“Awaken; return to yourself” ~Marcus Aurelius
Darkness. Resentment. Detachment. Extreme discomfort.
Those are the words I would use to describe my internal experience during my adolescent years up to young adulthood.
Depression was something I was all too familiar with. Fear was running my life and I was exhausted. I now understand that a lot of it had to do with the dysfunctional family I grew up in and the pain that ensued.
Determined to break this unhealthy way of being, I’ve been on a road of healing and self-growth over the past few years.
However, my transition into a stronger relationship with myself really kicked into gear after my heart got broken for the first time. But it didn’t just get broken—it got completely shredded. Little did I know this would be the best thing that had ever happened to me.
As I was deep into the break-up process, I was awakened by the fact that I had completely abandoned myself in the relationship. My confidence was low, I had no self-worth, and I relied on the one I loved to save me and carry me.
I became delusional about the reality of my relationship and the man I was in love with.
Harsh realization to come to terms with, but that was my starting point.
Eventually, I was able to slowly put myself back out into the world. I kept running into situations that led me to discover all of these core values I was lacking in the relationship.
After a few months of insightful encounters, I came to understand the path I was on: building a stronger, healthier relationship with myself.
Even though I was going through heartbreak, I felt lighter, different. It was weird. After a while everything seemed to have “clicked” and kept progressing.
From that point on I became devoted to myself. I was determined to rely on myself for the things I was constantly depending on other people/outside sources for. Below are the steps that helped me move toward myself.
1. Practice self-compassion.
Get to know this. Make it your new religion. This is the core for a stronger relationship with yourself because it creates a gentler tone within you.
Self-compassion helps you acknowledge when you’re going through a hard time and release judgments toward yourself, which then opens you up to self-love.
Even though it was hard, I practiced this during my break-up. I would put my hand on my heart and say things such as, “You poor thing, this is such an incredible amount of pain to deal with. This hurts so bad.” And I’d stay with that pain for a moment.
I’d then finish off by reminding myself that I’m doing the best I can right now and I’m actually handling the situation really well.
Doing this gave me the courage to ease into intense emotions and feel them fully, which helped me heal. It also empowered me as it made me feel not as codependent.
Realizing that I was able to take care of myself during this incredibly painful time was a huge moment for me. Ultimately, it restored all of this self-love in me that I never knew existed.
I suggest reading Kristin Neff’s book on self-compassion. I was able to grasp the concept just from this book. However, as someone who has been extremely hard on myself my whole life, it was difficult to be open to the idea at first and took a lot of practice.
2. Get in touch with your feelings and body.
I spent a lifetime repressing feelings not even understanding what they were. I now realize this is not okay.
Our bodies are constantly filling us up with sensations trying to let us know what they feel and need. I’ve found that the more I try to identify my feelings, the closer I become to my intuition.
Recently, I had to choose a new roommate and met with a ton of people. As I tried to get to know everyone, I made sure I became aware of the feeling that filled up inside me. I would notice warm yet powerful sensations, tightness, or nothing at all. After a while I began to trust those feelings and based my decisions off of them.
It has also made me treat my heart and body with more respect, so I take better care of them.
One time when I was working a lot I felt an illness coming on. After I came home that day, I listened very carefully to what my body needed to feel better. I ate whatever sounded good (sweet corn sounded like heaven, oddly enough), drank lots of water, took a bath, gave myself a ton of self-love, and went to bed super early.
I felt amazing the next day.
Meditation is also a great exercise for this that will heighten your awareness of any feelings that arise.
3. Discover your values.
We all have values, but do we ever really analyze what they are and why we choose some over others?
I went through a list of values one day that I found online and highlighted the ones that spoke to me the most. I became so much closer to myself after establishing this.
I discovered that I deeply value my physical and mental health, kindness, authentic connection with myself and others, and efficiency.
It felt like I was rediscovering my identity. I simply allowed myself to embrace my authenticity and it felt amazing.
4. Understand your needs and boundaries.
Identifying my values led me to recognize what my needs are.
Since I value my physical and mental health, taking care of my mind and body has become my number one need. I’ve come to learn that my mind and body are very sensitive, so I need to nurture them in order to maintain a healthy level of comfort.
With that understanding, I essentially created a boundary for myself. I made sure I did my best to honor that need in most situations. Whether it meant missing a night out with friends to catch up on good sleep, avoiding pushing myself too hard at the gym, or taking a moment for myself to release any built up emotions.
Once my needs were established, I had a better idea of what my boundaries are in work, in relationships, and with myself. Ultimately, it created an awareness of when my sense of identity was being challenged or reinforced.
5. Avoid relying on external validation.
This one takes practice and is where a lot of the steps I just listed get put to the test.
We have such quick, easy access to external validation nowadays (Facebook, Instagram, anything with a “like” button). We often become confused on where the most important source of validation should come from.
Lately, I’ve been making an effort to become conscious of when I get caught up in the desire for someone’s approval. I see it as an opportunity to check in with the status of my self-love. If I’m happy with who I am and am confident behind my decisions, I remind myself that I don’t need someone else’s approval.
It’s a very empowering process.
There are times, however, when I struggle with it, which is okay because it’s part of the human experience. I just try to be understanding and explore those insecurities.
6. Recognize where the pain is coming from.
This is one of the hardest steps. Take it slow. Be gentle. Start by being honest with yourself to see if you notice a behavior pattern that comes off in an unhealthy way (such as relying heavily on external validation). Try to identify the deeper reasons behind it and explore them.
Once I understood that the way I was viewing my love interests was not healthy, I eventually realized it stemmed from a deep pain of neglect from my parents. From there, I began the process of breaking this pattern.
Intense emotions will come up, but if you welcome them with open, loving arms (aka self-compassion!) you can ease into this process with a sense of safety.
You might need help from another source such as a self-help book, therapist, or friend to identify the unhealthy habits.
Building a stronger relationship with yourself is an incredibly fulfilling and liberating process. It takes time, patience, and understanding. Try to go into it with an excitement and curiosity rather than an expectation.
I’ve come to find that when you have a better sense of your identity, you become empowered. When you become empowered, you gain self-esteem. When you gain self-esteem, you are more driven to take better care of yourself. One thing always leads to another.
Most importantly, however, love and support from myself creates a happier me.
Closeup of smiling woman image via Shutterstock