We think a great deal about our relationships. We consider and analyze our relationships with family, friends, coworkers, even our casual acquaintances, but we seem to overlook our most important relationship—our relationship with ourselves. We are constantly in a relationship with ourselves whether we realize it or not. But when you don’t realize you are in a relationship, how can you work on making it better?
Conventional wisdom states that “we are sometimes our own worst enemy.” While enemy may be too strong a word, this saying certainly has some truth to it. In less dramatic terms, being our own worst enemy may mean several different things. When we have a real need (for safety, food, rest, affirmation) and don’t take action to meet our needs, we are not being a real friend to ourselves. When we know that someone is stepping over our boundaries but tell ourselves that we don’t really have the right to set boundaries, that it doesn’t matter, or that we can’t hurt the other person’s feelings, in essence, we are disrespecting ourselves.
We also relate to ourselves in other unfriendly and unhelpful ways. One of the most common ways is by continuously criticizing ourselves in our minds, putting ourselves down mentally, feeling ashamed and guilty about who we are, and tearing down our own confidence and abilities. Some people go further and act out their self-dislike or self-hatred by harming themselves with the addictive use of alcohol or drugs, taking unwise risks, or even cutting and hurting themselves physically.
But we can also be friends and allies to ourselves. We can extend ourselves the respect and appreciation we so easily extend to friends and loved ones. Sometimes this requires therapy to undo emotional injuries we have suffered in the past and to help us get rid of the negative voices in our heads that we internalized from others who were abusive to us. Often it is a matter of becoming aware of our own thinking and challenging those distorted thoughts, replacing them with more loving and appropriate beliefs about ourselves. We can learn to take care of ourselves and experience our time alone as fun, calm and rejuvenating when we learn how to value ourselves and learn how to spend quality time with ourselves. So here are a few questions to discuss:
1) How would you describe your relationship with yourself? Use the same language you would use in describing your relationship with a friend.
2) Our relationships with ourselves are as complex as our relationships with others. How are you an ally and friend to yourself and how do you hurt yourself?
3) Have you ever experienced time with yourself (time alone) as nurturing, fun or positive? Did you always feel this way or did you acquire this ability?
4) How might you begin improving the quality of your self-relationship and begin to treat yourself with more kindness and respect?
5) Can you cherish and be good to yourself and still love and cherish others?