Changing the Way You Relate to Yourself
Changing Your Experience
Philip S. Graffunder, LCSW
People who feel depressed and/or anxious almost always have several factors in common that make their feelings more difficult to experience. The first, and probably the most important, is the matter of accepting themselves. The problem is not that they are unacceptable human beings, unworthy of love from themselves or others, or less deserving that the rest of humanity, but the fact that they think they are. This belief creates a cause/effect cycle that can be very hard to break free from.
A second common factor is a difficulty feeling and expressing care, compassion and appreciation for others. Often it is the people who feel the loneliest and most depressed who are also the quickest to find faults, flaws, or something to dislike in others. This can sometimes include entire groups of people to judge harshly, including those where there might otherwise be a mutual attraction. The habit of looking for things to judge and dislike in others can stem from many causes, making this behavior seem “entirely justifiable”. Perhaps it is in certain cases. But fault-finding and resentment tends to lead to more relationship disappointments— another vicious cycle.
People who often feel lonely, shy, or socially anxious are usually aware of their feelings of self-blame or dislike. However, they may not notice that they relate to themselves in consistently punishing and cruel ways. Or they may in fact, consider it normal and ‘deserved’. Added to this is the common misconception that a person can “know” what another person is thinking and feeling at a given point in time, almost akin to “mind-reading”. This tendency, coupled with a constant flow of self-deprecating thoughts, is enough to make them sure that other people don’t, or won’t, like them. So what is the solution here? To make sure that other people like and approve of them more by re-arranging who they are to suit others? Because then, if they do that, more satisfaction and happiness would definitely come their way, right? Well actually, no. To a very high degree, the ingredients that culminate in happiness and unhappiness come from within the self, not from externals. The bigger problem to address is almost always the lack of positive treatment, attitudes, and feelings they have for themselves, not that other people have for them. Yes, they both matter, but the way we relate to and treat ourselves is the main determinant in the quality of our relationships.
Can you treat yourself with forgiveness or kindness, or do you feel that you don’t “deserve” to be good to yourself? If you don‘t, would you be willing to change that conclusion? If you would like to learn to be a better person to yourself, then you probably can see that self-care has an important role. But how? How can you develop a healthier relationship with yourself when you have become accustomed to being mean or overly critical. What can you do? Where do you begin?
A good place to begin is by making a decision.
You decide to start now to embark on a new path, one where you stop and notice the parts of you that are being judgmental and harsh. On this path you start treating yourself and the various parts of you differently than you have before. You‘ll learn that you can take the time to notice unhelpful and untrue ways of thinking, and also the way your body responds to these thoughts, without judging yourself for having painful thoughts and emotions. You can learn to “be there for” and to process these aspects in a way that promotes healing. You can become skilled at providing additive and corrective elements to your mindset that bring more emotional balance and clearer focus. If you make a commitment to yourself to get mentally, creatively, and physically productive in your life, you will begin to see the kind of changes that you desire.
There are many useful methods and effective tools available that enhance internal resiliency, reduce anxiety, and help lift depression. As you begin therapy it helps to set goals to acquire these types of skills, to be open-minded to non-traditional interventions, and to commit to taking an active role in your program of change.
Stop mentally abusing and neglecting myself and begin to think about myself in a more adaptive, realistic, and helpful manner.
Start treating myself, the things I do for myself and my body, in a more loving, self-compassionate, responsible way.
Notice and mindfully process self-defeating thoughts, attitudes and emotions.
Develop a healthier, more useful personal philosophy towards life.
Identify my value system and live by it as best I can.
Think, act and engage life in a way that shows integrity to my goals and value-based priorities, thereby creating greater internal security and self-trust.
Challenge and change irrational, antiquated, or useless fears that have held me back and regain a position of authority over my own life.
Areas such as these are within your rightful domain to direct and change, and are the determinants of much of the enjoyment that life has to offer. If however, you insist that only someone else can make you truly happy, or you believe that you can only like yourself if other people like you first, then you will probably continue to feel inadequate or insecure. Those beliefs create a very hard road to live and walk on. But if you identify and modify unhelpful and untrue beliefs, establish a useful and healthy set of goals and values, and begin to make progress towards reaching them, then you are setting the stage for a greater sense of well being, increased feelings of self-worth and inner-confidence.
It is a well known phenomenon that when you feel healthy goodwill towards yourself, you become more generous in your assessment and treatment of others. When you do, those others tend to notice and appreciate this. They sense the higher levels of self-acceptance, well-being and non-judgment within you, and this promotes good feelings between you and them. In contrast, needy, negative, judgmental, or critical people tend to have more difficult and unsatisfactory relationships.
As you begin to accept and appreciate yourself in a healthier way, you will almost certainly find that not only are you more content and satisfied, but a side-effect is that others tend to like and appreciate this about you. It is important for you to know, however, that making others like or love you is not your goal here. Did you notice that wasn‘t on the list of potential goals above? Your focus is on what you can and do have the right, authority, and power to influence and change. Treating yourself and others in more adaptive ways that match your values is within your control, increases your confidence and level of self-trust. When you do, when you are living and behaving in line with a healthy set of core values, and setting your priorities accordingly, you find that the world around you changes. This is one of the most important actions you can take to improve how you feel about yourself. Your inner-world, your relationship to yourself, is your sacred space to cultivate, and the outer-world that you experience changes in accordance with it.
Loosely adapted with major modifications by Philip S. Graffunder, LCSW from: D. Burns – Intimate Connections
If you would like to explore this further,
and perhaps discover other answers about yourself, feel free to contact me at 404-295-4852.
Philip S. Graffunder is the owner of
Positive Social Growth Counseling and Therapy Center.
He is a therapist, counselor, and clinical social worker with more than 20 years’ experience.