Does it seem strange to spend more time on developing a relationship with yourself? You might wonder what that would even look like. But it’s the most vital relationship you have, essential for real connection with other people. By getting to know yourself and cherishing what you find there, you become a full human being capable of understanding and loving others. Unfortunately, this inner relationship can be neglected if you grew up in a family that discounted the inner world.
In childhood, if people invalidated or dismissed your inner experiences, you may think your inner world isn’t worthy of being taken seriously. By not listening to your deepest feelings, others may have taught you to tune out what goes on inside you. This promotes disconnection from your inner world, leading you to believe that security and stimulation only come from outside yourself. You learn to turn away from the rich inner world that could sustain you regardless of outer circumstances.
I often witness this in psychotherapy sessions. Clients who were taught to disconnect from themselves dismiss their feelings by saying things like, ‘I know this is stupid, but…” or ‘This is such a small thing, I’m embarrassed to admit it.’ Their relationship with their interior is full of shame. They don’t trust their inner guidance and are sheepish about their real feelings. But your inner experience is who you are. It’s crucial to experience and understand what goes on inside you. To avoid depression and anxiety, you need to be as available to yourself as you would be with someone you love.
When you disregard your own feelings and thoughts, your inner world becomes empty and you obsess over other people and external circumstances. Many of us try to get other people to fill the vacuum left behind by emotional self-neglect. Relationships feel superficial under these conditions because you look to other people to make up for your lack of inner substance.
No amount of social activity can fill the emptiness where there should be a robust relationship with yourself. By judging and rejecting your true thoughts and feelings, you create a life of anxious dependency in which no power is greater than someone’s opinion of you.
Take your inner experiences seriously. Process them fully. It’s the only way to build a strong inner self of your own. If you pay attention, you will see that your inner world is constantly using inspiration and intuition to nudge you toward happiness and well being. Only by making a conscious, deliberate decision to honor your inner counsel can you remain centered and self-governing.
Once you value and respect your inner guidance, you can tell how things are really affecting you. Your true feelings and energy will reveal what’s good for you and what’s too much. By attending to your inner state, you will realize what you are putting up with, thus preventing stress overload and unfair treatment by others.
Your true self will always let you know when you have gotten too far away from who you really are. It is always tracking the healthiness of your inner state, updating you through your emotions, energy levels, and unexpected thoughts. It constantly monitors whether you are happy or not. It votes for what’s best for you by raising or lowering your energy as you consider choices. As your thoughts and plans line up with the needs of your true self, you will feel light, energized, and uplifted. When your interest surges and you feel focused and intent, you are probably onto something that is right for you.
Conversely, if your energy levels sink when you consider something, it’s probably a poor match. A significant energy drop means there’s little about the situation that feeds the real you. It would seem almost unnecessary to mention this, but it’s astounding how often we feel our energy drop and yet proceed anyway because we tell ourselves it’s the right thing to do. As most of us know, this usually turns out badly in the long run.
You are the only one who is responsible for your flourishing as a human being. You can’t be good to others if you don’t value yourself first. If you feel guilty and put yourself last, you will secretly expect others to take care of you because you aren’t doing it for yourself. This creates the self-defeating idea that others should be more attentive to your needs than you are.
If you need more proof about the value of a good relationship with yourself, think about all the accomplished people who got that way by paying deep attention to their inner world. We grant that right to famous actors, Nobel scientists, great musicians, and world-renowned artists. Nobody ever asks if such people should be paying so much attention to their thoughts and inspirations or if it’s okay for them to safeguard their time and energy from other people’s demands. We should do no less for ourselves.