Like clockwork, as soon as February 1st hits, we are inundated with Valentine’s Day-related messages and images. Most of them imply that romantic messages and gifts of flowers, sweets, and jewelry are the most effective way to show people how they feel about each other. I believe Valentine’s Day is still the most popular night to dine out and it’s still the number one day for fresh flower sales.
Words like “love” and “romance” flood the airwaves and dominate our news feeds, yet the word “intimacy” is rarely mentioned, and I notice that any time I use that word, people’s ears really perk up. It seems like some people assume I’m going to talk about something sexual or risqué when mentioning intimacy.
Really though, more than something racy, I believe intimacy is what so many of us crave. That deep connection that comes from being heard, seen, understood, and accepted – without the mask, without the bravado, and without feeling like we need to be seen in a certain contrived way.
“Intimacy means that we’re safe enough to reveal the truth about ourselves in all its creative chaos.”
But let me say something potentially provocative about intimacy and assert that many of us could actually benefit from being more intimate with ourselves. After all, we really can’t know anyone more deeply than we know ourselves.
When I think of myself, growing up on the East Coast with my family dynamic, I remember that I felt I needed to be seen as tough, self-sufficient, and smart. I didn’t feel like I could be vulnerable (that would have equated to weakness). That was only compounded by growing up as a minority in a town where the demographic was mostly white/Christian, as well as being petite.
I had to have all the answers – even if those answers were wrong. I look back on my earlier years and literally cringe when I think about how obnoxious, arrogant, and self-absorbed I must have appeared, but I really didn’t know myself. In our family, we didn’t ask too many questions, not of one another and certainly not of ourselves. It was more like a very long ongoing debate where we made statements and either supported or challenged each other. It was a competitive environment, and there was a lot of judgment and comparison that often resulted in a lot of hurt feelings.
Until people acknowledge and address their own pain and generational trauma, they are bound to influence their kids strongly through their actions and words, both intentionally and inadvertently. I have no doubt at all that my parents only wanted the best for us, but they were operating from their own frame of reference. As other kids of immigrants know, there’s a lot of strength, resilience, and fortitude that comes from our brave family members who came from abroad to build a better life, but there are downsides too.
I’ve worked through a lot of this, which I talked about in the previous newsletter, Listening to Myself. Now I can see that this conditioning served as a barrier to cultivating an intimate relationship with myself.
An exercise in my first coaching class began to tear down that barrier. We had to ask others in the class “Powerful Questions.” When we were first learning to coach, Powerful Questions tend to be “What” questions that cannot be answered with a simple “Yes” or “No.” For myself, doing that exercise for the first time was the equivalent of never having exercised before and finding myself in boot camp. Not only did I struggle to try and come up with lots of original Powerful Questions in a round-robin, but I was also impressed with the questions that others in my class were asking me. And quite a few times I was struck by the answers I heard coming out of my own mouth. These were the initial seeds of intimacy being planted.
Thinking back it’s so obvious why I was so self “unaware.” Asking and answering those powerful questions opened the door to vulnerability, trust, compassion, empathy, qualities that were as unfamiliar in my family as having a pet elephant in my backyard would be. Considering the confrontational environment I grew up in, it became so obvious as to why I was basically estranged from myself.
Even though that is my own personal experience, I find it interesting how common it is for so many of my clients – particularly children of immigrants and/or narcissists.
“It’s the privilege of a lifetime to be who you really are.”
– Joseph Campbell
It’s been over six years since I had that experience in my own personal Bootcamp. I can tell you that the way I feel now compared to that other version of me is drastically different (which is why I cringe when thinking back about past behaviors and bravado). I recognize that asking questions, being vulnerable, and apologizing are not only displays of strength, but have been gradually connecting me with my core essence and deepening my relationships with the people in my life.
If you are looking to go deeper on your own, here are some suggestions for how you might become more intimate with yourself:
- Stop and ponder what are some long-held beliefs that no longer serve you or were never yours to begin with. For example, “Unless I achieve _________, I cannot think of myself as successful.”
- Be honest with yourself and others – which sometimes takes a lot of courage.
- Set and adhere to boundaries.
- Spend quality time with yourself to reflect on what is truly fulfilling for you.
- Ask yourself what you want more of in your life, then make a plan to cultivate that.
These are just some ideas and, as always, the following newsletter this month will have resources.
The thing you’ll find is that the richer your relationship is with yourself, the richer your relationships with others in your life can be.
So, what might Valentine’s Day look like if it were meant to be a fantastic day to develop or celebrate the relationship with yourself?