Q: How can I have a healthy relationship if I had no good role models?
The first thing to do is to cultivate a healthy relationship with yourself. And that’s a challenge, if you’ve never had any models, you don’t know what you don’t know. You have a lot of thoughts that you don’t even recognize as problematic thoughts.
There are a lot of ways that people put themselves down, and we don’t even question them. We can be so habituated to such thoughts that we don’t even recognize them as put-downs. There are a lot of demoralizing stories we tell ourselves, and equally demoralizing ways we evaluate ourselves. And these stories usually don’t hold up to logic. They are not justified or reasonable, yet we never challenge them. They are so deeply habitual that they are invisible to us.
For example, once someone was telling me about their problem and somehow the issue of death came up. I said, “It’s helpful to remember we’re mortal and that someday we’re going to die.” And they just brushed that off saying, “Oh, I’m not afraid of death. I don’t worry about that.”
But then they started telling me how traumatized they were by a recent fire in their home. They had all this stuff they had been hoarding in the basement and were reluctant to move it all out. And at some point they said, “I think I’m afraid of change.”
I said, “Change is death.”
And this person exclaimed, “Oh! You rascal!” and then immediately said, with great determination, “I’m going to clean out that basement!” Because they had realized, “Change is death, and I’m not afraid of death, so I’m not going to be afraid of change.” Just like that!
So you can see how, if you take the resourcefulness you have in one area — and put it together with the resourcefulness you have in another area, the problem can dissolve very quickly.
We often have the same types of confusion in terms of relating with other people. For example, I worked with a couple in which one partner thought the other’s nurturing behavior was a sign of weakness or being “too soft,” and that they themselves were too “strong” to need nurturing. Meanwhile the other partner saw their nurturing was an offering of love, on which they placed the highest value. The two partners had spent a lot of time going back and forth fighting over whether it was better to be “strong” or to be “nurturing.”
The reality that both partners were missing in this case was that, in order to be strong, one needs nurturing. Without nurturing, the “strong” partner would not have grown to maturity. And without a sense of personal strength, the “nurturing” partner would not have the wherewithal to give of themselves in that way.
Neither partner’s trait was right or wrong, and neither one was better than the other. Both were necessary. Once this was pointed out to them, they were able to recognize their traits, and the expression of those traits, as complementary rather than antagonistic. They stopped fighting and started cooperating.The essential thing to understand is to practice being your own best friend –– create a loving relationship with yourself. Then you can extend that friendliness to others.
3 Ways to Create a Loving Relationship with Yourself
1. Begin a simple meditation practice. You can sit quietly for a few minutes a day and just focus on your breath. When thoughts come up, simply come back to your breathing. This is a great way to give yourself the gift of resting your mind. In the process, you’ll get to know yourself better, too. There are apps for meditation as well: Insight Timer, Headspace, Calm are three of the most popular ones.
2. Get a nice journal that is visually appealing to you, and write for a few minutes each day. You don’t have to write anything in particular in your journal or diary. It can just be a way to let off steam, or let your pen or pencil “talk” to you about your day, or your goals and aspirations. Journaling can bring out insights and those hidden judgmental stories that might not emerge otherwise. It’s something you do just for yourself.
3. Set a reminder on your smartphone for every hour or half hour. Every time you hear the “ping!” stop and check your state of mind. Ask, “How am I talking to myself right now?” Use this pause to let yourself breathe deeply and release any tension. When you release tension and create space this way, your natural intelligence will start reorganizing, so to speak. And then problems can just evaporate. You can feel an inspiration to approach someone in a way that didn’t occur to you before. Maybe you thought, “I have to wait until I can figure this out,” but then suddenly you discover, “Oh, I have an inspiration about how to do it. I don’t have to figure it all out in advance.”
Remember, you have the right to learn how to develop healthy relationships, with yourself and others, and no one has the right to judge you for your sincere efforts. So enjoy the learning curve of healthy happy relating!
©Jack Elias, jackelias.com, permission to share with acknowledgement