you are single on Valentine’s Day and experienced abuse in the past. Feelings are out of our control. They hit us like a wave, and we either fight them off or let them wash over us. The way I see it, there are two kinds of jealousy. The first kind is, “I am jealous of my friend. She has something I want, and I want to take it from her. I want to have it instead of her having it.” This one is a bit mean, but I’m a human being, and I’ve felt it before. It’s ok if you have, too.

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But most of the time, my jealousy (and probably yours) is more along the lines of, “I’m happy my friend has this great thing. I wish I could have it, too. I wish we could both have it.” And that, in my opinion, is not mean at all. It’s okay if it’s hard for you to be around your friends when they’re in a relationship. It’s okay if you can’t handle it. That doesn’t make you a bad friend. You are not hurting anyone by protecting yourself from reliving painful memories. You went through a terrible thing, and you are doing your best to cope each and every day.

It's okay if it's hard for you to be around your friends when they're in a relationship. Click To Tweet

Triggers are very real, especially when it comes to domestic abuse, and I don’t care what anyone says: Valentine’s Day can be a huge trigger.

In fact, for a lot of people, incidents of abuse increase in both intensity and frequency on or around holidays. The stress of holidays can bring out the worst in someone who is already abusive as a partner. It makes sense that these times of year make those memories more powerful.

It can be tough, I know, but that doesn't make you weak. Click To Tweet

For me, even the weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day can be tough. Going to the mall and seeing gifts can be tough, not necessarily because I want a gift, but because I remember what I received in the past instead of love and gifts. It can be tough, I know, but that doesn’t make you weak.

Step 3: Unplug!

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This one is short, sweet and to the point: social media is your worst enemy when you’re feeling this way.

Social media is your worst enemy when you're feeling this way. Click To Tweet

Deactivate Facebook for a few days, log out of Instagram and Twitter, and yes, even Snapchat. It doesn’t have to be forever, but it will help. This is probably the most practical, healthy thing you can do for yourself.

Step 4: Anticipate times of the year that will be triggering and plan ahead.

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Take a moment to be in control of your life and jot down any times of the year that you know will be triggering for you. Maybe it’s not just Valentine’s Day. Maybe it’s Christmas, or Thanksgiving, or any other random day or time of year during which you experienced trauma in the past. Go ahead and circle dates on your calendar. I’ll give you a minute.

Done? Awesome.

Now, plan some things before, during, or after those dates you’ve circled that would be positive experiences. Think of some activities you can look forward to. Over time, these positive traditions might just overpower the bad memories, and maybe, just maybe, you’ll be able to get through something like Valentine’s day without falling apart.

Step 5: If you failed to complete any of the other steps, forgive yourself, rest, cry if you need to, and try again when you’re ready.

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This is the most important part of the process. 

The following items listed below are things that I try to make time for on days like Valentine’s Day to help me get through.

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1. Order some comfort food and pig out/Netflix. Or cook something fun and delicious, maybe a baked good or dessert that you can take your time and decorate? Deliver some of whatever you make to friends who might also be having a bad day, or if you’re not up to it, enjoy them on your own. Either way is fine. Remember, don’t feel guilty about how much you eat, it’s your night!

2. Yoga/meditation can definitely help. 30 Days of Yoga with Adrienne on Youtube is a series of do-able-at-home yoga videos that I’ve enjoyed and benefited from recently, and Calm is a great iPhone app for learning and practicing meditation that I’ve been using consistently for months.

3. Spend the day alone in a bookstore, coffee in hand. After all, are you really alone if you’re surrounded by books?

4. It’s cliché, but have a night out with your friends! Dress up in your favorite outfit, or dress down and be as comfortable as possible. Do whichever makes you happiest!

5. Take a hot bath. Use a nice, scented bath bomb from Lush, preferably one of the ones that has flowers or petals inside that float to the surface after the water’s changed color, or pour in some bubble mix. Put your tablet/iPad/phone inside a clear, plastic bag, choose your favorite Netflix show, and binge away. I have a friend who does the same thing with her Kindle and reads the night away, so that’s always an option too!

6. Visit a friend in another city. It’ll be a chance of scenery (distractions can be healthy), a place you have no negative associations with (hopefully!), and you’ll be spending time with someone you like (as well as someone you probably miss and haven’t seen in a while, if they live in another city).

7. In that same vein, if you don’t have the time, energy or resources to travel, catch up with an old friend that you’ve been wanting to talk to. Write them a nice, long letter or an e-mail. At some point, you’ll get a reply, and it’ll surprise you in a beautiful, pleasant way.

8. Make something. For me, this means writing or drawing. The fact that, at the end of the day, I have something tangible that I can hold in my hands or read aloud or show my friends makes me feel really good. I like knowing that even on a hard day, I made something completely unique that didn’t exist the day before, even if the poem or drawing completely sucks (sometimes it does).

9. Spend time outdoors. Breathe fresh air. Feel the sun on your face. There’s nothing like it.

10. Wear your favorite pajamas right after throwing them in the drier for a few minutes. No need to explain this one, it’s basically heaven.

11. If you attend therapy, schedule therapy sessions (maybe even an extra session or two if you need it) so that they coincide with the day of time of the year that tends to trigger you. If you take medication, be extra sure not to miss any of your medications before, on, and after Valentine’s Day.

At the end of the day, coping and surviving will be unique for each of us, but the reality stays the same: you aren’t alone in this. It makes total sense that Valentine’s Day is painful for you, but whether or not you believe it, you’ll get through this – and thrive. I’m rooting for you.

Aafia Syed

Aafia Syed

Aafia graduated from Johns Hopkins University with her degree in Writing Seminars. She is currently pursuing a career in early childhood special education. Aafia is vocal about her personal challenges with mental illness and advocates for mental health awareness whenever possible. Her goals for the future include seeing Hamilton on Broadway and contributing to the destruction of the patriarchy.

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