Goethe lamented that “two souls, alas, do dwell within this breast; the one is ever parting from the other.” We’ve probably all observed this inner conflict in ourselves and others: maybe we’ve been in a relationship where our lover’s affection was suddenly replaced by cold distance and abandonment; maybe we’ve bounced back and forth between an exhausting drive to achieve and a crippling lack of motivation; or maybe we’ve watched helplessly while a person we knew to be loving and gentle destroyed themselves and the people around them with rage or addiction. A big part of my job as a therapist is to help people understand these confusing and sometimes overwhelming inner realities.
Valentine’s Day is one of those special holidays with the power to make us feel totally shitty about ourselves. Some of that has to do with loneliness, and some of it has to do with romance, but most of it has to do with the fact that being socialized by capitalism and pop songs has left us pretty unsure of what loneliness and romance actually are and how they relate to each other.
As long as the underlying psychological process of self-judgment and self-rejection is in place, then becoming a supermodel or a CEO isn’t going to change much. The best we can hope for is to climb to the top of the ladder only to find that it’s against the wrong wall. Some people live their whole lives like that, caught in a game of psychological whack-a-mole, except instead of it being a fun 45 second game, this version saps you of all joy and keeps going until one day you just die.