In life, we maintain three types of relationships.
We maintain a relationship to the world around us, to the countries, cultures and communities we belong to.
And we maintain relationships to others, such as parents, siblings, spouses, children, friends and co-workers.
These relationships are important. They give meaning and purpose to our life, and allow us to create, experience and transform everything that life offers.
But while both relationships are important, neither is as vital as the one that is the foundation of all others: the relationship we have with ourselves.
This relationship determines, well, pretty much everything else. How we think and feel. How we relate. How we lead and love. And, crucially, how we treat ourselves.
Values and beliefs
At its most basic level, the relationship to ourselves is shaped by the beliefs we have about ourselves and the way in which we value who we are and what we do.
Deep down, for example, we may tell ourselves that “I can do this” or “I am worth it” or “I am good”.
Or “I am ok when I make mistakes”, “I can enjoy my sexuality”, “I have a right to my boundaries” or “It’s okay to put my own needs first”.
Sometimes, though, other voices are at play. “I am stupid when I don’t know”, “I cannot trust myself”, “I don’t deserve to be nice to myself” or “I am a fraud”.
We are not born with these beliefs and valuations. They are given to us, mainly by our parents and our caretakers, through their attitudes and behaviours towards us.
And as they repeat what they say and do to us, these values and beliefs are deeply embedded in the foundations of our psyche.
Upward and downward spirals
While often hidden from our conscious selves, these values and beliefs shape the actions we take and avoid in later life.
More specifically, when these values and beliefs are negative, they will lead to actions and relations that will only validate those negative self-perceptions.
Because as long as we stay in unhealthy relationships, we send ourselves the message that we are not worthy of love. Which makes it harder to leave the relationship.
And every time we avoid speaking up about something that matters, we reiterate our powerlessness. Which makes it harder to speak up the next time.
Also, as long as we nurture our addictions to work, drugs, or TV, we tell ourselves that we are worthless. Which hurts us so much, we need addictions to dull the pain.
Basically, what we believe shapes what we do, which in turn only proves the very thing we believe, which makes it harder for us to do anything else.
This means that, at best, we live our life half asleep and that at worst we enter a downward spiral of destruction from which it is hard to break free.
Which is why some of us, despite not wanting to, go through life stuck in self-harm, self-doubt, self-shame, self-criticism, self-hate, self-denial and self-destruction.
Some of us, however, go through life practicing self-care, self-love, self-validation, self-confidence, self-joy, self-generosity, self-truthfulness and self-development.
This leads to actions and relations that continuously validate the most basic, positive perceptions of ourselves.
As a result, we engage in loving and respectful relations that, even when things get tough, appeals to the best parts of us. Which means the relationship continues to grow.
Or we take excellent care of our body and mind, which sends us the message that we are worthy and good. Which makes us want to take better care of ourselves.
And we protect our boundaries and take care of our needs, which acknowledges their validity. Which means we are even more motivated to nourish and protect ourselves.
If we go through life like this, at the very least we will strengthen what is already good. At best, it will propel us into an upward spiral of positive growth.
Explore our patterns
The relationship to ourselves is the most important one we will ever have. So if we want to grow, we need to explore the patterns that define how we see, treat and experience ourselves. And then do three things.
First, heal what hurts. This means getting rid of the limiting self-beliefs that undermine our ability to flourish and experiencing that we are actually good, whole and creative by nature.
Second, we need to strengthen what is good. If we identify the practices that protect and nourish us, we can make sure we continue to develop them.
And finally, we need to develop new awareness and skills to help us communicate more honestly, be more present to ourselves and relate with more intimacy.
Unfortunately, this is not something you can achieve by liking inspirational quotes on social media or going on a one-off yoga retreat.
What it takes is ongoing practice throughout the course of our life. It takes courage, perseverance and discipline to go looking for the light in the dark and dark in the light.
But as we explore, uncover our patterns and transform them into something generative and good, we can achieve a fuller and truer expression of who we really are.
Ilja van Roon
P.S. If you really want to put self-care, self-love and self-development at the heart of your life, check out this private 12-day Life Foundation programme. Or read more about why it is inhuman to withhold contact or the value of suffering.