Depending on how loved up, romantic or cynical you are, Valentine’s Day will hold differing levels of significance for you. One thing is for sure, the increasing levels of commercialism around it make it hard to ignore – from cards, to gifts, to restaurants, your online and offline world is bombarded with pink & red hearts and flowers.
This, of course, is not how it all started out and while I’m not opposed to honouring romantic love in whatever way you see fit, I am calling on you to think about how you love yourself.
If you’re interested, St Valentine’s Day is really about Christian Martyrdom and honouring sacrifice. In 496AD, the Pope deemed the 14th February a day of feasting in honour of St Valentine of Rome who had been executed some 200yrs earlier – it was not until the 14th century that St Valentine’s day actually became associated with romantic love.
Think about this, what if instead of martyring yourself – or over working, over criticising, under nourishing, under valuing – whatever you do that threatens your mental and physical wellbeing; you make this a week for self-love.
Self-love is fundamental to our functioning as a human being. It is an integral part of our neural programming – if you want to be able to show up, to be real and truly belong, then at your very core you have to feel internally aligned in order to connect with the world in a meaningful way. It’s very difficult to do that if you don’t love who you believe yourself to be.
It can be very easy to feel down on yourself or self-critical if something has not panned out the way you expected or wanted, when you spend too much time comparing yourself to others, and when you don’t feel good enough in some way. I believe there is a clean distinction between self-love and liking yourself at any given moment. Liking yourself is much more about your behaviour, your reactions and your emotional responses, which, let’s be honest, can sometimes fall short of the high bar many of us hold ourselves to.
In just the same way as it is possible to love your children or partner unconditionally, but not like them very much on occasions; it is quite possible to love yourself and not like something about yourself or your behaviour in a specific moment. Because we operate from our limbic brain most of the time this can easily get amplified, focussed on and become a recurring pattern of behaviour.
Like many of the things that threaten our mental wellbeing, not loving yourself is learned behaviour. As a baby and very small child you knew you were perfect as you were and you knew how to get what you needed to survive. As a growing human you are also very connected and receptive to the responses you get from people and quickly get socialised into what is acceptable, what is approved of and what keeps you liked and safe.
In a perfect world these would be all the same things that help you flourish, enjoy life and make your contribution. In the real world they are not always the same, so to fit in, to be liked and to stay safe, you adapt your behaviour to meet expectations – yours as well as those of people around you. When this doesn’t fit with who you feel you are, your values or what you want to do on this planet, your mental wellbeing can suffer. Your ability to like who you are and what you stand for will certainly take a hit. You may even start to feel you have lost part of yourself, you are playing roles for others and showing up how they want you to. This internal disconnect messes with how you process information, where your unconscious focus goes and ultimately what you do more or less of.
You may recognise this in yourself as negative self-talk, never quite making time for the things you personally love, putting others needs before your own, not nourishing yourself, not sleeping enough, exercising enough – I suspect there are a few more I have not thought of. All of these send you and those around you a clear message that you do not love yourself enough to treat yourself well. It also gives others permission to, unwittingly or otherwise, take advantage or not treat you well either.
I know for most of us there is a balance to be struck between our own needs, caring for others, and looking after our businesses, and I know personally it can be a tricky thing to balance, too far one way and you might feel selfish, but too far the other and you martyr yourself, or the best version of you can’t show up, or you might even harm your wellbeing to the extent you can no longer serve others.
It is OK not to like yourself all of the time, we all do, say or think things we are not proud of occasionally, we all have bits of ourselves we might not like, whether that be our wobbly bits, our inability to do something, a quick temper, an inability to say no – insert your own here…
These do not make you unloveable.
Because you are neurologically predisposed to focus on the negative – just in case they put you in harms way, it is easy to focus on what you don’t like, amplify it and find increasing ‘evidence’ to support your thinking. Your unconscious mind will always look for evidence to prove it right, this might involve the most tenuous of links, but it will make them all the same.
Deep down, most people have as many parts of themselves that they do like or love. These don’t put you under perceived threat so they don’t get the same focus.
This week when we celebrate love, how about looking at elements of the St Valentine’s Day differently, think about honouring and feasting. Honour yourself by focusing on the things you like or love about yourself by being conscious about them, focused on them and feast yourself on the evidence that supports them and really allow yourself to feel the beautiful lovable being that you are.
Notice how much better you feel, how much more able you feel and know this, love is a basic human need, we may survive, but certainly can’t thrive without it. Each one of us deserves love and this starts as an inside job, the more we are able to love ourselves, imperfections and all, the more love we have to give to others.
Channelling my inner hippy, I leave you with this –
“There is no such thing as too much love in the world, the more there is the more we share around”.