You have to live with yourself without even a toilet break
If you knew that someone was going to be not just with you but actually inside your head for every second of your life, right from the start, to the very end, without even so much as the occasional toilet break, you’d probably think it worth investing at least a little time and effort into getting to know them and building a good relationship with them, wouldn’t you?
Newsflash: that person is you. You have to live your whole life with YOU.
So your relationship with yourself is pretty damn important, right? Family, friends, partners and colleagues will come and go, but you will always be there. (And if you find that depressing, you definitely need to keep reading.)
You’re not nice to yourself
Bizarrely, you’ll probably treat (most of!) the other people in your life with more care, kindness, patience and understanding than you do yourself.
I mean, WTAF?
Hopefully we can agree that a healthy relationship involves both parties doing stuff like putting time and energy into getting to know and understand each other; doing their best to do what will make the other happy and to not do what will make them unhappy; treating each other with kindness and patience; being open, honest and vulnerable with each other; seeing what is breathtakingly amazing and deeply fucking annoying in each other and loving it all (even if it is through gritted teeth occasionally).
How much of that happens in your relationship with yourself?
Consider for a moment how you talk to yourself in the privacy of your own head. Would you ever speak to another person in such a critical, judgemental, unkind way?
Of course you bloody wouldn’t.
(Sorry, what’s that? YOU would? Oh. Erm, this blog may not be for you. Have you ever read Jon Ronson’s The Psychopath Test? Just curious…Moving on…)
Do you beat yourself up for making a “mistake”? But offer kindness and reassurance to others when they make a mistake?
Do you feel guilty if you prioritise – or even want to prioritise – your own needs? But encourage and support others to take time for themselves?
Do you find fault with your appearance? But see the beauty in others?
Do you dwell on your “faults”? But talk up the good qualities of others?
Do you not really know who you are or what you want? But encourage others to be themselves and follow their dreams?
If you were treating another person the way you’re treating yourself, would that person be feeling good about themselves? Valued? Loved – or even lovable?
I think the fuck not.
Treating someone else like that would normally be described as abusive, wouldn’t it?
Being a git to yourself has a knock-on effect
And what kind of example does it set to others about how it’s ok to treat you? If you don’t consider yourself worthy of prioritisation or kindness, how can you expect anyone else to?
Of course, there are people out there who will see all that is amazing about you and do their best to convince you of it, and that can really help. But, when it comes down to it, self-acceptance is your responsibility, and, if you’re not prepared to work on it for yourself as well, then your dependence on others for any sense of self-worth and self-belief will make you needy and unintentionally demanding.
When your relationship with yourself is so bad that you need relationships with others to validate you, then the risk is that your neediness will either become very wearing for the people closest to you, or be manipulated by them for their own benefit.
Your relationship with yourself not only affects you 24/7 for the whole of your life (as if that wasn’t enough!), but it also affects your relationships with others. Makes it something of a big deal, wouldn’t you agree? Something worth working on…
It’s not you…it’s a hall of mirrors
The biggest problem in our relationship with ourselves is that we’re often not having a relationship with our true selves. Yeah, sounds weird, I know. But hear me out.
The “self” we’re relating to is a distorted image in a hall of mirrors created from other people’s expectations and judgements, their values and beliefs. We see not how we are, but how we’re not the people we’ve come to think we should be.
We see an image coloured by the criticisms – actual or perceived, direct or implied, well-meaning or otherwise – of our families, friends, partners, communities, colleagues. We see that we don’t look like the people who keep showing up on our screens. We don’t have what they have, we don’t dress like they do, we don’t live like they do.
As social media and the mass media bombard us with heavily edited images and stories of perfection and success, we are sucked into focusing on all the ways in which we feel we don’t measure up, on our failings and our failures.
We are not encouraged to understand ourselves better, to explore all that is absolutely bloody fabulous about us, to accept and value ourselves as we are. Instead, our self-doubt is carefully nurtured and we are urged to “transform”, to “become who we want to be” – ie to stop being our unique selves and to conform to what we’re being told we should be.
All too often, it’s that distorted reflection in the hall of mirrors that we’re criticising and judging, even hating.
My hall of mirrors
I am what I now know to be an introvert. I need time alone to recharge my energy; I like deep connection with small groups and am horribly, embarrassingly uncomfortable with small talk in big groups; my preference is to process information, ideas, thoughts and feelings internally before sharing externally.
From an early age I was aware of well-meaning adults expressing concern about me reading too much, being too quiet, not joining in with other children. Teachers complained about my failure to contribute sufficiently to class discussions; managers and colleagues criticised me for not speaking up enough in meetings. It was painfully obvious that I wasn’t like the confident, outgoing, fun, cool people on the tv, in films, in magazines, in adverts and, eventually (I'm a fair bit older than the interweb), on social media. In all sorts of contexts, I was given to understand that my natural way of being in and dealing with the world was “wrong”.
