self love

The Most Important Relationship You Have and How to Nurture it

Wherever you go, there you are

John Kabbat Zin

Other people come and go. Even the people most significant to you – those that will be by your side for the entirety of your life – come and go throughout the course of a single day. 

Nobody is with you constantly. And, even if they were, they would not, because they cannot, be inside of you. No matter how much of yourself you endeavor to reveal, only you will ever know, in full, what it is truly like to be you.

You are with you at the beginning, middle and end of the day. You are with you at the beginning, middle and end of your life. 

Here’s the truth: the most important relationship that you can cultivate is the relationship you have with yourself

It is the foundation of all your other relationships. It determines your state of mind and quality of life more than any other single factor. It is the only thing you can rely on at any given moment. And so it is worth your time.

But We Try to Avoid Ourselves

And yet, if you’re like the majority of us, you go through life preoccupied with what others think about you. Their opinion of you somehow seems to matter more to you than your own.

Which brings up the obvious question: why spend so much time focused on what others think of you, essentially distracting yourself from yourself, when the relationship you have with yourself is of so much more importance?

Well, there are likely aspects of yourself that you do not like. You do not like certain features. You do not like certain feelings. This dislike of the parts leaves you with a general feeling of distaste toward the person – you – upon whom those parts make a home.

You doubt your own worthiness. Your own goodness. Your own “okay-ness”.

Unsure of your own worth, and yearning to distract yourself from the very real pain this doubt generates, your attention goes outward. You turn to other people. They function, on the one hand, as a distraction and, on the other hand, as a source of potential validation. 

You seek positive feedback from external sources in effort to feel good about who you are. The thing is, when you get positive feedback, you don’t really take it in. It might give you temporary symptom relief, but you don’t allow yourself to trust it on a deep level. You explain it away: “they’re just trying to make me feel better; they don’t know me well enough yet; they’re too simple-minded to see the true me that lives beneath the surface.”

At other times, you get feedback (or, better put, you interpret feedback in such a way) that confirms your fears: you are not good, not worthy; you are unwanted, not ok. 

When confronted with negative feedback from the outside world, you may allow yourself to pretend that other people are the reason for your pain and insecurity. That keeps your focus “out there” and, as such, provides further refuge from the pain generated by your own self-doubt. 

But that is usually short-lived. The self-doubt that existed long before the event that just triggered it will soon sound loud enough so as to be recognized. You are then left with yourself again. This is better, because you are closer to the true source of the issue. But it isn’t enough, because you have yet to develop a genuine solution to the pain you find there.

Sooner or later, you turn “out there” again, in frantic search of people to save you from your worst fears.

And so the cycle resumes.

In summary: 

You reject the parts of yourself you don’t like. The rejection of the parts necessarily implies the rejection of the whole. You focus on others because you hope that their positive view of you will save you from the negative view you hold of yourself. Their feedback either confirms what you know is “true”, or it is not taken in deeply because it is seen as manipulative, insufficient, or inauthentic. 

How to Accept Yourself

The most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely

C.G. Jung

So long as you regard certain parts of yourself as “unacceptable” – i.e. those features and feelings that you don’t like – a positive relationship with yourself will be untenable. (And so long as a positive relationship with yourself is untenable, you will be much too concerned with external feedback.) This isn’t a moral proclamation, but a practical assessment. How can you have a positive relationship with something that you reject? 

Like everybody, you would like life to be less difficult and more enjoyable, and you think that means changing or otherwise riding yourself of the parts that you find disagreeable. Unfortunately, those characteristics are sometimes unchangeable and other times decidedly resistant to change. 

Luckily, there is some good news in all of this. 

And that is that the bad news – this idea that you don’t accept yourself – is inaccurate. It feels real, but that feeling doesn’t make it so. It is an illusion. A game of pretend. 

This idea that you haven’t accepted yourself, resigned to it though you may be by this point, is not only misleading, but made up entirely. 

The truth of the matter is quite the opposite: you do accept yourself already. All of yourself. Even those parts that you don’t like.

I would make a slight amendment to the above quote by Carl Jung: “the most terrifying thing is to recognize that you have already accepted yourself completely.”

You are only pretending that you haven’t.

Here’s the thing:

The Oxford dictionary defines acceptance as follows: “the willingness or ability to tolerate”.

Well, aren’t you already tolerating everything you claim to reject about yourself? You may not like it, but you are tolerating it, right? 

That feeling of emptiness that you hate so much, for example, is already in you. You don’t get to “accept” it; you don’t get to “let” it in. Your permission wasn’t requested. The feeling came in uninvited and unannounced. And it will be there until it ups and leaves, in a manner equally as unprompted as its arrival.

