Many of us fantasise about a life in which we are grounded, calm, and able to move about in the world with purpose and compassion. Wouldn’t it be such a luxury to not dissolve into an anxious puddle every time you have an important work deadline? Or to not sizzle like a stress sausage trying to keep your living space and family life in some kind of order? Or not to sink deep into a pool of disappointment and disillusion when thinking about your current life and the one you’d prefer to be living?
Many of these issues that plague us can be linked to a disconnected or dysfunctional relationship with oneself, and psychologists and researchers are now beginning to explore how one might go about recovering and repairing that relationship. They have revealed the benefits of managing our thoughts and emotions, the power of communication to deepen both internal and external relationships, how we can heal and grow through pain and adversity, and what strategies and behaviours help facilitate inner growth and connection.
Below is a list of things that will help you start to repair that relationship with yourself, along with some practical, evidence-based strategies that support the process. While you might get three gold stars in some areas, notice if there are some areas you have some resistance towards. Those are the things that need your attention the most.
1. Look inward.
When building a relationship, you usually start by getting to know each other, right? Being ourselves, we often assume that we know everything that there is to know about who we are, when in truth we’re often a huge, mysterious bundle of impulsive reactions, contradicting thoughts and inconsistent behaviours. The first step towards liking, and dare I say, loving oneself, comes from taking some time-out from the external world every once in a while, and spending some time getting to know your inner one. Here’s how to start…
Meditation. This activity allows you to press pause on the daily grind and take a peek at what’s happening within. Start small, with 5 or 10 minute sessions (you can set a timer, or find a piece of music to support you in the space). Find a place where you won’t be disturbed for a couple of minutes, take a comfortable seated position and take a few deep breaths. Allow your breath to return to normal, and as you do, gently bring your awareness to your body. Notice any sensations (whether physical, or broadly sensory like hearing/tasting, etc.) that you might be experiencing in the moment. Don’t attempt to analyse, influence or alter these sensations. Just let them exist, and note them – gently, like you might nudge a balloon with your finger tips – as “sensing” whenever they arise.
2. Think differently.
We have this idea that us humans are very rational creatures, and that every thought that pops into our head must be real and true. Only thing is that that’s not always the case – particularly for those of us who have anxious, depressive or overly self-critical tendencies. The way we think about things is influenced by a myriad of factors, including our genes, our upbringing, our personality and our environment. It can be valuable to develop a more objective understanding of your thoughts, which then gives you the power to choose which thoughts help facilitate a positive relationship with yourself, and which ones don’t.
Thought Challenging. This exercise allows you to start to de-identify with the thoughts that are rolling around in your brain and engage with them in a more rational and objective way. Grab yourself a journal or notepad and write down a thought that might be currently troubling you, for example “My boss wants to talk to me tomorrow and I know she’s going to tell me I’m doing a terrible job and I’m going to get fired and my life will be over.” Then ask yourself the following questions:
What are some alternative ways of looking at this?
“Maybe my boss wants to talk to me about a new work project or to give me positive feedback?..”
What factual evidence is there for these thoughts and beliefs?
“I’m always told I do good work, so perhaps it’s unlikely that I’m going to get fired…”
What is the worst case scenario if this thought is true?
“If I do get fired, I’ll need to look for another job. Maybe move in with my parents. I guess my life won’t be over, but it will suck for a bit…”
What is the usefulness of this belief? Is it motivating? Does it help you?
“I guess it’s not so helpful to work myself up over this, considering it’s outside my control…”
3. Be nice to myself.
When you want to deepen your relationship with someone else, it’s usually a smart move to actually be nice to them. Shock. Horror. This applies to your relationship with yourself too. When you’re in the habit of putting yourself down, running yourself ragged, and treating yourself like shit, it’s no wonder that you’re blocking the growth of that important inward connection. The easiest place to start is being nice to your body…
Simple Self-Care. Your brain is an organ in your body. So when you’re taking care of your physical health, you’re taking care of your mental health too. Here are the kindest things you can do for your body.
Sleep – 8hrs is a good benchmark, but we tend to need different amounts of sleep depending on our age and our lifestyle. Track your bedtimes and wake times, and note how you felt throughout the day to gauge how much sleep your body and mind need.
Move – You don’t need to sign up for a marathon, but physical activity has a range of incredible benefits, so try to find something you enjoy (or hate the least…). It could be as simple as a daily walk.
Eat (Mostly) Well – Food is fuel, and we all run better on good quality fuel. Eat a balanced diet, full of lots of plants and protein. But don’t beat yourself up for enjoying a treat every so often. What’s that boring saying “It’s all about balance”. You’ve got to find a balance that works for you.
Drink Water – Like, two litres of it. Every day. Your body needs it.
Physical self-care is one thing, but there are also other kinds of care we need to be giving ourselves too, from social, emotional, vocational and spiritual care. We explore those in Session 7 of Get Your Shit Together | Online Course. Check it out now.