So, did I become someone who liked herself for giving others space to express themselves; for being a good listener; for thinking before she spoke (mostly)? Did I see my enjoyment of quiet time alone as admirable self-sufficiency?
Did I fuck.
I’ve spent most of my life beating myself for being some kind of anti-social weirdo incapable of normal social interaction.
(The truth is, of course, that introversion or extroversion are not better or more desirable than one another, but simply different ways of being - see here for a bite-sized clip from Susan Cain and the RSA on this).
Your uniqueness is your greatest gift
Diversity is powerful force for creativity and problem-solving, meaning that our uniqueness – that utterly unique combination of genes, qualities and experiences that is YOU – is the greatest gift we have to offer the world…but we all too often withhold it. Society is (I hope) waking up to this, but I fear that it’s going to take a while for the walk to catch up with the talk…
And, in the meantime, it’s not just possible but alarmingly easy to go through life each trapped in our own hall of mirrors, inhabiting our bodies, minds, hearts, and souls without truly seeing or knowing them, without ever loving them.
Ensnared in this illusion, lacking self-belief, self-worth and self-awareness, we thrash about trying to deny who we are and be who we think we should be, basically pissing away our chances to make the most of this incredible, one-off, limited availability opportunity called Life.
Escaping your hall of mirrors
Can we escape our hall of mirrors? Absofuckinglutely.
The bad news is that there isn’t a blueprint for the escape route - we each have our own hall of mirrors - but the good news is that we can benefit from shared insights and tips. I mean, you can’t use someone’s experience of running the New York Marathon to prepare a road map for running the London Marathon, but you may well pick up lots of useful stuff from them about training for and running 26.2 miles.
Here are a few things that have helped me turn “anti-social weirdo” from a badge of shame to a badge of honour, and I hope you find something there that helps you start to see the beauty of your true self more clearly too.
For me, The Biggie is to be kinder in your self-talk. Below are audio links for a simple exercise that can really help – I first encountered it in one of Shirzad Chamine’s Positive Intelligence courses, but have seen it referenced by a number of different people in different places.
All you need is a few minutes of privacy, a childhood picture of yourself and a longstanding tendency to be a twat to yourself. Ready?!
Click here for the Kinder Self-Talk Exercise (on the Resources page of this website).
One person I did this exercise with now keeps the picture they used on their desk as a pattern interruptor, and a reminder that they deserve kindness and understanding – just like we all do.
Take what you perceive to be something negative about you and look for the positive. For instance “I’m an overthinker” might become “I’m good at seeing lots of different perspectives and options”.
If it’s hard to make it about you, think instead in terms of “People who” – eg “People who overthink are good at seeing lots of different perspectives and options.”
The joy of this is the balance it creates – you don’t have to pretend that a trait never has any negative impact in order to be able to recognise that it has positive aspects too. It’s ok not to go from “I’m shit” to “I’m amazing” in one giant leap (although I imagine it would be pretty damn cool if you did!): allow yourself to be a work in progress. Always.
You believe all the negative things people say about you are true, and that means you must believe all the positive things people say about you are true too, doesn’t it?
So, when someone pays you a compliment, don’t brush it off: say thank you, repeat it to yourself, register it. Perhaps even keep a list of compliments and refer to it often.
Start allowing yourself to recognise all that is good about yourself.
A compliment is a gift: accepting it with genuine gratitude makes the giver feel good, so you’re doing a good thing for both of you!
REMEMBER THAT YOU'RE NOT A MIND READER!
When you find yourself thinking something like “People will think I’m weird if I say/do that…” remind yourself that you are not a mind reader. You don’t actually know what they’re thinking – you’re making it up.
So why not make up something different? It’s just as likely to be true. How about “They’ll think I’m cool…”? Too much? Then how about “They are more concerned with what other people think of them than with what they think of me”?
What if other people spend more time worrying about what other people think of them than they do thinking about us…?
Coaching is a bloody brilliant way of exploring who you are, of chipping away at those layers of defence and pretence that were intended to protect you but are now suffocating you.
Of course, I would say that, wouldn’t I?! But I believe it enough to put my money where my mouth is and be a coachee as well as a coach.
If you’re interested in coaching, get in touch in whatever way’s most comfortable for you (there’s an assortment of helpful links at the bottom of this page) for a chat about how I can help – no charge, no pressure, no obligation.
Just potential ✨
Image at top of page by Kaleb Nimz on Unsplash
Image at bottom of page by tinybuddha.com