Is your Relationship to self a healthy one?
The most important relationship
Relationship to self is the basis for the relationship to others and how one experiences life. It is what determines self-esteem or the lack thereof. It is what determines one’s ability to focus and work towards a goal. It is what determines one’s ability to express thoughts and feelings. It determines one’s level of involvement with the world. It determines whether one is comfortable being alone or is often lonely. It also determines the level of anxiety and stress one must deal with daily.
Trauma can damage how your relationship develops
Early trauma/abuse of any type and severity usually leads to an obstructive and contentious relationship to self. This is because as a dependent child one’s survival depends on good enough caretaking. When the care is not good enough or even abusive, the child blames himself. He must feel like he has more control over what is happening to him because it is too scary to not have basic needs met. Also, getting mad at a parent is presumed to make matters worse. So the child blames and gets mad at himself. He has no other choice.
He thinks there is something wrong with him that he will correct and then everything will go well. Of course, that doesn’t work because it is not his fault, and he doesn’t have much control over his care. The consequences to the child of thinking and feeling this way about himself are devastating. His good sense of himself evaporates. He becomes shy and withdrawn, fearful of the way he imagines others are thinking and feeling about him. Isolation and loneliness engulf him.
This is a place in development that some people understandably get stuck in and can’t mature beyond. Something needs to happen to get the maturation process unstuck and progressing again. Usually, it involves some kind of help from another. Talking with a professional can be a very efficient way of growing past this stuck place, where the quality of life is not very good. The professional knows what is needed to get development back on track. Friends and family certainly mean well but they don’t want to feel bad for their loved one so they try to get him/her out of it with suggestions or some kind of fix. This doesn’t work and often makes it worse because it can lead to more withdrawal and isolation. The professional knows from her own experiences in therapy and training that what is needed is to feel the fear and pain in a deeply empathic way with undivided attention and be able to speak about it in a kind and caring way. There is no shortcut to this process. This is what is needed for endurable change.
Along with this empathic attention, what is also needed is some feedback on the quality of the relationship to self. Awareness of this crucial relationship is essential for further growth and development. Warm, kind and empathic attention and care are vitally important and as a child that is probably enough, but as an adult, it isn’t. The adult has become somewhat set in negative ways of relating to self and awareness of this mostly subconscious pattern is necessary for it to change. It has to change because life is barely worth living in a depressed state from the constant oppression of self. What needs to happen is more empathic understanding and acceptance of oneself even in the face of intense existential pain. Pain is unavoidable even if we are the primary cause of it. We are human and full of flaws and make many mistakes leading to feelings of loss and disappointment. Berating ourselves doesn’t prevent this even though that is the intention. Turning against ourselves in a punishing way is a completely unsuccessful method of facilitating growth. It has a fear based motivation that is ineffective and induces anger and rebelliousness.
One of the important goals in psychotherapy, as I practice it, is to change the relationship to self so that it becomes more forgiving. Loss, disappointment, conflict, loneliness, anxiety, anger, and fears are all part of being human. They are all inevitable. We can’t go through even a single day not experiencing most of them. So why then fight with ourselves when one or more of these feelings is impacting us? It only makes things more painful. Being easy with ourselves is especially important when we know we’re the primary cause of feeling one of these ways, like when we make a mistake that triggers disappointment. Developing a forgiving attitude towards ourselves and surrendering to the disappointment allows us to know ourselves better and learn from our mistakes. This accepting attitude allows us to reflect upon our experiences and learn from them, whereas a contentious attitude toward oneself makes this a dangerous venture. We could turn against ourself at any moment and then we’re mired in self-hate when all we wanted was to understand what happened.