Love it or loathe it, Valentine’s Day has managed to stand the test of time (for over 1,500 years!) and has become a permanent fixture on calendars around the world.
For those who are single or have a healthy disdain for “Hallmark holidays”, it’s tempting to roll our eyes in frustration.
But what if we could repurpose Valentine’s Day as an opportunity to take stock of and celebrate our most important relationship – the one we have with ourselves?
For most of my life, the idea of having a relationship with myself was completely unfathomable. It reminded me of that Sex & The City episode in which Carrie pretends to marry herself so that she can get her friend to buy her a pair of expensive shoes to replace the ones she’d lost at that friend’s party. Yeah – I wasn’t buying it (pardon the pun).
But then I broke up with my inner critic.
As I learned to distance myself from my inner critic and (gradually) amplify and connect with my inner coach, I began to see how the way we relate to ourselves is analogous to how we relate to others. And, perhaps more importantly, how the way we treat others is often a reflection of how we treat ourselves.
For example, as I became less critical of myself, I also became less critical of others. As I became more compassionate towards myself, I began to feel more heartfelt compassion towards others. And, in reverse, as I became better at establishing boundaries with others, the better I became (and am becoming!) at establishing boundaries with myself.
Having been brought up to “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, I realised that the reverse might also be helpful: “Do unto yourself what you would do unto others.”
Since then, I’ve discovered a whole range of strategies for proactively building a stronger relationship with myself – the result being greater confidence, productivity and wellbeing.
Here are some of the highlights that I’d love to share with you:
1. Know who you are (SELF-AWARENESS)
The first stage of any healthy relationship involves getting to know the other person (even though certain reality TV shows would have you believe otherwise!). Similarly, a healthy relationship with yourself requires you to know who you really are.
At a practical level, this is about having a clear understanding of your own psychological wiring. What are your strengths? What are your triggers? What excites you? What are you afraid of? What is your potential?
Self-awareness is not something you “set and forget”; it’s a life-long practice that involves becoming better observers of our own behaviour, the mindset (way of being) that generates it, and the impact we have on others and our environment.
2. Accept yourself as you are (SELF-ACCEPTANCE)
You’re a work in progress and always will be. And that’s not just okay – it’s wonderful!
Self-acceptance gives you the freedom to explore new possibilities (for example, I would like to become more patient) without condemning yourself for what you might otherwise regard as your flaws or shortcomings. And when you accept yourself as you are, there’s no need to pretend to be anything you’re not. This leads to greater authenticity, clearer communication (because you’re not afraid to say what you mean), and the ability to build trust (both with yourself and others) more effectively.
3. Recognise your own legitimacy (SELF-RESPECT)
Self-respect is an overused term that is often thrown around with scant appreciation for what it really means or involves. That’s why the concept of “legitimacy” is so valuable.
In ontological coaching, “legitimate self” and “legitimate other” are terms used to describe the idea that, as individuals, we are equally valid – neither better nor worse. While this is notoriously challenging to apply in practice (our society is rife with standards that we use to delegitimise ourselves and others), it is worth considering how you might be holding yourself as “less than” or “not enough”.
How are you eroding your own legitimacy? What impact is this having on you, your relationships and your life? What would be different in your life if you could recognise yourself as legitimate?
The starting point for self-empowerment is self-respect.
4. Establish healthy boundaries with yourself (SELF-DISCIPLINE)
Having a great relationship is not all sunshine and roses. There are times when it’s hard work! And just as our interpersonal relationships benefit from commitment and accountability, so too does your relationship with yourself.
What commitments are you not making to yourself? How might you be letting yourself down by not holding yourself accountable to the commitments you have made?
If you have trouble keeping your commitments to yourself, it may be helpful to distinguish between your current self and your future self. What might your future self experience as a result of your current self doing or not doing something that has longer-term implications? For example, when I’m tempted to sleep in instead of get out of bed for an early morning yoga class, I remind myself that “future me” will feel the benefits of me going (not to mention the ill-effects if I don’t go). It may also be worth exploring your motivational style.
5. Be kind to yourself (SELF-COMPASSION)
A common trait I’ve observed in high-achievers (especially women, it would seem) is that they are incredibly hard on themselves. When I ask them whether they would talk to their child or a good friend the way they talk to themselves, they are appalled. “Of course not!” Which begs the questions: “Then why are you treating yourself that way?”
What makes you any less deserving of the decency and compassion you extend to others? (See SELF-RESPECT)
6. Take care of your own needs (SELF-CARE)
This is also a natural extension of self-respect, but if that’s not enough to convince you… consider the oxygen mask analogy. (Put your own mask on before you help others, because how can you help others if you’ve passed out?)
For some, self-care has become associated with massages and bubble baths, but it’s much more than that. It’s about being in tune with your own needs and taking care of them as best you can. This includes prioritising your physical, emotional and mental health – for example, getting enough rest, eating well, exercising, and so on. It also extends to the way you interact with the world – honouring your boundaries, treating yourself with kindness and generosity, and avoiding toxic relationships and situations.
7. Love yourself unconditionally (SELF-LOVE)
Ah, finally – the big one: self-love. This is one of the hardest aspects of any relationship. How can you love someone when they’re not exactly who you want them to be?
For many, many years, I thought that self-love came from racking up a list of achievements that I could refer to as proof of my own worthiness. It was only when that list got to a considerable length that I realised how little it mattered. The bar kept getting higher; the list would never be long enough. And so I discovered that real self-love is when you love yourself regardless of the list – and despite the sometimes longer list of all the mistakes you’ve made, the people you’ve hurt, and the times you’ve failed. As Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
Ultimately, the cumulative effect of these improvements is that you are more in alignment with yourself. There’s no gap between the private “you” and the public “you”. This frees up a significant amount of energy that you can then invest in being a better leader, colleague, parent, daughter/son, friend, and citizen. And, if that’s not enough, IT FEELS GOOD!
Over to you…
Which aspect of your relationship with yourself would you like to celebrate?
Which aspect would you like to strengthen?
What would be different in your life if you had a better relationship with yourself?
Chyonne Kreltszheim is an ontological coach and facilitator who helps people to transform their “way of being” in the context of their leadership, career and life. She is the founder of Being: the Change.
Change Your Mind ~ Change Your Life ~ Change Your World