Love Yourself, Actually: A post-Valentine’s Day Message

Many may have spent February 14 worrying about being someone else’s Valentine, but our most important relationship is with ourselves.

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An El Prado employee walks past Diego Velazquez's painting of 'Venus and Cupid, 2011.
An El Prado employee walks past Diego Velazquez's painting of 'Venus and Cupid, 2011.Credit: Reuters

Some of my relatives may beg to differ, but I’ve always considered myself to be relatively well adjusted and adjustable to my fellow men and women. Having said that, I gladly admit that I’ve encountered a fair share of psychotherapists in my first 60-odd years. To be precise, there were six (and counting): two female and four male, each of them for quite a period of time, with each one helping me a bit while I kept on stumbling on the path of my life.

My life up to this point was relatively – compared to life stories I’ve heard and read about – free of traumas; my childhood as normal as can be for a Jewish child, born in Poland after World War II to survivor parents (both sole remaining members of their families) who emigrated with them to Israel. Being second-generation Shoah, learning a new and foreign language, and having to cope with my mothers’ “emigration-related disability” (an under-researched phenomenon) did not prevent me, in my view, from becoming a fairly well-balanced adult. Yes, there is the MS, with me being “mobility-challenged,” electric-scooter-ridden, but I’m fully aware there are people who have it much worse. There is the family of a spouse, three children and 10 grandchildren, a fairly successful career as a print journalist. Not too much to complain about, even if nothing much to write home – or in the paper – about.

Out of my six encounters with psychotherapists, three had started with me as a part of a system that needed addressing, in family and couples therapy. The remaining three were a result of well-wishers’ (yes, my spouse) insistence that I seek professional help, against my better judgment. And my main conclusion from the therapeutical episodes in my life is that every adult individual can benefit from such sessions, as they are much needed – and, sadly, missing from too many lives – maintenance procedures that are essential for the smooth functioning of the unbelievably intricate human mechanism that we are.

Consider: We take our car to the garage for regular checkups and tuning; we check the water, oil and tire pressure once a week at least (in theory), and we fill up with gas when it runs low. We rarely perform similar procedures on our psyches, instead rushing to a psychotherapist usually after the last moment, when we have first to contain the damage – direct and collateral – and then try and bring the system, and ourselves, back to running order.

A weekly session with a friendly (but the right) shrink could do a lot to prevent personal disasters, which stem out of, or augment, existing – or imagined – traumas.

And yet, my latest and most impressive – in my own eyes, of course – psychotherapeutical breakthrough came upon me on my own. I’ll readily concede that the six professionals – Becky, Leah, Avi, Shimshon, Nestor and Chezi – paved the way, but I’d like to think most of it was my own doing. More than that; I’m completely confident that psychotherapists can help a lot, but the main and essential bulk of the work has to be done by us, ourselves. I’ll rephrase that: It has to be done by – and with – our selves.

It was one of those mornings, after one of those nights, following one of those evenings. I woke up, finished my morning ablutions and set off to the regular soul-maintenance session with my friendly shrink. I was riding my electric scooter and grumbling under my breath: No phone calls, no personal emails or text messages, no one needs me, no one loves me, no one wants me.

Suddenly, a counter thought interfered with my mind, out of the blue (or grey) matter that is my brain: Hey, there is someone who badly needs me. It is, of all people, myself. Wait, I’ll rephrase that: I am needed, wanted, loved (well, that one is still debatable) by my own self.

Not without, but within

Language, usually a very efficient tool for interpersonal communication, is very misleading here. We weld two words into one and create “portmanteau” words, made of two or more parts, pregnant with meaning that is more – or less – than the sum of its parts. We use “me” and “myself” as interchangeable words, whereas they do present slightly different concepts: there is “me” and that alter ego, another “me” – namely, my “self.” There is a “self” within each of us, and it is “it” that usually makes us do the things we didn’t think of doing: laugh, cry, fall in and out of love, be confused.

And my lucky brain wave appeased my craving for attention and comfort by telling me that the source of solace for my unhappy soul is not without, but within. And that having a “self” within me, that anyway makes me do things I have to come to terms with, I’d better acknowledge its existence, get to know it, and establish some means of communication, in order to avoid misunderstandings that result in – yes, the malaise that is called, for want of a better word, unhappiness. This “self” is yourself. Or rather, your self. You own it, whether you want and like it, or not, and you owe much to its doings and undoings. So you’d better learn to like it, trust it, listen to it, argue with it, act in tandem with it.

When I arrived at the psychotherapist’s den, I boasted of my “moment of enlightenment.” He was happy for me, and offered on the spot an invaluable piece of advice: remember where you were when the brain wave flooded your self. Whenever you feel gloomy and lost in the future, transport yourself in your mind’s eye to that spot, and let your self do the rest. It will rarely, if ever, let you down. And when it does, you will be down there together.

So here I am, knowing full well that my “breakthrough” is bordering on the banal, but quite convinced it is true, nevertheless. I am well aware that eminent psychologists and philosophers formulated theories of the “self” well worth perusing. But the main thing for me is the fact that it “happened to me”; that something – that very “self” – within me set me right. And it, and the peace of mind and happiness – yes, happiness – is within reach for anyone of us, as it is within us to begin with.

This should not make the weekly maintenance sessions for you both – you and your self – redundant. On the contrary. To like yourself, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, is the beginning of a lifelong romance. It needs careful tending and attention, best done with the assistance of a certified professional. And finally, I begin to grasp the wisdom of Polonius’ words to Laertes: “And this above all: to thine own self be true.”



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