I don’t spend much time thinking about the quality of the relationship I have with myself. I’m just there.
I don’t think I’m uncommon. We’re not taught to spend time on the relationship we have with ourselves, to analyze and improve it. Which is strange when you consider its duration.
Too many of us are not our own best friends. We treat ourselves poorly at worst and as an afterthought at best. We need to do better. We will never have another relationship that is as close or intimate. And, a better relationship with yourself improves your relationship with other people. Seeking better is a win-win.
Not reflecting on my relationship with myself seems odd when you consider how I spend my days. I learn about self-love and self-care and depression and mental health and philosophy and eating disorders. I implement procedural changes but fail to spend an equal amount of time thinking about the way I think and changing my fundamental beliefs. If you don’t dig out the root, it’ll keep sending up shoots.
I take my relationship with myself for granted. Sometimes we do okay. There are times when I don’t think nasty thoughts. There are times when I don’t hurt myself. There are even times when I treat myself well. Then there are the other days, times when the relationship becomes abusive.
I try to mitigate the abuse when I become aware but again, primarily through behavioural changes. I haven’t worked hard enough on the nature of the relationship itself. It doesn’t feel urgent. I don’t feel the same kind of pressure with my relationship with myself that I do with others. I don’t care about taking care. After all, it’s not like I can leave myself when things go badly. Where would I go?
I choose to spend time on the relationships I have with other people. It’s a conscious effort. I work hard on being a good friend. I maintain contact, I listen, I remember the important stuff, and I’m there if things get rough. [i] I try to treat them well. I don’t expect relationships to be effort-free.
Except for the one I have with myself.
I should attend to it more. It’s important. I read a comment recently that summed things up nicely:
“no one is going to be with me forever other than me (body, mind, soul). That is a fact. So, I better take better care of myself. This is not selfish as long as [I] don’t take care of [myself] at the expense of others.” -Betal Erbasi
My problem is with the architecture. I built a house with damaged material. Instead of committing myself to the complicated structural repairs, I use behavioural changes to shore up the cracks. It’s like putting out a bucket for a leak. It’s a temporary fix, and the underlying problem remains. As long as it does, the patch won’t hold.
I think some part of me hoped the relationship would change naturally, that I’d automatically become more of a friend to myself as I work on my neuroses. I think part of me hoped my thinking would evolve and improve without additional work. That I would be able to write over the bad code without looking at it and making deep edits. It doesn’t work that way. If I don’t chase the thoughts back to their point of origin and making repairs there, too, the problems will continue to recur.
The work has been partially effective: my external behaviours are improving. But they’ll feel awkwardly unnatural until I change the underneath. I just don’t like to go there. It’s dark and uncomfortable and sad.
It’ll be hard, and I like easy.
It’s also necessary.
Danger, Will Robinson. Hard work and difficult times lie ahead. It will probably be worth it, at least when I come out on the other side. Because when you dislike yourself, when you’re fundamentally dissatisfied with who you are as a human being, your ability to enjoy your life is diminished. And time’s passing.
How to improve your relationship with yourself.
1. Value yourself. Embrace your strengths and weaknesses. Own who you are and learn to accept it. Better, learn to like it. Let go of dual standards: the ones you apply to yourself versus those you apply to others.
2. Embrace your strengths and weaknesses. Let go of the need for perfection: do things your way and congratulate yourself on being authentic.Get comfortable with feeling uncomfortable. Get comfortable with things being messy. Life isn’t a clean and tidy business.Be real with yourself. Listen to your circle. Hear the things they tell you about yourself: stop self-deprecating and practicing false modesty. It’s okay to be awesome.
3. Take care of your own needs. You can’t address things like love, belonging, and self-esteem if your basic needs for physical and psychological safety aren’t being met. * Make yourself healthy and safe first before moving on to more complex problems.
4. Make time for happiness. Things that bring you joy and contentment are good things: prioritize them. Would you want a friendship with someone who always put you last and didn’t care about what you like or makes you happy?
5. Make time for yourself. You can’t be a friend to someone who’s never there. How can you hope to understand and appreciate yourself if you never spend time with yourself, getting to know you? Get to know yourself intimately, all the bits and pieces. Journaling and meditation help with this. The latter is particularly helpful in developing an open-minded and compassionate outlook, which is a good quality for a friend to have.
6. Boundaries. Yes, it always comes back to them. You can develop a better relationship with yourself if you respect yourself. Having and enforcing boundaries is a big part of that.
7. Accept failure. Failure isn’t the end of the world, and it doesn’t say anything about your worth as a person. It’s okay to fail. It’s also inevitable, so accept that reality. You’re not now, nor have you been, nor will you be perfect.
8. Volunteer. It comes up as a way to make ourselves feel good as human beings. We’re better friends when we’re altruistic. It’s a winning choice.
* [Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs]
Do you have a good relationship with yourself?
[i] I’m amazing. Practically perfect. Definitely hyperbolic. Sigh. I’m a good friend some of the time. I’m bad at it some of the time too. The same is true of the other roles: sister, daughter, mom. I do try. But I’m not the amazing special snowflake that my wounded sense of pride likes to imagine.