You’ll never have a relationship more intimate than the one you have with yourself. But that doesn’t mean that it’s going to be good. As fashionable as it is to preach about the importance of loving oneself, most people are engaged in a pale imitation of self-love. A love where they don’t hold themselves accountable, where they don’t take their wishes and needs seriously, and ultimately, where they don’t really know themselves.
The truth is that your relationship with yourself, just like every other relationship in your life, will take work. Sometimes you’ll frustrate yourself, sometimes you’ll disappoint yourself, and you’ll have to learn to work with those realities if you ever hope to love yourself.
In fact, the real problem is that we imagine we have any control over whether we love ourselves at all. We don’t control whether we love anybody else after all. Love isn’t a choice. Yes, you can choose to be in a relationship. You can choose to persevere when the going gets tough. You can choose not to leave. But whether you end up loving the person in question is totally out of your hands.
But when it comes to yourself, however you end up feeling, you aren’t leaving. You aren’t going to get a moment of respite from yourself. Wherever you go, there you’ll be. But you do have one important advantage in your relationship with yourself. Contrary to all that relationship advice about not trying to change the person you’re with, in your relationship with yourself, you can change as much as you want!
So how do you do get started? Let’s begin with a formal introduction.
Say hello to yourself.
If you were to meet yourself what would you think of you? What kind of first impression would you make on yourself? Would you start mindlessly blabbering about yourself or ask questions that would show you were interested in yourself? It’s difficult to really pin down who you are as a person, but figuring out habits like these is a good place to start. There are so many things we do without thinking (or even noticing that we do them) and recognising them is a vital first step in your budding relationship with yourself.
I’m not suggesting that you try to make any changes at this point, you’ve only just met you after all. But recognising these behaviours will be important if you’re going to get closer to yourself. Make a mental note of what you notice, especially if you notice something new. Keeping a journal of the things you notice about yourself is incredibly helpful for this. Don’t worry, I’m sure you’d never violate your privacy by reading it.
Make a personal wishlist.
You know all those things it’s bad form to do in a relationship? The wishing aloud that your partner got on better with your parents, or that they took better care of their diet? You get to turn that critical lens on yourself now! Yay!! This serves two very important purposes.
First, you get to take a look at the habits that you don’t like and do something about them. It’s important to recognise that bad behaviour doesn’t make you a bad person, it highlights bad habits which can be changed if you work at it. And what better reason could there be for working on a bad habit than improving your relationship with your one and only self?
And second, you get to feel what it’s like to be criticised by you. It’s much easier, for example, to wonder why your partner can’t just be nicer to your parents than to acknowledge that you have a hard time being nice to them too sometimes. True, this will pay larger dividends in your relationships with other people than in your relationship with yourself, but this doesn’t all have to be about you you know.
Strive to make yourself happy.
Ok, here’s where things get trickier. Now you know what you want to do, you have to do it. Take your time to negotiate an action plan with yourself. Set yourself reasonable expectations and agree to hold yourself accountable if you slip. Don’t attack yourself for not being perfect. Slipping up doesn’t mean you’re a bad person, just that you’re human. And most importantly, acknowledge and congratulate yourself when you make yourself happy.
Self-improvement is the art of convincing yourself that sticking to the goals you’ve set for yourself matters, even if you’re the only one that would know if you didn’t. Your opinion has to matter to you, otherwise, your relationship with yourself will always be a source of frustration and disappointment. Go ahead, make yourself the happiest person in the world.
Relationships take work.
Even after all of this, there’s no guarantee that your relationship with yourself will be all sunshine and rainbows. All relationships have their ups and downs after all. The important thing is to not expect perfection from yourself but to recognise when you’ve made a mistake and understand why it happened. Maybe you’re being too hard on yourself. Maybe you’re under pressure at work. Maybe your sex life with yourself has started to grow stale.
Whatever the reason, acknowledge that you’re human and forgive yourself. Try to do better next time. Your relationship with yourself isn’t going anywhere, and it’s up to you to decide if it’s going to be based on honesty and growth or whether you’ll become someone you no longer even recognise. You’re going to be in this relationship with yourself for the long haul. So don’t take yourself for granted.