4. Let go and forgive.
Understandably we fear loss, pain and suffering, and try desperately to avoid them. When we experience suffering at the hands of someone else, we often make a silent agreement with ourselves that we will not be hurt like that again. We put up walls to protect ourselves, become resentful and judgmental and refuse to extend forgiveness because we fear it will make us vulnerable again. Look beyond the anger, resentment and inability to forgive and you’ll find fear. Look beneath the fear and you’ll find a well-intentioned (but poorly applied) love for self. As you start to heal the fearful self, you’ll begin to disassemble the walls you built, becoming braver, more curious and more compassionate along the way. So how to start?
Forgive & Flourish. This is an activity designed to help you begin the process of healing the hurt & fearful self. Think of a person who you are holding a grudge against or someone you have unresolved conflict with (remember, this person can also be you). Ask yourself the following questions:
Who is this person?
What was the event that caused tension between you?
How do you feel about it?
In your own words and in your own way, try to forgive that person.
What resistance did you feel arise in response to these questions?
Remember, you’re working on forgiveness and letting go for you. That means that the other person might not ever receive or even deserve your forgiveness. This is a personal process to help you lighten your emotional load.
This stuff can be challenging to work through alone, so it’s useful to have some help – that’s when a therapist can come in handy. Session 4 of Get Your Shit Together | Online Course also dives a little deeper on the journey of forgiveness and letting go.
5. Communicate my needs.
We do not exist in isolation – but rather, in a network of interactions and relationships with other people. Other people have the power to influence us in profound ways, for better or for worse, and often this external influence goes on to impact the way in which we relate to and see ourselves. When we don’t communicate our needs to others, or communicate in hostile and aggressive ways, we reduce our chances of having our needs met, and as a result, reduce the likelihood of feeling secure and supported in a relationship. The key to effective communication lies in being assertive– that is, being calm and rational when communicating, stating your needs & feelings clearly, not blaming others for your emotions and reactions and standing up for your rights without violating other peoples.
Stick to the facts. Be non-judgemental and specific. What is an objective, non-emotionally charged way you can communicate the situation?
Use “I” statements to take ownership over what you think & feel. “I think” or “I felt”, and avoid blaming or accusatory language like “you made me feel like…”
Ask for what you want. Here’s where you set your boundaries. State clearly what you want from the other person/the relationship in the future. With your boundaries in mind, what compromises are you willing to make to resolve the situation? What compromises are you not prepared to make?
If you’re keen on developing your communication skills to better support your relational health, we have more info and exercises in Session 6 of Get Your Shit Together | Online Course. You can learn more about the course here.
6. Stick to healthy habits.
Where as many people think that healthy habits are the first step in turning one’s life around, they can actually be one of the last things to stick. That’s because often our reluctance to commit to sustained, healthy behaviours comes, not from a lack of self-discipline or willpower, but more so from our poor intra-personal relationships. These relationships often run on a subtle and often unconscious dialogue of “You’re not worthy of looking or feeling your best” or “You’ll never achieve that goal, so don’t both trying”. However, long-term, positive change is a result of committed, daily action.
Goal setting is a way to help those healthy habits stick a little easier.
Set a clear and actionable goal. For example, instead of striving to “lose weight” or “look good”, think about the actions you will take to move towards that ideal self, such as “I will commit to three exercise classes per week this year”.
Find the time. Our lives are busy and so, in order to remain committed to the cultivation of our healthy habits, we need to find time for them. Pick a day each week where you schedule in times and dates to make your habits possible for the week ahead. For example, booking in your three exercise classes for the week every Sunday afternoon.
Affirm it. To tackle those deeper feelings of unworthiness, think of the deeper feeling or value that you seek to connect with through the cultivation of this habit. For example, “regular exercise will help me feel strong and energised.” Then, shape a phrase affirming those feelings or values in relation to yourself, such as “I am a strong and energetic person” or “Every day, I am growing stronger and more energised.” Write down the affirmation and read it each day, or write it in a journal before bed as often as you can.
Don’t flake on yourself. If you had a friend that stood you up for everything you organised together, it wouldn’t make for a very nice relationship, would it? So try not to flake on yourself. Of course, life gets in the way from time to time, but try to pick your habit straight back up where you left off. Remember, this is a commitment to yourself, and you are bloody worth it.
There is so much to be said about habit-forming and long-term commitment. If you’re curious to read more about it, I’d recommend James Clear’s Atomic Habits.
It can be a tough time reinventing your inward relationship but there really is no rush. Baby steps are better than no steps. And you can be guaranteed that once you foster a better relationship with yourself you will begin to see your external relationships improve, and your relationship blossom with external experiences and opportunities. Best of luck showing yourself some love this year. You deserve it.
This post was written by @ashking – Indigo’s Content Manager and resident horror movie fanatic. If you’re keen to do a little more work on your inward relationship, you’ll love our online course, Get Your Shit Together! Or you can get customised guidance by booking a one-on-one session with one of our Indigo practitioners.