Improving the Relationship with Ourselves
with Dr. Lydiana Garcia
As we are celebrating love and relationships this February, we needed to talk about the most important relationship we can have, our relationship with ourselves. Relationship with others come and go but in the end, we will always just have ourselves. We need to learn how to foster that relationship and create a way to relate to ourselves in a way that honors us, and that helps others see and respect us and relate to us in that way.
There is that saying that if you don't know how to love yourself, then nobody will love you. But I disagree with that. I believe that we learn how to love by others loving us, we don't need to necessarily wait until we learn how to love ourselves. It was also such a vague statement - what is loving yourself and what is enough.
When you foster that relationship with yourself, and you work towards that self-love, self-compassion, a lot of great things start to happen. A lot of relationships that were not serving you start to dissipate and go away because now you're relating to yourself in a new way, and you're not allowing things that probably you were allowing before.
Bringing curiosity and a non-judgmental stance when exploring and approaching ourselves can be so eye-opening into your own relationship with yourself. This will help you be a little more objective and not take things personal or helps to not, necessarily, activate super strong emotional reaction.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself once you step into that curios, non-judgmental mode:
- How do you relate to yourself when you're struggling?
- How do you relate to yourself when you're doing great?
- How do you relate to yourself when you need help?
- How do you relate to yourself when you make a mistake?
You can go on and on about how you’d relate to yourself in different situations. It can be when you're at work, when you're at home, when you are with your caregivers, when you're with your children, and so on.
Some factors that contributed to how we relate to ourselves
As we’re exploring how we are relating to ourselves, the next question is where is this coming from? Where did we learn this way of relating to ourselves?
1. How we were raised by our caregivers. One of them is going to be more about how we were brought up or how we were raised by our caregivers, whoever was the presence in our lives raising ourselves. This is not only with how they related to us, what they said to us, but also how they related to themselves.
Observation is one of the most basic ways of learning. As human beings, a lot of times we verbalize our thoughts, for example, you might say things like, "Oh, this doesn't look good.. oh, look, I'm so fat,” If you're verbalizing these and you have a child near you that is unable to discern and differentiate things, he/she may start internalizing. We also have the media that goes into so many different biases and implicit messages that are passed on based on your race, your gender, or if you're a non-binary based on your appearance, your age, and we can go on and on.
2. Things that we internalized. Then there’s that part of what we internalize like internalized oppression and racism, where it’s more about the things that we saw, the things that happen to us, or that we saw happen to other people.
3. Collective or intergenerational trauma. How our parents or caregivers talk to us, what they went through and how those habits are being passed on, how they talk to themselves, how they related to themselves if they made a mistake, how they reacted to you if you made a mistake, all these things play a part.
When you're living in different traumas, like poverty or immigration, and your parents/caregivers are struggling to make ends meet or are afraid that something bad happen to you because of many different factors, a lot of times, those caregivers tend to be more authoritarian. They tend to use more of that fear to control, and that control is based on their own fear that something can happen to you. If you're a parent or a caregiver, and you're struggling with having a very strong reaction whenever your child makes a mistake, try to reflect on it and to really assess where that reaction is coming from.
4. Any kind of experience you’ve had with other people. Any kind of experience starting even from the caregivers, to those from your school, your teachers, your peers, any other interaction with any other organization in the community, any sports, and all those experiences later on, from your jobs or if you pursue higher education, all those experiences with others. They can definitely shape us and can add into a meaning.
Now that I'm doing this distance learning, I know logically that all children have their own level of development, and that it's not good to pressure them and yet, when I see that my child is “behind" or is not paying attention, it triggers me. I've noticed moments where I’d have this very strong reaction. And I think that trigger comes from my own generational trauma patterns in terms of how in the older generation, if their children didn't do good, that meant that they could end up in a position they did not want. They were really pushing for education because that was the way that they thought in that moment that could give them a better future for their children. It was an unspoken expectation and I knew that if I would lack behind, then I internalized that there was something wrong with me. That's just a simple example of how my own trauma and generational trauma triggers me, then I’d react based on the fear of not wanting my child to end up in a certain way.