The fact that you’re still here – by “here” I mean “alive” – shows your willingness to tolerate the feelings and features you don’t like, i.e. to accept them.

This idea that we reserve the ability to “consent to” a particular feeling or feature is erroneous. Irrelevant. An illusory condition introduced by the mind that has no actual impact on the condition of reality.

You don’t get to consent, it just happens. Acceptance has already occurred.

The only choice that you do have is to either acknowledge that that thing that you don’t like is already in existence and experience it consciously, or to pretend that that thing doesn’t exist, in which case you experience it unconsciously. 

You don’t get get to have an experience without that thing.

To pretend that you can either choose to accept or not accept that thing is a misuse of time and energy. It’s a compelling game to play with yourself, but the outcome has already been decided, because the outcome already is. You are playing a game where the end result has already been declared.

You can only pretend to not accept yourself so long as you go on living as yourself. So long as you live, you are displaying, in behavior, a willingness to live with those parts that you have pretended to reject.

“To accept” or “to not accept” exists in your head only. It is an unnecessary drama. A distraction. It is fantasy, not reality. Your behavior already indicates an attitude of acceptance. And your tangible, of-the-world behavior is closer to reality than your mind games.

So why not cut to the chase and have a relationship with what is already true? 

What is it that you’re pretending to struggle to accept about yourself? That feeling of emptiness? The feeling of abandonment? The feeling of claustrophobia? Some unalterable feature about your physical body? Or even an alterable one?

Why not drop the mental game and participate in reality? You have this thing and therefore acceptance of it has already happened. So, “I accept that I’ll have feelings of emptiness off and on for the rest of my life.” Or, “I accept this part of my body because it is here and has already happened. Acceptance has already occurred. Why struggle against myself as though it didn’t?”

[Caveat: I am not advocating against change. But to strive for change from the grounds of “I accept myself as I am and I could always stand some room for improvement,” versus “I hate myself and wish I were different” is a fundamental difference. You are more likely to be successful in your pursuit of change if it is approached from the attitude embodied in the first statement, and not the second.]

From this moment on, you reserve the power to save yourself a lifetime of hassle (as in struggle) by putting an end to the game.

Try it on. “Apparently, I already accept myself exactly as I am. Because here I am.”

Each time you have the thought, “I don’t accept myself,” add to it, “but then again, here I am.” 

Commit to reality. Reality says that you have accepted yourself. Let that be your truth. That is an empowering position to take. 

You don’t have to do anything. You don’t have to practice acceptance. You just have to let what’s true be what’s true. It couldn’t be any different. 

But But But..

Ok, so you don’t like it. Can you accept that?

“I accept that I don’t accept that I’ve already accepted who I am.” 

Maybe not. 

Try this on for size: “I give myself permission to pretend to not accept myself for the rest of my life.”

Sure, you can do that. Nobody is stopping you. It’s your choice. But you might as well add onto it, “and in so doing, I commit to a life of struggling against myself, being self-absorbed as I do so, and committing a lot of energy to an enterprise with an already decided outcome.”

You can spend a lifetime here. It may not be the most satisfying way to spend your life, but you reserve the right to spend your life however you’d like.

The truth of it is that at any moment, there is no alternative reality. And at that moment, you are either resting in reality as it is, or pretending not to. And pretending not to accept reality is not going to change reality.

Back to What Got Us Here: The Most Important Relationship You Have

In being with reality as it is, and yourself as you are, you will discover personal power and dignity. You will stumble upon a feeling of unconditional confidence when you stop pretending to be at war with various parts of your being.

You can go on not liking certain aspects, sure, but you might as well “accept” them in theory because you have already accepted them in practice. 

And as you welcome the parts that you have pretended to reject, the whole upon which those parts appears will become worthy of your love.

Your sense of self will start to change. You will no longer have doubts about your own worth, your own goodness, your own “okay-ness”. Those doubts will be replaced by an easy confidence; the fruit of having said “yes” to all of you.

Your relationship with yourself will be warm and inviting. You may even begin to appreciate, welcome and love the parts of you that you once pretended to reject. You will recognize that they are equally valid and that they have just as much a right to be here as any other aspect of who you are.

You will understand that it wasn’t the parts themselves that were problematic, but your relationship to those parts that gave them the appearance of being so. It was your game of pretending to reject that which you had already accepted that was causing you so much unnecessary pain. 

As you say “yes” to you, you will naturally spend less time looking “out there”. Other people’s opinions will simply matter less. You will recognize that they don’t mean anything definitive about you. You get to define yourself.

And this all happens because you have cultivated a positive – because accepting – relationship with yourself. You no longer pretend that it could be any different. 

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