- Define the Relationship
- Commit to the Process
- Learn to Trust Ourselves
Relationships with others bring us a sense of joy, fulfillment, and connection. As social animals, they are vital to our ability to flourish and thrive, and for this reason, many of us invest a great deal of time and effort in them. However, because we prioritize our relationships with others, we are less likely to devote that same energy to our relationships with ourselves.
While some may think that investing in a relationship is a self-indulgent exercise and may distract from more useful pursuits, it is actually vital to our sense of well-being. If we try to be steadily present with ourselves, we’re more likely to experience satisfaction in all spheres of life. When we are alone, rather than feeling lonely, we may enjoy the solitude of our own company.
But also, the quality of our self-relationship manifests in the quality of the relationships we have with our loved ones. The attitudes we hold toward ourselves often negatively influence how we see and relate to others. When we are strangers to ourselves, others become a distorted mirror in which we see our own caricatured image partially reflected at us.
And so, we must commit to empowering our self-relationship. And while this task may be overwhelming for some of us, there are a few steps that can help us embark on this journey.
6 Ways to Empower Our Relationship with Ourselves
To begin with, we can:
1. Define the relationship.
We can start by asking ourselves, “What is my relationship with myself like? If I were another person, how would I see myself? Would I like to be with myself? When I am alone, how do I talk to myself? How much flexibility do I have with myself?” When we recognize a relationship there and spell it out, we become aware of the untapped potential in the self-relationship.
2. Approach with gentle curiosity.
Self-awareness is at the heart of personal development; however, self-awareness can mean many things, from distant reflection to harsh critique to permissive indifference. Approaching self-awareness with gentle curiosity – nonjudgmentally and with compassion – sets the stage. It may be helpful to practice and take it slowly, especially if there are difficult memories that makeup part of who we are or if we’ve been stoic and radically self-sufficient.
3. Build emotional capacity.
For many of us, we don’t have a good working knowledge of the emotional states necessary to understand others’ actions (let alone our own). Because we have emotions about emotions, avoid our feelings, or have learned unhelpful ways of dealing with these feelings, many of us need to introduce ourselves to the emotions we regularly encounter. We need to make more room for them, educate ourselves about what they are, destigmatize how we feel, and learn to create a holding environment for them. Learning to identify and talk about emotions is tremendously empowering, especially for those of us who have felt at the mercy of our own feelings or that we were unable to access them.
4. Commit to the process.
For many people embarking on self-discovery, the unknown can cause us to rely on familiar yet unhelpful coping devices. But we need to resist falling back on these unsupportive patterns by enlisting self-control. Learning self-control enables us to put the brakes on when we need to and surge forward when the time is right. When we learn to stop ourselves from behaving automatically, we can substitute and experiment with new approaches that ultimately serve us better. For example, rather than overeating to self-soothe when we are worried, we might instead imagine how we want to feel about ourselves the next day and choose a different path.
5. Learn to trust ourselves.
Trust is learned and often earned. Many of us think of trust as either/or: we either trust someone (or ourselves) or don’t. But trusting is a skill, and it involves understanding that trust is about safety and predictability, risk, and reward. When we experience self-doubt, it is often because we face unfamiliar situations that require different responses from us than we are used to. We trust our reflexive, self-protective responses, typically a carry-over from earlier times. Still, when they don’t fit, the first reaction is often fear and confusion. Learning to ride out that initial panicky reaction and land on our proverbial feet help build basic trust in ourselves.
Create clear goals without getting hung up on checking the boxes.
Personal development is a journey and having general goals and plans for initial steps toward meeting those goals is essential. But it is also crucial that we don’t get discouraged by pressuring ourselves to meet unobtainable targets. In this case, the goal is to embrace a way of living in which our relationship with ourselves is healthy, supportive, compassionate, and loving. It should help us learn how to meet our needs and desires, build an overall sense of trust in ourselves, and help us internalize the belief that we can handle whatever life brings us.
Becoming open to the concept of self-relationship takes time because exploring a relationship with ourselves often makes us feel vulnerable. This vulnerability is formidable because accepting that we need ourselves as much as anyone else places us in an uncomfortably dependent position. However, acknowledging how much we need ourselves can be exhilarating and wonderful, even if it can also tweak our deep insecurities and fears of failure, abandonment, and being alone. For most of us, the fear is worth the rewards of satisfaction in our relationships with others and peace within ourselves.