It’s just 33 days until Christmas and I have a love-hate relationship with the holiday: on the one hand, I feel excited, especially as this year my husband and I are going to be grandparents in a few days. (EEEEK!)
But on the other hand, I feel anxious, worried about being able to be happy and feel connected with my loved ones despite being part of a very loving and caring family. And I am not alone. The holiday season has a habit of conjuring up complex emotions and the more people I speak with, the more I find that many have this paradoxical rollercoaster at holiday time.
Following on from that, I know that there are many people who genuinely feel unloved. They may not have others in their lives who provide the vital expression of love and acceptance that I very easily take for granted. And that really saddens me. Every human being should feel confident that they are loved but alas, it’s clearly not the reality of the world we live in.
If we throw mental wellness into the mix as well, we can find that many more people are not only dealing with the complexities of Christmas and family gatherings but also with complex and chronic mental illness that can alienate family from one another and make feeling unloved acute.
This contemplation really got me thinking about what makes us feel loved in the first place and how can we ensure that we can give love to others in a way that makes them feel loved too.
What really makes us feel loved?
I recently asked around and was totally amazed at the responses I’ve received. Having been given permission to share these thoughts I hope that some of them will resonate with you too and provide encouragement that you can help your loved ones feel more loved at this time. Most of these responses have come from people who themselves have mental health diagnoses or are carers of those who do but that doesn’t change the fact that we all need to experience and know how to give love to each other.
There are 31 different ideas here. And since there are 33 days left till Christmas, it gives us time to get started and show love to someone (or many someones!) each day before the big celebration.
My question was simply ‘What makes you feel loved?’
1. Someone paying attention
When someone pays enough attention to me and my life to do something really thoughtful. A basket of groceries, a CD with a song that reminds them of me, a card with a heartfelt message, an offer to have my kids so I can have a break, services. For example, I have a friend who is a hairdresser who offers to cut my hair. Basically, anything that is more thoughtful than commercial.
2. Physical non-sexual touch
I love having my bare skin on my back caressed. Not a massage – something far more gentle. I’ve been alone a long time (mostly by choice), but I really miss that.
3. Being able to really vent
When someone actually listens when you need to vent… I have some beautiful people in my life I feel I can talk to about pretty much anything.
4. Being given time to ‘reset’
When my husband sees I’m getting worked up he tries to calm me and give me a break to reset. He also gives an amazing foot rub!
5. Being given a handmade gift
I love receiving handmade gifts. Most times it doesn’t cost the person much and I believe a lot of love goes into making it.
6. Having tasks done for me without me asking
I feel loved when someone does something for me that I haven’t asked for…acts of service (see The 5 Love Languages) are the biggest way to my heart. I also feel loved when I figure out someone else’s language and they show that they feel loved by me.
7. When I am given little ‘insignificant’ gifts
My husband gets me the little things. The pastry’s I like from the store. Or suggesting going to eat Pizza Hut for lunch about once a month. He is disabled and stays home. But still, he does the dishes every day and completes projects around the house. Most recently he built me a pantry! He’s a good man and it’s the little things that mean the most because they require more intentional thought.
8. Receiving something that makes my heart flutter
My grandparents were married for 50 years and I loved watching them interact at the end of the day. Grandad would wander in the back door and Nan would invariably be in the kitchen getting dinner ready.
He’d saunter up to her like they were teenagers, bring his hand up around to her face and present her with a bloom from the garden. She would lean back into his arms and they would giggle. It was adorable and I had no idea back then the impact it would leave on my young heart. These little moments showed me the kind of relationship they had and provided a strong role model for me to aspire to have as well.
9. Receiving a nice card or letter in the mail
We live in a society that has devalued the joy of receiving a handwritten letter or card but everyone I know still gets a kick out of receiving ‘snail mail’. I love opening up the envelope and knowing that I can keep that letter or card tucked away for easy retrieval any time I want.
10. When I get a card with photos of loved ones in it
Just like getting a letter in the post, there is something so special about opening up a card and finding pictures of my loved ones inside. These days everything tends to be digital and so a real photo to keep is extra special now.
11. When someone makes food for me
I love receiving anything homemade/baked/cooked. The way to my heart is definitely through food!
12. When my kids tell me to be myself
I love it when my grown up kids tell me they love me the way I am and wouldn’t change anything about me. It affirms my identity and strengthens my self-confidence.
13. When a loved one makes my favourite food
I love it when my niece makes me cauliflower/potato soup with homemade cornbread. When I am full blown manic I always stop and eat it.
14. Being thanked and acknowledged for small things
My favourite is getting a thank you from my kids and a ‘well done’ from my loved ones. It may seem outdated but it’s something that sustains me.
15. Spending time together with no agenda or tasks to be completed
I am a task oriented person and often spending time with people can end up feeling like another task to tick off the list. But sometimes a friend will call up and we’ll go for a walk along the lake and drink coffee and laugh about silly things our kids have done. And there’s no agenda. We’re just ‘doing life’ together. It reminds me to be less agenda focussed and more people focussed and also shows me that others enjoy me for me, not for what I can do.
16. Having my loved ones stay in touch
It’s about not being forgotten about. For example, when friends keep in touch via SMS & ask for a simple little catch-up. When people take time out of their own busy schedules to acknowledge I’m alive on still on this earth it affirms me and reminds me I am being considered by others.
