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Chris Dean

Psychological Skills Mentor.

What does Valentine’s Day mean to you?

What memories does it evoke?
What can it teach us about maintaining healthy relationships with those we love?
What can it teach us about everyday love?

Societies attribute importance to specific days of the year, it’s interesting to think about how this can influence how we perceive such days, the importance we place on them and how we think, feel and act. When we think of Valentine’s day, we will all have our own unique thoughts and feelings based on our past experiences and learning. For many of us, the very mention of Valentine’s Day may initially trigger thoughts or memories of romantic messages, presents (chocolates and flowers anyone?) and activities (candlelit meal for two?). However, these may also be accompanied by associated thoughts and memories which can evoke many different feelings depending on our unique experiences, circumstances and interpretations.

Origins of Valentine’s Day

I recently learned that the origins of Valentine’s Day are contested, but one explanation is that it took its name from a priest who was martyred for continuing to perform marriages for lovers when Emperor Claudius the second had banned them in Rome. According to legend, the priest signed a letter “from your Valentine” to his jailer’s daughter, whom he had befriended and, by some accounts, healed her of blindness. This made me think that this day has its roots in celebrating more selfless love than I may have previously believed – perhaps my Computer has become overly influenced by today’s commercialism!


This prompted me to think about what Valentine’s day means to me and my Computer quickly took me back to a previous year when I’d woken up on Valentine’s morning and my wife said “Happy Valentine, I’m looking forward to our day off together’’ accompanied by a peck on the cheek, a smile and giving me a Valentine’s card. I’d completely forgotten and certainly hadn’t booked the day off work!

I’ll save telling you what actually happened in my own life for later, but reflecting on this made me consider how often this situation or similar may occur, and how we may react or respond differently depending on our different expectations and unique Chimps, Computers and Humans.

Let yourself engage your Human brain by trying to imagine being in the shoes of someone who was in a similar position to me (let’s call him Jim) and someone in a similar position to my wife (let’s call her Jo). Now ask yourself, being in Jim’s shoes or Jo’s shoes, how do you think their Chimps may have reacted or their Humans responded to that event? If you’ve experienced a similar situation in the past it’s also okay to reflect on that – I suspect your Computer may have already got in there first.

There are many possibilities we can think of but let’s consider one possibility. If we start with Jim, this situation will likely have triggered his Chimp into alert mode sensing potential danger. His Chimp may have made him momentarily freeze, perhaps accompanied by rapid thoughts such as Oh God, I forgot! How’s she going to react? What if she leaves me? What should I do? and feelings such as surprise, panic and maybe fear. All whilst desperately seeking advice from his Computer.

Chimps tend not to tolerate mistakes or flaws in others or themselves. To prevent self-criticism Jim’s Chimp may quickly find from his Computer or generate various excuses to justify his behaviour: I’ve been too busy at work to think about this or it’s not like it’s her birthday. Now Jim has been hijacked by his Chimp, he impulsively and defensively says these thoughts aloud: ‘I’ve been too busy! It’s not like it’s your birthday!


How is Jo’s Chimp likely to interpret this?

Again, if we take one possibility, her Chimp may also be triggered into alert mode and, as with Jim’s Chimp, may not tolerate what it perceives as Jim’s flaws or mistakes (this tends to be more pronounced with friends and partners rather than strangers). Chimps also tend to be constantly wary, insecure and vigilant about checking what each person invests into a relationship (conditional support), so after consulting her Computer, Jo may experience thoughts such as:

He doesn’t care about me!
How could he do this to me?!
I give him everything and this is what I get in return!

Jo has been hijacked by her Chimp she may have moved into fight mode and impulsively says these thoughts aloud: “‘You don’t care about me! How could you do this to me? I do everything for you, and you do nothing for me!’.

How’s Jim’s Chimp likely to interpret this?

The likely outcome of this situation is that, if unchecked by their Humans, both Jim and Jo’s Chimps are likely to hijack most or all of their day (and possibly beyond) resulting in further uncomfortable and negative thoughts, feelings and behaviour. Additionally, new unhelpful memories, experiences and interpretations (including Gremlins) associated with Valentine’s day will be stored in both their computers.

Not a happy ending for Valentine’s Day.


Now, let’s consider an alternative world in which Jim has past experience of forgetting or overlooking events which are important to others. He’s spent some time previously reflecting on this and programmed his Computer with helpful and constructive thoughts (Autopilots) such as:

It’s better to just admit when you’ve overlooked something important to people you love, or trying to resolve issues asap tends to stop issues from getting bigger and out of hand.

How do you think Jim is likely to interpret and respond to this event? It seems reasonable to assume that he’ll take more responsibility for his actions, be more empathic, and seek to discuss the issue and plan how to address this as best he can.

Similarly, let’s also imagine Jo has experienced Jim overlooking or forgetting events that are important to others. She’s also spent time reflecting on this and programmed her Computer with the following constructive Autopilots: Sharing and giving to the people I love in my life is what makes me happy; people can forget even important things when they’re busy, and our value to each other should not be based on the actions of one day.

Now, how do you think Jo is likely to interpret and respond to this event?

It seems reasonable to assume that whilst she may still experience some disappointment and sadness, she may place less importance on the reciprocal receiving of gifts, be more forgiving towards Jim and be more prepared to accept that it is just one day of many. This may help to engage her Human in listening and empathising with Jim’s position and to consider and discuss possible ways to address her disappointment.

The likely outcome in this alternative world is that whilst Valentine’s may not go as anticipated for either of them, there may still be opportunities to have some enjoyment and feelings of love and connection, and at the very least, Valentine’s day may not be completely tarnished for the future.

So, many of your Chimps will be curious to know what happened in this situation in reality. Well, the truth is: I can’t remember! There are different possibilities for why that may be the case, but I don’t think it’s because I’ve buried this into my subconscious mind and I don’t think we were emotionally scarred (I double-checked this with my wife!). I guess that I would have remembered if it had panned out like the first scenario, so our Computers and/or Humans probably handled it reasonably well.

What’s also interesting about this scenario is that this isn’t unique to Valentine’s day but could apply to so many ‘important’ days, dates or events (e.g. birthdays, anniversaries, celebrations etc) on which people place different expectations, including on themselves and others. It also prompts us to think about what Autopilots we have programmed or could programme to plan for this type of event in the future. Whilst Autopilots need to resonate with you, some suggestions to get you thinking could be: It’s unrealistic to think that any day will pan out exactly as we want and expect it to; everyone is unique – no one perceives and experiences events exactly the same way and people place different importance on different events and experiences. These and similar may help to keep us resilient and allow opportunities for our Humans to influence us even when events don’t go as planned or the actions of our loved ones aren’t what we expect.


This brings me to my final thoughts.

If the essence of Valentine’s day is really about expressing selfless love to those important in our lives, perhaps a good start is taking time out to explore and discuss what this day and other similar days or events mean to our nearest and dearest. Let’s ask each other what we expect from such days and events, how important is this to each of us, what would we like to experience and do to make us happy and how can we help each other achieve this. We may not be able to make such days ‘perfect’ (although our Chimps would love that) but taking the time and effort to try and facilitate each other’s happiness is perhaps the really loving bit of all this. And why just stop at Valentine’s day, just imagine what relationships could be like if we tried to do this every day.

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