It’s that time of year, again. Having soldiered through the Holiday Season, more or less successfully, now you have to deal with the calendar – and business – throwing Valentine’s Day at you. And, despite increasing sensitivity to issues that can cause distress – Valentine’s Day still largely escapes unscathed. We are all meant to aspire to the perfect Valentine’s Day. Even if we have experienced many Valentine’s Days from hell. In this article, I want to bring a little honesty to the Valentine’s Day hype.
Abuse does not leave you as it finds you. On balance, I believe that the person that you consciously rebuild is a richer, rounder, more beautiful iteration of the person that you were before. That is the plus side. The flip side is that you have scars and an alternative truth that needs to be acknowledged. One of these truths is that you are a worthy person three hundred and sixty-five days a year, irrespective of all the Valentine’s Day propaganda.
My relationship with Valentine’s Day
My own relationship with Valentine’s Day has been long and troubled.
In my teens, Valentine’s Day was meant to provide the validation I lacked. Strange to say, it didn’t. Cards or no cards, I still struggled with the issue of my own worth.
Valentine’s Days that occurred during my emotionally abusive marriage were uniquely miserable. First came the misery of choosing a card – and realizing that so many of them described the relationship I wished I could have but did not.
Then came the misery of the celebration that never turned out as it should have. Abusers in a “stable” relationship get more pleasure out of spoiling the relationship than they do from offering the ones who love them a joyous occasion. “My” abuser conformed rigorously to his “industry standards”.
“The shame about the pain”
The wonderful Glennon Doyle Melton (of “Love Warrior”) rightly observes, “It is not the pain that takes us down, it’s the shame about the pain.” The pain of celebrating another awful Valentine’s Day or other should-be peak calendar moment really does take you down. All the more so, because you have precisely no incentive to share that pain with others.
The first few Valentine’s Days after I cut my Narcissist adrift felt like a different kind of bad, lonely and excluded. The narrative inside my own head was not pretty. My destructive thinking fell more or less into these categories,
- What is wrong with me?
- How come everyone else can find a partner who loves them?
- Will I ever find someone?
- I don’t even know what it feels like to be in a loving relationship.
I’m ashamed to say that, in the very early days, there was even a little bit of “Who could ever measure up to my ex?” Cognitive dissonance, aka entertaining the most nonsensical, irrational thoughts is a well- documented byproduct of gaslighting and abuse.
When the Valentine’s Day discomfort changed
When I met my lovely partner, my difficulties with Valentine’s Day didn’t fade away, they merely changed.
First off, I still really struggled with a card that expressed a sentiment I could get behind. The
“Valentine, you have made my life complete” and “Valentine I am nothing without you” themes made me want to throw up.
A partner does NOT complete you
By that time, I had done enough work on myself to see things clear-sightedly. I regard my lovely partner as a blessing in my life. He brings so much delight to every day. We both feel incredibly fortunate to have the other in our life. But, for all that, we both still believe that it is not a partner’s job to make your life complete or provide you with a sense of identity. Your wholeness is your responsibility.
Years later, I still struggle to find a card whose sentiment does not make me squirm. The smutty ones strike me as trivial. The funny ones are a tad intimacy avoidant – if you are going to say something, after all, at least say something meaningful.
The great Valentine’s Day amnesty
The super-loving ones tend to offend me. Mostly, they strike me as pure saccharine. I take particular exception to the vast numbers that seem to fall back on the Valentine’s Day as a sort of amnesty. Valentine’s day becomes the day where you only have to go through the ritual of telling someone how much you love them to make up for all the times you either never bothered to say so, or else failed to show love. Then you can carry on as before until next year’s amnesty.
That really does not sit well with me. I believe that if you love someone, you should not only tell them but show them by your spontaneous actions. Not just on Valentine’s Day but every day. Loving someone one day a year doesn’t do it for me, at all.
On that one, I stand with Shania Twain. Nice as cards, flowers, chocolates and a meal out on Be Nice To Your Partner Day undoubtedly are, “That don’t impress me much.”
One day is not enough
The underlying message of Valentine’s cards appears to be: Fully opening the lines of communication one day of the year is good enough. (Seemingly, even lying through your teeth one day a year to keep the relationship jogging along, after a fashion, is good enough.)
I believe, and live my life, on the basis that Valentine’s Day is just another day when you make it your business to tell – and show – someone that you love them.
Any relationship worth having is one where the lines of communication are always there, always open and always reinforcing.
That is what you want in any relationship that matters to you.
Is that too much to ask?
If you think that it is, you likely learned that you were not worth it from key “relationships” in your life. Not that there truly was a great deal of two-way “relating” in those relationships. Rather it was a story of you trying to connect, and them using the channel for abuse.
Moving on from the conventional fantasy
Valentine’s Day is a great day for you to shift your thinking from the conventional fantasy to,
- how you want love to be present in your life,
- how you want to give and receive it
- how you feel loved and
- what you want your daily life with a partner to be like.
What annoys the hell out of me about Valentine’s Day is that it is, officially, the one day of the year when a person is meant to be thinking about what love means to them. Further, the best way to do this is by buying a load of “stuff’ that nobody actually needs.
Whether or not you are in a relationship right now, I would urge you to think about what love means to you. And if you feel like offering yourself a meaningful gift this year – and why would you not offer yourself a meaningful token of love? – grab yourself a copy of Gary Chapman’s The 5 Love Languages (or else reread it). Any day of the year is a useful day to become more aware of how you want to love and be loved. If Valentine’s Day reminds you of that, then you could argue that it has earned its keep in your calendar.
Annie Kaszina, international Emotional Abuse Recovery specialist and award-winning author of 3 books designed to help women recognise and heal from toxic relationships so that they can build healthy, lasting relationships with the perfect partner for them, blogs about all aspects of abuse, understanding Narcissists and how to avoid them and building strong self-worth. To receive Annie’s blog direct to your Inbox just leave your details here.
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