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 patterns of behaviour when ‘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 ourself and make sure that we’re able to deal with negative thoughts and emotions so they don’t build up over time.
What influences our relationship with ourself?
One way is by adopting a pattern of thinking similar to what we use in our relationships with others – a role we tend to cast ourselves in that can become ingrained over time.
When we’re young, we tend to learn patterns of behaviour 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 patterns. 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, we ‘compare ourselves to what might be’. The media sometimes depicts an idea of the ‘perfect’ life – successful, fun, packed full of adventure – and it can be very discouraging if you feel that your own life falls short.
How does having a negative relationship with yourself affect you?
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 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 to 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.
This is similar to a couple not getting on who avoid talking to each other – warm feelings are replaced by resentment and negative thoughts.
How do I start liking myself?
How you communicate with yourself is key to how you think about yourself.
You might start by simply trying to listen to the voice in your head and noticing times when it’s phrasing things negatively. 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, 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 around. 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.
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 with 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. Having a support network around you often means you’ve got a better chance of talking about anything bothering you or causing you to feel less happy.
If you would like to talk with one of our counsellors about what you feel about yourself, do contact our friendly appointments team on 01234 356350.