Developing and maintaining relationships with others is one of the strongest drives we possess as human beings. Humans need close connections with others in order to feel complete and to have rewarding, fulfilling lives. Often, however, the most important relationship we have is the the one we pay the least attention to: our relationship with ourselves.

Many of us spend a great deal of time and energy helping others solve their problems, listening to others’ stories, supporting our family members, friends, partners, colleagues and sometimes trying to fix others people’s problems.  What many of us fail to recognize is that, in the process of focusing on others’ concerns, we are neglecting the most important relationship in our lives:  our relationship with ourselves.

What does it mean to have a relationship with yourself?  Developing a strong and positive relationship with the self begins with good self-care.  This includes, but is not limited to:  eating well, exercising, practicing good hygiene, getting adequate sleep, creating time for relaxation and play, developing skills and interests outside of work, adequate mental stimulation (reading, taking courses, engaging in lively conversation), etc.  A healthy relationship with yourself also includes many of the same elements as a healthy relationship with another person:  boundaries, trust, support, respect, communication, etc.  This may sound odd to some of you.  You may be wondering “How do I set boundaries or communicate with myself?”

Let’s look more closely at each of the elements mentioned above...

BOUNDARIES

We have all had the experience of being sick and feeling the need to stay home from work.  Often, we will talk ourselves out of staying home because we feel guilty or we are worried that our boss will disapprove.  An expression of good self-care and a healthy boundary in this situation would be to say to yourself:  “No, you are sick and you need to take care of yourself.  Stay home.  Your health is more important than your boss’s approval and the work can wait until you return.”

What about the familiar scenario of saying “Yes” to someone when we really mean “No”?  Often, setting a boundary with someone else, i.e. saying “No I can’t help you with that”, is really about setting a boundary with yourself, taking care of yourself or putting yourself first.  It’s not so much about saying no to someone else; it’s about saying yes to yourself.

TRUST

Trusting yourself involves paying attention to your gut feeling; that little voice that usually knows exactly what is right (or wrong) for you in any given moment. Over the years our inner voice has become cluttered with all kinds of beliefs, messages, programming from our childhood experiences, the media, etc.This makes it difficult to really know the difference between a true “gut feeling” and a belief that we have developed over the years. For example, we often dismiss our gut feelings by listening to a thought that “explains away” our feelings. You may feel an urge to avoid a certain person but you dismiss that feeling because you have no “rational” explanation for doing so. You may think to yourself “He seems nice enough.  I’m just being paranoid. I should be friendlier to people.I don’t want to hurt his feelings”. This person then steals your wallet when you aren’t looking and you think “I should have listened to my gut!"  By learning to listen to and act on that little voice, you will begin to trust your judgment and your perceptions, thereby developing a more trusting relationship with yourself.

SUPPORT & RESPECT

How do we give ourselves support?  Much of it will occur at the level of “self-talk”.  Pay attention to how you talk to yourself.  Do you sometimes put yourself down?  “I’m such a failure!”, “I’m ugly”, “I can’t believe I did that - I’m so stupid”...sound familiar?  Ask yourself, are these statements supportive or respectful?  Would I say these things to a friend; someone I truly care about?  For most of us, the answer would be “No, of course not!”  Then, ask yourself if it’s appropriate to say them to yourself.  Are you respecting or supporting yourself when you put yourself down?

Self-respect is also strengthened by acting in a way that fosters integrity and honours our feelings.  If I know that I will feel bad about myself if I lie to my partner, then telling the truth is an important way to maintain and increase respect for myself – no to mention keeping my relationship healthy.

COMMUNICATION

In some ways, everything I have discussed so far involves communication with the self.  Communication, then, is the cornerstone of our relationship with ourselves as it is in our relationships with others.  One way to enhance our communication with ourselves and to develop more clarity with regard to our feelings, our thoughts and our needs is to start a journal.  Journaling can be an effective way to work out solutions to our problems by developing more compassion and understanding for ourselves.  Journaling does not have to be done every day.  It can be practiced on an “as needed” basis, i.e. when a particular problem comes up, or whenever you gain an important insight into an issue.  There are no rules for journaling and the best part is that no one but you has to know what you have written – it’s just between you and yourself!

In conclusion, I hope I was able to provide some useful information for you to reflect on.  As important as relationships are, the quality of the relationships we have with others is largely determined by the quality of the relationship we have with ourselves.  If I truly love myself and treat myself with respect then others will treat me with respect.  Furthermore, if they don’t then it is highly unlikely that they will be a part of my life.  If I have healthy boundaries with myself and with others then I will attract people who also have good boundaries.  For this reason, the single relationship that is truly central and crucial in life is the relationship to the self.

“Love and the self are one, and the discovery of either is the
realization of both.”

- Author unknown

Recommended Reading

Journaling:  Life’s Companion by Christina Baldwin

Relationships:

The Unwritten Rules of Friendship by Madorsky Elman & Kennedy-Moore

Growing up Again by Illsley Clarke & Dawson

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