A healthy relationship with ourselves is multi-layered. It’s complicated. It consists of many, many parts—just like any relationship with anyone. And just like any relationship, there are important ingredients to cultivating a loving, compassionate partnership.
A healthy relationship with ourselves includes having a connected relationship with our bodies, according to Karin Lawson, Psy.D, a psychologist in private practice in Miami, Fla., who works with adults using a mind-body approach.
What does this look like?
We tune into our body’s cues and respond to them. For instance, we might notice that our jaw clenches and our stomach hurts every time we talk to a certain person. Responding to these cues might mean setting stricter, stronger boundaries or no longer spending time with them.
Stephanie Kang believes that a healthy relationship consists of making room for all of you—including your insecurities and imperfections. You have a “sense of wholeness and the feeling that you’re free to be your true self…” said Kang, a coach and counselor who guides her clients toward greater self-acceptance and personal transformation.
A healthy relationship also is based on curiosity and knowledge about our motives, intentions, needs, said Terina Lopez, a mental health counselor who specializes in eating disorders, anxiety, depression and identity development. It involves examining our actions and our whys—why do I feel the way I feel? —and making appropriate adjustments or changes.
A healthy relationship with ourselves is an ongoing process—again, just like any relationship. Below, you’ll find a list of ways to cultivate a kind, meaningful, fulfilling relationship with yourself every day.
Notice your inner chatter. Pay attention to what you regularly tell yourself. Pay attention to what you say when you’re facing a challenge or a stressful situation. “Starting to notice this is a great first step because it is often so unconscious,” Kang said. “Once we become more aware of how we relate to ourselves, we can reflect on what effect it’s having, and how we want to change.”
Use relaxation techniques to connect to your body. Lawson practices diaphragmatic breathing, progressive muscle relaxation and yoga to better hear her body. These techniques help us pay attention to subtle cues that we gloss over every day as we focus more on our tasks and to-dos. Over time, through engaging in these types of practices and taking the time to tune into your body, you’ll develop a familiar knowing.
She shared these examples: “Oh, there’s that annoying pain starting in my neck, maybe I need to go for a 5-minute walk and get some fresh air,” or “I’m feeling so numb and disconnected, I probably need to get stimulated with some aromatherapy or a call to my best friend.”
“Recognizing what’s going on physically can instigate our own care and responsiveness to our emotions, great qualities in any friendship,” Lawson said.
Check in with yourself regularly. According to Lopez, in general, “people have become so preoccupied with doing, we hardly examine how we are feeling.” However, connecting to ourselves helps us make informed decisions and actually ensure that our priorities are priorities, she said.
Lopez suggested regularly asking ourselves these questions:
- How am I taking care of myself?
- What can I do to improve my self-care practices?
- How can I make time for these practices?
- How satisfied do I feel in my personal and professional relationships?
- What changes can I make to improve the quality of these relationships?
- What is taking the most time out of my day? Am I content with the activities I’m spending the most time on? If the answer is no, what changes can I make?
- Do I feel connected to something I think is important and valuable?
Practice self-acceptance. See the parts of yourself that you dislike as part of being human, Kang said. She suggested sharing your flaws and insecurities with a close friend, or a coach or counselor. “[O]ften this leads to a sense of relief, and even the realization that the things we are most afraid to show are often super common and relatable experiences.”
Also, imagine how you’d respond to a loved one’s flaws and insecurities, and try to apply this to yourself, she said. Finally, practice self-compassion, which is a skill you can learn.
Surround yourself with loving people. “Though building a healthy relationship with yourself is ultimately something you have to go through on your own, it can help tremendously to have a positive community,” Kang said. It’s also helpful to spend time with people who have healthy relationships with themselves, she said.
Limit negative media. According to Kang, “anything that leaves you feeling less good about yourself is something you can live without.” Think about the different things you are consuming right now, and how they influence your relationship with yourself. Be intentional about what you expose yourself to. For instance, you might decide to stop buying magazines that feature articles about losing weight and getting a “bikini body.”
Explore the obstacles. “Look at what’s getting in the way of having the relationship that you want with yourself,” Kang said. She also suggested exploring past moments and situations that have hurt your relationship with yourself. How might you heal them? How might you move on? How can you navigate these obstacles today?
Our relationship with ourselves is the foundation for everything. It is “the foundation for all other relationships in our lives,” Kang said. “And you are the only person who will be with you for your entire life.” So, it’s not an exaggeration to say that building a healthy relationship with ourselves is vital and worthwhile. Maybe even urgent.