17. Being given a good old fashioned hug!
There is a special kind of hug: It’s called a Heart to Heart Hug: one arm up, one arm down, with each person doing the opposite and you end up with your hearts kind of touching in the embrace. I so sad when I see ‘young’ people do the “oh I’m so excited to see you lets hug” thing and they barely even touch! I know people have personal space boundaries but for those of us who know each other, a real hug is what it’s about. A real hug tells me I am worth the effort, crossing the personal space barriers and telling me that I matter.
I know people have personal space boundaries but for those of us who know each other, a real hug is what it’s about. A real hug tells me I am worth the effort, crossing the personal space barriers and telling me that I matter.
18. Hearing the words ‘I’ve got you’
My son and I share our birthday and this year he said “Mom, wherever you wanna go, it’s on me. You pick the place. I ‘ve got you.” Just hearing those three words “I’ve got you” meant so much to me that I went to my room and cried.
19. Seeing that the person has put effort into showing me they love me
If someone does something and really puts thought into it I feel loved. It doesn’t have to be big or expensive but they’ve taken the time and really thought about what to do for me. It’s more about the time they invest than the gift, in fact, because people are usually really busy. To set aside time to let me know they love me is priceless.
20. Being held tight by my loved ones
When my kids snuggle in and squeeze me tight- sometimes this is the only thing that gets me to feel okay again when I get numb.
21. When my friends or family send me random messages just to check up and chat
I love random phone calls or text messages to check up on me and to chat!
22. Having physical connection with a pet
My kids give me hugs when I am low or even high and often bring me the cat to cuddle. It really helps recalibrate my emotions.
23. Doing fun things with my friends and family
I love having someone to sing with, or just spend time with for no reason. Like when kids play. There’s no agenda, just company.
24. Knowing that my loved ones are observant of my mood changes
Somehow my hubby knows when I am slipping downward, so he starts doing little things, like getting my carnations (my favourite flower), or making me breakfast in bed, or giving me foot-rub.
25. Having my concerns acknowledged as important to me
Sometimes my thoughts get out of hand and can be unrealistic or even silly but when my loved ones listen without judgement, I feel safe and can process my thoughts, knowing that their love is what governs their acknowledgement of my concerns.
26. Being taken on mystery dates
I love when my partner picks up the keys and tells me I have 15 minutes to get ready to go out. I love to be in control and it’s taken me years to work out that this is something that she loves to do and something that she knows I need to have in my life. I find spontaneity a challenge, but she draws it out of me and helps me grow socially and not spend so much time in my head.
27. Notes in random places that I will find them
It’s a bit geeky but I get a real kick out of finding a little hand written note on my pillow, or in my bag. Sometimes I find them in my planner, tucked into a random page with a silly verse or something more personal written on it. The fact that he’s taken the time to think of what to write, and where to put it makes me feel special.
28. When I get told to go and sit down instead of complete my normal household jobs
Sometimes my adult kids will come over for a meal and instead of heading off and leaving me to clean up, they tell me to sit down and relax while they tidy the kitchen. It reminds me that I did teach them how to respect others and them giving that to me assures me that they will also give it to others. In this, I feel acknowledged and in turn, I feel loved.
29. Being given a gift from someone who remembered that I liked something months ago even though I totally forgot!
I am also overwhelmed when someone I love remembers something I said in general conversation and I have totally forgotten and then they do that thing, or buy that item for me. For no other reason than because they knew I would appreciate it.
30. Knowing that we can argue but that I am safe in their love regardless
Knowing my husband and I can disagree, even have a full blown argument, and that it does not impact how we feel about each other, is vital to my personal mental wellbeing. I feel secure and respected by his decision to maintain respect for our relationship and this helps me give him the same.
31. Being able to explore the boundaries of who I am knowing that my loved ones are on the sidelines cheering me on
As much as I love gifts and things being done for me, feeling empowered to explore the boundaries, and maybe even push those boundaries aside, is the most significant way I feel loved. Knowing that I am not only free to do this, but that I am being cheered on by those who love me, reassures me that even if I don’t go further than the boundaries already there, I am loved and supported regardless.
As you can see, there are so many ways to show love toward others. A special card made by you, or a flower picked from the garden can say more to another person than a night out on the town or a foot or neck rub can send the message of genuine care and support with just a few moments of tenderness and attention.
If you get stuck, though, I highly recommend starting with getting to know your loved one’s love language, a system developed by Gary Chapman called The Five Love Languages.
I love this concept of finding your love language and finding your loved one’s language. My hubby and I have built our relationship with this as one of the foundations. After 24 years being together and finding ourselves more connected than ever, it is a testament to the validity of understanding each other.
The bottom line is that experiencing reciprocal love is vital to helping us view our contribution to the relationship is valid too.
The little things are so important. They are the unseen things, mostly, and when there is no opportunity for grand expressions that others will see, but they do it anyway, it makes it so much more beautiful.
So go for it. Pick a few ideas from the list and get started on showering your loved ones with affection, time, services, letters, kindness and attention. Christmas will never be the same!
May you be blessed today and always,
Oh, and one more just because…
I feel loved when my loved ones look at me with complete confidence that I can take on the world. There is no doubt. No fear or anxiety that I won’t make it through my battles. This, above all things, empowers me and propels me toward complete wellness and a fulfilled life.