22 Feb Relationship Toolbox: Your relationship with yourself
Written by Jan Pugh, R Psych
The Relationship Toolbox is a series of posts to address tensions in our relationships with skills, perspectives and reflective questions. As social beings, we are wired to be connected, to belong, to feel protected and safe – we desire to be understood, cared for, and nurtured. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Tension within our interactions may arise with work colleagues, close friendships, in our family relationships, with intimate partners, and especially within ourselves. The tension may be experienced as outward conflict or from within, through resentment, guilt, shame, or sadness, to name just a few.
Let’s begin with where we have the most amount of influence and understanding. In the centre of the sphere is you. This is where you have the greatest degree of control, influence and understanding. With each outward circle, you have progressively less influence and understanding. To understand yourself will require some quiet time for curiosity and patience to find clarity and confidence in the relationship you have with yourself.
We may not realize that at the centre of much of our conflict and tension is the relationship that we have with ourselves. It is how we relate to our thoughts about the past, the present and the future that gives light to our outward behaviours. It is our emotions that drive our reactions, it is how we relate to our thoughts – past, present, and future – that serves as the base for our interactions with others. Having access to the relationship with ourselves requires us to be aware of our inner thoughts and emotions which helps us gain an understanding of our thoughts and a means to manage them in a helpful way.
Skills to Help Understand and Influence the Relationship with Yourself
- Become aware of how you relate to your values.
It is helpful for us to begin with an inventory of our values and beliefs. By becoming aware of these, we are tuning into our inner world and how we relate these to our outer world of actions/reactions and behaviours. Tensions within ourselves often arise when our values and beliefs do not align with our outward reactions.
- Be curious about your thoughts and emotions.
To be curious with yourself is to wonder where these thoughts and emotions are coming from. “When have I felt the same way and how does this current situation seem the same as something I experienced before?”. It is in these moments of looking inward that we begin the road toward being kind and compassionate toward ourselves. By relating to our thoughts and emotions in this way, there is a sense of knowing and understanding that influences the relationship we have with ourselves.
- Be as kind to yourself as you are to your best friend, your pet, or those you admire.
Negative or harsh self-talk is unhelpful for a kind and compassionate relationship with ourselves. Consider the experiences you have already endured and be as compassionate and kind as you would be if the same occurred to your best friend, your favorite pet or someone you admire. Use those same words of kindness and care. You deserve the same care and attention for yourself.
- Intentional deep breathing to connect inner emotions to body reactions.
Mindful breathing can be helpful to connect our inner emotional experience with body reactions. Breathing comes naturally, involuntarily, and without knowing, while intentional deep breathing and noticing how the mind and body react to the exhale connect the mind with the body. The intention is to connect how the mind intentionally pausing for a deep breath is related to the reaction in the body. This connects the mind and body and helps us understand how our internal world impacts our outer world, with compassion and kindness for all you have already endured.
I recently opened a fortune cookie that read, “Rome was not built in a day. Be patient”. I thought about how well this holds true with the relationship we have with ourselves. Life is a journey through varied experiences and lessons learned: the good, the bad and the ugly ones too. Whenever tension arises within, that is the time to take a brief pause to be aware of our reaction to situations, to be compassionately curious about what is connected to that reaction with, and to kindly acknowledge the emotion you are experiencing. All emotions are welcome and with increased understanding of ourselves, there comes the courage to share our inner experience with others. This journey within ourselves is summed up well in the quote:
“Remember, you’ve come here having already understood the necessity of struggling with yourself, only with yourself. Therefore, thank everyone who gives you the opportunity”, George Gurdjieff
Questions to Ask Yourself
As we spend the most amount of time with ourselves, quiet moments of reflection can be helpful to create a kind and compassionate relationship with ourselves. In no particular order, here a few questions we can ask ourselves to better acquaint us with us:
What are my values and beliefs?
How are my emotions related to my values and beliefs?
What do I really want for and of myself?
What do I really need for myself?
What are my wishes and dreams for and of myself?
Where is that emotion coming from?
Where have I experienced that emotion before?
What is that emotion trying to tell me about myself?
The next post in this series will focus on the relationship with our first exposure to our outer world, the family, then intimate partners, our close friends, and finally work/school colleagues and peers.
Click here for more information on Jan Pugh.
Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-SA-NC.