The other day, I was having a conversation with a friend who was describing to me how unhappy she felt in her relationship. She explained that she felt that she had begun to lose her sense of identity and had completely neglected her own self-care. “I focus so much on giving back to others, but I think I also need to work on learning how to truly love myself,” she said.
In my work as a therapist, I often hear similar stories from people who for one reason or another are neglecting the most important relationship they will ever have, which is the one they have with themselves. No matter if you are single, dating, or married, the way that you treat yourself is incredibly important.
Focusing on the relationship that you have with yourself is not selfish. It actually enables you to have richer relationships with others, as it is very hard to support others if you are not caring for yourself. A former supervisor used the analogy of how on an airplane there is a reason that you must first put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others.
So how can you learn how to build a better relationship with yourself? The following are three ways to get started.
1. Be kind to yourself.
Self-compassion is simply giving the same kindness to ourselves that we would give to a loved one. It is being compassionate with ourselves when we fail or make mistakes and recognizing that this is part of being human.
It is important to start to pay attention to your inner-self talk. Instead of beating yourself up when you make a mistake, learn how to comfort yourself the way that you would a loved one. Work to be more mindful of the unhelpful or critical thoughts that you have about yourself. Remember that just because you have a thought, does not mean that it is a fact. Instead of trying to change your unhelpful thoughts, simply observe them without judgment. You can then work to shift focus onto some more helpful thoughts.
Not convinced as to why you should work on self-compassion? Research suggests that practicing self-compassion can have a variety of benefits including, boosting happiness, improving body image, enhancing motivation, and helping people to get through difficult times.
2. Listen to your own personal sense of “yes” and “no.”
Setting boundaries with others can be incredibly challenging, but it is critical in terms of improving your relationship with yourself and others. If you do not respect your personal boundaries (perhaps in fear of someone else’s reaction), this is likely to lead to bitterness and resentment over time.
I recently watched a brilliant TEDx talk by Sarri Gilman, MA, MFT, a psychotherapist and author of Transform Your Boundaries, who explains that we can think of our boundaries through the metaphor of an inner compass. Gilman, says that this compass has two words written in it, “yes” and “no.”
We all have an inner sense of wisdom, which intuitively tells us when something is a “yes” or a “no.” The problem arises when we ignore or argue with that inner voice. If you are not used to tuning into your intuition, it is important to practice paying attention to how you are feeling in the moment.
Setting boundaries can be difficult, but is such an important part of having healthy relationships and an overall sense of well being. It’s helpful to remember that when you say “no” to things, it frees up your time to focus on the pursuits that truly energize and excite you. When you honor your own inner sense of “yes” and “no,” you will experience less stress and improve your relationship with yourself.
3. Treat yourself to a date-night.
It’s important to learn how to truly enjoy your own company. After all, you will live with yourself for the rest of your life. Part of that is taking some time out each week for some solo self-care.
Think about an activity that you would really enjoy doing. Maybe you want to take yourself out to dinner at a nice restaurant. Or perhaps you want to cook yourself an elaborate dinner at home and do an at-home spa night. Maybe your date with yourself is going to the movies or getting a manicure. Or you might enjoy taking a peaceful hike and listening to a podcast.
The point is not that you have to be alone all of the time. Rather, the more you can learn how to be at peace with yourself, the better your relationships will be with others. When you learn how to value yourself, you will attract more people into your life who value you. Additionally, spending time with yourself can help you to better connect with your values and passions. This way you can focus on the things that truly matter and let go of anything that may be holding you back.
Dr. Maria Paredes PhD, LPCS, CEDS, the owner of Three Birds Counseling & Clinical Supervision, PLLC., exemplifies this point when she explains,
“The relationship we have with ourselves is the basis and mirror for all of our other relationships. We can’t effectively and fully join with others, be vulnerable, or be truly compassionate toward others, if we haven’t been able to do so with ourselves. Improving the relationship with ourselves will have a ripple effect on all of our other relationships.”
Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LCSW-C: is an eating disorder therapist in Rockville, Maryland. Jennifer has a private practice specializing in working with adolescents and adults struggling with eating disorders (including binge eating disorder, anorexia, bulimia, orthorexia, and OSFED), body image issues, anxiety, and survivors of trauma. Jennifer provides eating disorder therapy in Rockville, MD. Jennifer offers eating disorder recovery coaching via phone/Skype. Connect with Jennifer through her website at www.jenniferrollin.com