But the way that a child internalizes these kind of situation is a little different. They didn't know all that backup story. They only know that when they make a mistake, there's a big consequence, or mommy gets very upset. Then they would start internalizing, “there must be something wrong with me” or that “if I make a mistake, I'm a dumb person”. For the most part, this is how you start creating those interpretation and the relationship you have with yourself.
Steps to improve your relationship with yourself
When you do this work, I definitely recommend doing it very slow, and super gentle because there might be a lot of memories that you were pushing away, and it might feel very intense because that inner child might be just experiencing it raw.
1. Add curiosity and non-judgmental view into your life. The more that you add curiosity into your life, the more that you see things on a different perspective. One simple exercise would be seeing yourself from a third person so you’ll get a little separation from yourself and speak from that perspective. The more that you add that curiosity and non-judgmental view, the broader the perspective brain opens up, and when you open up the perspective then you open up the opportunity to change from a different way.
2. Listen to your self-talk. As you bring that curiosity, try to also start listening to yourself, to that self talk, to your feeling and sensations at the moment. Pay close attention not only to what you say or the words you use, but also to how you say it, your tone of voice, and if there is an underlying message, like sarcasm or any of that. Because how we talk to ourselves, can make us or break us.
This can include assessing where you are in your window of tolerance or your capacity to stay regulated. This way you can lower your expectations and be very gentle with yourself when you feel like your window of tolerance is very thin or small, until you work towards expanding that window of tolerance. Try to also assess where you are in that regulation. Are you feeling more in that fight or flight, or are you more in the shutdown, not having energy for anything mode. These will help you explore where you are.
3. Validate whatever is going on in your life. One of the steps that therapists do and were trained on, and that I find to be so healing in itself is validating. This is not justifying the behavior but just validating the situation you’re in. After you listen and assess where you are, then you can have that self-talk or even out loud, tell yourself things like, “I can see that you're struggling..” “I see that you did not sleep.” “I can see that you're going through X, Y and Z and you feel this way…” Do this in a calm manner and with a positive regard and radical acceptance for your self.
4. Find that compassionate way to yourself. Some people are struggling with this because of their complex history of trauma. They have not experienced compassion from other people and the modeling is very limited. One simple exercise that you could do is imagining that you were your own best friend. What you would tell yourself if you were your own best friend, how would you talk to your best friend in a gentle compassionate way.
There are also some shows that portrayed parents in this kind of mode, one of them is Daniel, the tiger and his mom is practicing all these skills. It's a cartoon for preschool kids. If you need like a visual and you have no idea, then would invite you to watch a show like that. Another thing could be of listening to podcasts about parenting, conscious parenting and respectful parenting. When you see and hear the way that they're relating, or recommend relating to children, then that could also be the internalized new voice that could help with that new relationship with yourself. It's like imagining that you have an internalized ideal parent that is just being there for you, it can also be your internalized older self, wiser self, higher self, however you like to call it.
5. Explore and attend to your needs. This is such a very important step. You can use the Basic Human Needs and Feelings PDF from The Center for Nonviolent Communication. It has a list of a person’s basic needs and are categorized to physical well-being, connection, meaning, honesty, play, peace and autonomy. It can help you explore where you are and identify the need/s that are not being met in the moment, and then finding ways on how you can fulfill and nurture yourself.
When you start not only recognizing your needs but fulfilling them, you're going to start building that trust. Your own self is going to start feeling that it can count on you, and that you’re there for your self.
I hope these are helpful and I am so looking forward to hear how you are improving your relationship with yourself and feel free to reach out if there's any questions via social media or send an email to [email protected].
For those of you that have no idea, we're creating this community via The Mighty Network App, you’ll find the link to join below. It’s a go-to place where I'll be starting very soon to be more involved and offering free community events so people can easily reach out and ask questions.