We think a lot about our relationships with other people.
We analyze the texts that our colleagues send us. We obsess over the date we just went on. We examine our relationships to a borderline obsessive extent – and we can almost always identify the nature of those connections. In ten seconds or less, you could probably tell me which of your personal relationships is the warmest. Which is the most challenging. Which ones push you to be a better person and which ones allow – or even encourage – your vices.
We pour an extreme amount of conscious effort into defining our relationships with others and determining what we need from each of them.
We decide we want a partner who pushes us, but friends who are warm and forgiving. We want tough love from our family but validation from our wider circle of acquaintances. We can ramble off a long list of relationship deal breakers or ideal traits for a partner, but we have a lot more trouble analyzing the one relationship that hits closest to home. And that’s the relationship we have with ourselves.
In ten seconds or less, could you tell me about the nature of your relationship with yourself? Is it a warm one? A challenging one? An enabling one? An abusive one?
So rarely do we stop to consider the ways in which we interact with ourselves. We assume that our internal relationship takes care of itself – that we are constantly investing in and developing it. But we’re wrong. Too often, our relationship with ourselves is the first one that we let slide. And it’s the last one that we ought to, because how we treat ourselves sets the stage for how we treat and are treated by the rest of the world around us.
Take a moment to consider how you manage yourself when things start going awry. Are you supportive of yourself? Are you harsh? Do you criticize and belittle your own choices? Or do you encourage yourself to keep trying? Maybe you allow yourself time to retreat and regroup when the going gets tough. Maybe you push yourself to persevere and overcome. Whatever the case, there is almost always a rhythm and a consistency in the way that we handle ourselves – and we need to start recognizing those consistencies.
The more conscious we become of the ways in which we’re handling ourselves, the more we are able to realize what’s working and what’s not. Just as we need to have boundaries with other people, we need to enforce boundaries with ourselves. We need to recognize when we’re bullying ourselves, when we’re being too lenient with ourselves, or when we’re demanding too much of our own emotional reserves. We need to learn when to be tough with ourselves and when to be soft – and it’s a difficult balance to strike. But it’s one we’ll never strike if we don’t become consciously aware of our own inclinations.
Here’s the ultimate truth about the relationship we share with ourselves: it serves as a precedent for all of our other relationships. When we’re critical and unaccepting of ourselves, we implicitly tell others that we’re not worth being around. When we’re self-pitying and overly lenient with ourselves, it tells others they can walk all over us. And when we’re disciplined yet accepting of ourselves, it tells other people not to mess with us.
A healthy relationship with yourself gives way to healthy relationships with others – because you know that no matter what happens with others, you can fall back on the one person you trust to take care of you. And that’s you.