We put so much energy—time, attention—into our relationships with others. We listen. We support. We do nice things. Which is wonderful and important. Because connected relationships require care and compassion. They require nurturing and respect.
But what about your relationship with yourself? Do you put the same amount of energy and time into it? Do you pay any attention to it? Is your relationship built on kindness and care? Is it built on respect?
So many of us don’t even think about our relationship with ourselves. We don’t even think about ourselves—unless you count self-criticism.
“[O]ur relationship with ourselves is the most important relationship of all,” said Stephanie Diamond, Ph.D, a licensed psychologist and certified eating disorder specialist in private practice in Miami, Fla.
“The health of your relationship with yourself is critically important because how you feel about yourself and your relationship with yourself trickles into and impacts everything…every inner thought, every feeling, every relationship, every experience. You are the common denominator of your entire life experience, so if your relationship with yourself is healthy, you are poised for success (however you may define it).” (I personally define success as living a life based on my values and essentials.)
Below, Diamond shared a range of powerful ways we can build a healthy relationship with ourselves. These are concrete, practical steps we can take. Which is vital, because often we have zero clue what a healthy relationship with ourselves even looks like. It feels abstract, and even foreign and faraway.
Sharpen your self-awareness. Be curious about yourself and your way of being in the world, Diamond suggested. Reflect on your personal patterns, which might be getting in your way or preventing you from pursuing your dreams or undermining your satisfaction.
Diamond suggested keeping a journal and “reflecting regularly on things that have elicited strong feelings.” Over time, you’ll pick up on patterns in your writings. Once you do, you’re able to choose different ways of responding, she said.
Let self-compassion pervade everything you do. Diamond stressed the importance of treating yourself like a cherished friend. Be gentle, kind, understanding, and patient with yourself. Pay attention to your inner voice. What does it sound like? What does it say? “If you notice some critical self-talk, try to pause, take a deep breath, and remind yourself that you are a human being and you are deserving of kindness,” Diamond said. “Then try again.” Try to revise your harsh words into gentle, compassionate sentiments.
This can be hard to do, and might even feel “fake.” If that’s the case, tell yourself something that feels sincere and sympathetic, something that honors how you’re feeling. I am struggling right now, and that’s OK. What will support me? I can’t stop being hard on myself right now. Which is understandable because it’s something I’ve struggled with for many, many years. Maybe seeing a therapist can help.
Diamond also suggested taking the time to participate in activities we enjoy and in activities that soothe us. What are those activities for you? How can you prioritize them?
Cultivate your self-acceptance. Accepting ourselves can take time. One powerful way to start is to shrink our sky-high expectations. Because who can live up to perfect? We set expectations that we’ll never meet, and when we inevitably don’t meet them, we feel terrible about ourselves, and we think of ourselves as utter disappointments, as utter failures.
According to Diamond, “What would it be like to work towards a ‘good enough’ standard? Think about how much freer you would feel if ‘good enough’ were in fact good enough…Experiment with this idea. What happens after a day of aiming for ‘good enough’ instead of perfect? What do you notice about your quality of life, your stress level, your relationships, your leisure time?” Maybe you can start with one expectation—such as exploring what good enough looks like when it comes to cleaning your home or doing your work or being a parent or being a friend.
We can build healthier relationships with ourselves one brick at a time. Pick any bricks from above, and get started.