We all have a relationship with ourselves, just as we have relationships with the other people around us. We all tend to think of ourselves in a certain way, and might have certain patterns of behaviour when it comes to ‘interacting’ with ourselves.
When someone says they ‘don’t like’ themselves, what they’re often describing is having a poor relationship with themselves – that they’ve come to think of themselves in negative terms or regard themselves as not having much worth.
However, just like our relationships with other people, it’s important to be able to look after our relationship with self and make sure that we’re able to deal with negative thoughts and emotions so they don’t build up over time.
One way is by the agency of ‘scripts’ that we learn through our relationships with others. A script is a pattern of thinking – a role we tend to cast ourselves in that can become ingrained over time. We’re not always aware of the scripts we ‘play out’ in relationships.
When we’re young, we tend to learn scripts from the people looking after us. For instance, a child who didn’t receive much support from their parents when they were little – who was never comforted when they hurt themselves, or ignored when they were upset – might learn to regard themselves as undeserving of support.
Our experiences later in life can also define these scripts. For instance, someone who always found themselves in the role of ‘peacekeeper’ in a relationship might take that forward into other relationships later on. Or someone who was cheated on might struggle to trust future partners.
Our relationship with ourselves can also be affected by how satisfied we feel with our place in the world. If we feel things aren’t going well – perhaps if we feel we haven’t enjoyed the professional success we’ve always wanted, or don’t feel respected by our friends or colleagues – we may end up blaming ourselves, deciding that there must be something wrong with us for things to be this way.
Social influences can also have a powerful part to play. Again, this relates to this idea of ‘comparing’ ourselves to what might be. The media can depict an unhealthy idea of the ‘perfect’ life – successful, fun, packed full of adventure – and it can be very discouraging if you feel that your own falls short.
One common consequence is the development of a highly negative dialogue with yourself. You may begin to think of yourself in negative terms, or take on an aggressive or critical tone when thinking. We often use words to describe ourselves (‘I’m such an idiot’) that we would never use to describe other people. And when you think poorly of yourself, this can be even worse – you may find yourself habitually using this language in a way that is very damaging to your self-esteem.
Over time, having a negative perception of yourself can cause you to become distant from your emotions. You may want avoid interacting with the ‘self’ that you feel is such a let-down. You may start to feel less, to try less, to feel more and more pessimistic about your future. If we think in terms of it being your relationship with yourself that’s breaking down, this is similar to a couple who aren’t getting on avoiding talking to each other – warm feelings replaced by resentment and negative thoughts.
The single most important thing is to try to switch up this negative dialogue. How you communicate with yourself is absolutely key to how you think about think about yourself.
You might like to start by simply trying to listen to the voice in your head and noticing times when it might be phrasing things in a negative way. Many people find it useful to keep a diary of what they’ve been thinking each day. Once you become more aware of what your mind is doing, you may be more able to address these patterns.
Once you’ve started doing this, you might like to try replacing the negative language with more positive. Instead of thinking ‘I’m an idiot’, try thinking ‘I’m not perfect, but nobody is’. Instead of thinking ‘I’m a failure’, try ‘I’m doing my best’. This is easier said than done, of course – but if you stick at it, you may find it becomes a positive habit over time.
Also crucial is that you learn to forgive yourself for the imperfections that make you human. Nobody is perfect. The vast majority of people feel that they aren’t reaching their absolute full potential. We all make mistakes – including big ones. We often hear the phrase ‘treat other people as you would treat yourself’ – well, it also works the other way round. Try to be kind to yourself in the way that you would be kind to others. Again, this is a positive habit and it may take time to form, but once you get into the swing of it, you may find it gives you the freedom to reject the preconceptions of perfection – to just be you. Be gentle on yourself.
And our final tip would be to focus on your relationships with other people. The better you feel about other people around you, the better you’re likely to feel about yourself. If you feel supported, loved and able to talk to other people, you’re far more likely to feel optimistic about the future. Positive relationships are key to self-worth: they’re like a safety net against isolation. Additionally, having a support network around you means you’ve got a better chance of talking about anything that might be bothering you or causing you to feel less happy.
Relate is very well known for couples counselling. But a big part of our work is individual counselling – exploring the relationship you have with your ‘self’.
If you would like to talk to someone Relationship Counselling, offers a safe and confidential space where you can be open and honest.
To find out more and to arrange an appointment contact us today