I was talking with a client this week, and I asked her, “how would you describe your relationship with yourself?’
She paused, and after some reflection, responded, “I never really thought about it”. In fact, when I first bring the idea up in session with clients, a lot of the time, they appear confused and don’t seem to understand exactly what I am asking.
We spend a lot of time and invest a lot of energy into understanding and developing our relationship with others, and yet for many, the relationship we have with ourselves is a foreign concept. There are countless articles, books and services (couples counseling, marriage retreats, etc…) available to assist people in deepening and improving their relationship with someone else.
But what about our relationship with the one person we will spend our entire life with? The one person who knows and sees everything about you? How often do we think about and invest in deepening and improving that relationship?
I believe that the relationship we have with ourselves is as literal as those relationships we have with other people. I know it’s a bit of a strange concept to some, but I can’t stress enough that in thinking about how you relate to yourself, it helps to think about it like there are two people involved, just as there are in any other typical relationship.
You could look at it as though the two people are you and your soul; you and your inner child; your authentic self and your conditioned self, etc. It doesn’t really matter how you look at it, just that you do so that you understand that it parallels a relationship with an actual partner in every way.
I recently read an article on how to keep your relationship (with your partner) thriving. The article gave 5 tips on ways to keep the spark alive, and it got me thinking about how often (or rather, how infrequently) we apply these principles to ourselves.
Here are the five tips, restructured to address the way we relate to ourselves:
1. Communication – You must have an open channel of communication, where both people feel they can speak openly and that they are heard.
Self-dialogue is literal. I can’t stress this enough. The way you speak to yourself is a critical component of the unconditional love that we create for ourselves. How do you talk to yourself? Is it kind and compassionate, or is it critical and harsh? Do you really listen to yourself or do you brush off your feelings and thoughts as though they aren’t important?
The way you speak to yourself and your internal dialogue should demonstrate respect. Many people speak and relate to themselves in a way that they would never address their partner, because if they did, it would be outright rude, and maybe even abusive. Watch your inner dialogue. How we communicate with ourselves is at the core of our ability to feel loved.
2. Trust – both people must trust one another in order to facilitate the safety necessary for both parties to feel comfortable to be authentic and free to be themselves in the relationship.
Do you trust yourself? Are you willing to take chances and take risks? Do you feel free to be yourself, or are you constantly worried about pleasing someone other than yourself? Do you look inside for the answers, or are you dependent upon something or someone outside of yourself for the rules or the truth?
If you are always looking outside of yourself for approval, then you are ignoring the person who has the most important opinion in any scenario – you! Trusting that your feelings, beliefs and thoughts are important and worth considering is critical to deepening your ability to trust yourself. It sends the message that you are valuable and important.
3. Excitement - Don’t fall into the trappings of complacency. Keep the relationship fresh by taking care of yourself, and continue to try new things.
This tip speaks about the trap many couples fall into when things get comfortable. People often “let themselves go”, stop paying attention to the little things, and fall into the rut of a comfortable routine. This applies to the way we relate to ourselves in many ways.
How often do you find yourself stuck in a rut – and what do you do about it? Do you pamper yourself, or has that taken a back seat to all the other ‘priorities’ in your life? Do you take time to schedule fun things for yourself to do (the equivalent of taking yourself out on a nice date)?
4. Say “I love you” – Couples are encourage to say this to one another on a daily basis, regardless of whether it is understood, or implied, and especially during times of conflict.
Verbalizing your love for another person is universally understood as a primary way to express the importance of any relationship. Why is it, then, that so many people feel strange saying the words, “I love you” to ourselves?
Regardless of your current feelings towards yourself (many people struggle to feel love towards themselves as easily as they do to another – which is another article entirely), does it not stand to reason that it might be nice to hear those kind words ever so often? How often do you express your love and affection for yourself to yourself?
5. Say “Thank You” – Couples are encouraged to express their gratitude often, for big and little things (yes, that means for something like taking out the trash!).
How often are you consciously expressing your gratitude to yourself? What are you thankful for?
Every day, you show up and engage in every aspect of this life, and in doing so, demonstrate countless acts that are pretty amazing. What did you do today that allowed you to move forward? In what ways are you trying harder? Can you be grateful for the simple act of just showing up (that takes tenacity!)?
All relationships are complicated and within them there is room for conflicting emotions. They take effort, and sometimes, it is really, really hard. The relationship you have with yourself is no different. But unlike the relationships we have with partners, the option of a break-up is not on the table. You are with yourself in good times and bad, all the way.
So does it not make sense that this is the one relationship that we should be investing the most into? You are your truest and most loyal companion, and you are worth the effort and time spent in developing the relationship. I’m not suggesting you neglect other relationships you have in life. I’m just suggesting that you place yourself high on that priority list. You will thank you.