How is your relationship with yourself?

What to do when you are in a bad relationship with yourself.

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So you take good care of your body, you exercise and you eat 5 helpings of fruit and vegetables every day: but do you focus as much on your mental health?

In this series of posts, I am arguing that looking after our bodies is an important part of our overall health, but we need also to prioritise our minds.

Many of my clients are in what I describe as a bad marriage with themselves.

We all know that healthy, functioning relationships make us happier. But what we often don’t realise is that perhaps the most important relationship of all is the one we have with ourselves.

Take a moment to ask yourself: what goes on in your head?

What sort of conversations take place?

When you tune in or your inner dialogue are you faced with an inner bitch or bastard, or is the conversation more gentle and supportive?

Do you constantly berate yourself for your failures: or do you focus on your successes?

Do you see failure as a personal failing, or do you see it as a learning experience?

Many of us are in a bad relationship with ourselves. Our inner critic is constantly attacking us, and belittling our achievements. It can tell us that we’re not good enough at work, that we are physically ugly and out of shape, that we are a lousy parent, a bad partner or a useless friend.

Imagine for a minute if that voice was coming from outside yourself: if that was your spouse or partner talking to you. You would see yourself as being in a really bad, possibly even abusive, relationship. And yet we tolerate this talk from ourselves.

So why do we do that?

Psychotherapists believe that we internalise the voices we hear as we grow up. It may be that you had a parent who was sharply critical, or a teacher who undermined you. It may be that you were bullied at school.

As a child, we are busy building a representation of reality: and so when we hear those messages, we build them into our reality. On a childlike level, we believe they are true. And those voices can hang around into adulthood.

Such internal messages can undermine our confidence, even leave us with a shattered self-image. And they contribute to mental ill-health.

Not only can they lead to depression or anxiety, but once we are mentally ill, they can make recovery much, much harder.

Good mental health means paying attention to these conversations, and replacing the attacking voice with a more supportive voice.

It means calling yourself to account: and saying, I will no longer live in an abusive relationship with myself.

It means painstakingly replacing each negative message, with a more positive, nurturing and supportive one.

This takes practice, and patience. It means experimenting with how you do treat yourself. It can take humour to turn this voice around.

Here’s some ideas gleaned from my clients on how to turn that voice around:

Say the criticism out loud in a stern, angry voice, and then ask yourself: is that how you want to be spoken to?

Look in the mirror and speak the criticism: would you say that to a friend?

Think of yourself as a child, and ask yourself how you would speak to a child: now try talking to yourself like that.

If you were reading this post and thinking yes, that’s me and you spend some time trying out a new voice and find it hard to do, you might find it helpful to see a psychotherapist, to get to the bottom of how and why your relationship with yourself is broken. A good psychotherapist can help you to rebuild the relationship with yourself.

And the rewards for our mental health are as positive as being in a good marriage with someone else: it will boost your happiness, free you to live a contented life and hopefully make you live longer too.