There’s an assortment of articles about helping us build healthy relationships with our partners and loved ones. But we don’t hear nearly as much about the most important relationship in our lives: the one with ourselves.
As writer and photographer Susannah Conway said, “Your relationship with yourself is the foundation of everything.”
Having a good relationship with yourself gives you important insights into your life. For instance, years ago, John Duffy worked as an accountant. But he wasn’t happy with his career path. “I had to look within to determine who I was and what I wanted,” said Duffy, Ph.D, now a clinical psychologist and author of the popular book The Available Parent: Radical Optimism for Raising Teens and Tweens.
“Were I not eager to get to know myself well, I would not have made the career change that allowed for so much possibility and happiness in my life,” he said.
Having a good relationship with yourself improves your relationships with others. Conway compared it to the safety instructions on airplanes: Put on your oxygen mask before putting it on anyone else, even a child.
“I have learned, through experiences in and out of the therapy room, that if we are not connected and emotionally available to ourselves, we cannot be connected and emotionally available for others either,” Duffy said.
So what does a healthy relationship with yourself look like?
“A healthy self-relationship is the ability to value yourself as a person, and embrace your strengths and weaknesses,” said Julie Hanks, LCSW, a therapist and blogger at Psych Central. She’s realized that her strengths and weaknesses are two sides of the same coin. “I am a passionate and creative person and with those strengths comes the tendency to be disorganized and emotionally overwhelmed,” she said.
“It means simply considering yourself, every day,” Duffy said. That consideration includes self-care, self-respect, goodwill and self-love, he said.
A healthy relationship looks like kindness, said Conway, also an e-course creator and author of This I Know: Notes on Unraveling the Heart. “We have unconditional love for our family and loved ones — we need to extend that to ourselves, too,” she said.
Regardless of whether you’re used to extending love and kindness your way, you can build and bolster that healthy bond. These are six ideas on cultivating a good relationship with yourself.
1. Care for your needs.
According to Hanks, “A great place to start cultivating a healthy relationship with yourself is by caring for your basic physical needs.” That includes getting enough sleep and rest, eating nutrients and exercising.
Conway agreed. She stressed the importance of giving yourself the space to discover and connect to “what feeds you in mind, body and spirit.”
2. Joy is important.
“Prioritize the activities that bring you joy and fill your emotional reserves,” Hanks said. Conway suggested giving yourself treats every day, such as “a walk in the park, a small bar of chocolate, a long bath [or] a yoga class.”
3. Focus on your inner world.
According to Hanks, a healthy relationship with yourself also includes being aware of your internal processes. She suggested simply asking yourself these questions on a regular basis: “What am I feeling? What am I thinking?”
Also, consider the why behind your behavior, thoughts and feelings. For instance, Hanks suggested asking: “I wonder why that’s bothering me? I wonder why I’m feeling more lonely lately?”
Journaling and therapy are other vehicles for becoming more self-aware, she said.
4. Regularly make time for yourself.
For instance, “Sit quietly for 10 minutes in the morning with your first cup of coffee,” Conway said. “Find books that speak to your soul and steal moments to dig into them every day,” she said.
“I find the most useful method to be the gift, to oneself, of a daily meditation,” Duffy said. “In those moments between the thoughts, we allow ourselves peace of mind that can carry us through even the most stressful days.” These are several suggestions on meditating:
6. Be your own best friend.
“Any time you hear the negative put-downs swirling around your head, think about what you’d say to your best friend or sister or daughter, and then rewrite the script with love,” Conway said.
Again, cultivating a positive relationship with yourself is the building block for your whole world. As Hanks said, “It’s crucial to have a great relationship with ourselves because it’s the only relationship that you are guaranteed to have every day of your life!”