To feel more connected to others it’s important that we first connect to ourselves.
“[W]e need to be grounded in who we are before we can have healthy relationships with others,” said Jennifer Kogan, LICSW, a psychotherapist who provides individual and couples counseling in Washington, D.C.
When we connect to ourselves we’re also able to create lives that are meaningful and fulfilling.
According to Kogan, who helps clients strengthen their connection to themselves, this process entails recognizing your reactions and feelings so you can respond to your needs and take good care of yourself.
Focusing on your feelings also is protective. “Taking note of what we are actually feeling protects us from depression, anxiety, addiction, and from engaging in numbing behaviors.”
Of course, this doesn’t eliminate negative feelings or behaviors, but it helps you cope more healthfully when tough times arise.
Below, Kogan shares five ways we can strengthen our connection to ourselves.
1. Notice your feelings.
Notice what you’re feeling at any given time, Kogan said. For instance, let’s say you’re rushing to an appointment. Take a moment to pause, and find where in your body you’re holding your stress, she said.
“Is it your jaw, stomach or neck?” Once you discover the tension, focus on breathing into it, she said.
2. Name your feelings.
Another way to connect to yourself is by naming how you’re feeling at a particular moment, Kogan said. This could be as simple as saying one word to yourself, such as upset, angry or anxious.
She gave the following example: If you’re going on a blind date, you might be experiencing several different emotions. You might feel excited about the possibility of meeting someone you like. And you might be stressed out about meeting a complete stranger. Acknowledge both these feelings by identifying and describing them.
3. Accept your thoughts and emotions.
According to Kogan, the key to connecting with ourselves is doing so without judging our cognitions, feelings or experiences.
“It might feel counterintuitive, but accepting all of your thoughts and emotions — without pushing them away — will actually help you let go of stress and feel more grounded and more awake in the world.”
Instead of judging yourself, again, focus on observing your feelings and noticing the sensations that arise in your body, she said. “Just like a river that flows by us as we stand on the bank to watch it, our feelings will move through us and pass us by.”
You also don’t need to “do anything” or fix your feelings — simply notice, she said.
4. Engage in enjoyable solo activities.
We also can connect with ourselves through solitude — engaging in solo activities that we find energizing or calming. According to Kogan, sample activities include: walking in nature; petting your dog or cat; creating art (focusing on the process, not the product); listening to favorite music; and cooking dinner.
She also suggested recalling the activities you enjoyed as a child and giving those a try today.
“As you do these things note how you are feeling and breathe through the experience.” When tough moments arise in your life, summon these feelings of serenity to help you cope.
5. Practice self-compassion.
“Self-compassion is a big part of connecting to yourself,” Kogan said. Contrary to popular belief, self-compassion isn’t self-indulgent, and it doesn’t lead to complacency.
“Research shows that self-compassion actually correlates to better results whether it be performing in a race, in a courtroom or even feeling comfortable in our own selves.”
Connecting to yourself is a daily process. It entails focusing on our feelings, letting go of judgment and being kind. One step, thought and feeling, at a time.