February 14. An over-commercialized, Hallmark-sponsored load of nonsense? A saccharine-sweet festival of lovehearts and over-priced roses? An annual opportunity to give and receive flowers and love letters? Or simply the day after February 13?
Whatever February 14 means to you, it’s undeniable that Valentine’s Day gets many people thinking and talking about love and relationships. At its best, it’s an opportunity for couples to share some affection and time together. At worst, it’s a painful reminder for some people that they aren’t in a relationship and would like to be.
Whether you love it, loathe it or really couldn’t care, I’d like you to think about the most important person in your life this February 14. And that person is you.
Many of us spend a lot of time thinking about our relationships with other people – partners, parents, children, friends, colleagues and the rest. And in the process, many of us never even consider our relationship with ourselves.
I’m a firm believer that I am the most important person in my life. And that you are the most important person in your life.
How does that concept make you feel? Do you believe me? Or have you immediately disregarded that idea as impossibly self-centred?
Sure, you might have people in your life that you feel are your priority (maybe children, for instance). And of course they’re enormously important and you’ll always have their needs and best interests in mind.
But how can you have a great relationship with others if you don’t have a great relationship with yourself?
How can you expect others to believe things about you that you don’t believe about yourself?
It came as a huge shock to me a few years ago when I realised that I had a great line in negative self-talk. I was constantly telling myself I wasn’t good enough, that I was useless, that I didn’t deserve good things, that I was fat…you name it, I said it (and I used some very choice language too!)
The worst thing is, I didn’t even know I was doing it. It was utterly reflexive and subconscious. I’d become so accomplished at it that I could literally do it without thinking. I said negative things to myself so often that I believed them all to be true.
A wonderful coach and trainer I worked with described these negative voices in our heads as the ‘Itty Bitty Sh**ty Committee’. My committee was very active and exceptionally good at its job!
Once I woke up and tuned in to that awful background noise, I realised two things:
1. I’d never say those things to someone else
2. If I heard someone saying those things to a person I loved, I would be furious
Those realisations were the catalyst for me to change my relationship with myself. (Yep, it wasn’t until I imagined my own words being used about other people, that I cared enough to change myself. That in itself tells you how bad it was).
I’m proud to say that I fired my IBSC. I’ve worked on understanding who I am, and I know my strengths. I love myself and I’m proud of myself. I take time time to acknowledging what I’m good at and what I achieve. I focus on my progress and learning, and opportunities for improvement and growth. I’m a fierce protector of my own wellbeing and happiness.
So what about you? Do you have an IBSC? Do you talk down to or judge yourself? Do you compare yourself unfavourably to others? Do you let guilt and ‘should’ take over?
If so, use Valentine’s Day as an opportunity to take action to improve your relationship with yourself.
I suggest you start with writing a love letter to yourself. It’s simply a way of tuning in to your strengths and personal qualities.
If you want to write it as a letter or some romantic poetry, go for it! If that feels too uncomfortable, you can write a few simple bullet points such as:
“I’m thoughtful and kind”
“I cook an awesome roast dinner”
“I’m great at applying liquid eyeliner”
“I can reverse park like a champ”
“I’m always punctual”
It doesn’t matter what you write, simply note down a few things you’re good at, your skills and personal attributes.
The purpose of this is to get focused and grounded on you, so that you remember how fabulous you actually are – and so that you can shut down your IBSC with some alternative commentary.
This exercise might make you squirm, or it might be a breeze. Notice how you feel, and what this is telling you about your relationship with yourself.
If you’re anything like I used to be, the mere prospect of doing it will make you feel very uncomfortable. That’s probably a sign that you’ve been listening too long to your IBSC, or that you’re so focused on other people you’ve forgotten about yourself.
Remember, you’re the most important person in your own life. Your relationship with yourself is the foundation for your relationships with others.
So write yourself a love letter, treasure it and re-read it regularly. Most importantly, work on believing it. It’s a simple step towards strengthening that all-important relationship you have with you.
And if you feel like buying yourself some roses and chocolate, then why not do that as well? After all, it is Valentine’s Day.
PS – If you need some help to recognise what your own strengths are, the VIA classification of character strengths is a free online assessment that takes about 15 minutes to complete. Knowing your strengths is an important aspect of self-acceptance and happiness and this tool is a great place to start.