Relationships, part two: yourself and others
The word ‘relationship’ not only means the web of connection between two or more people but also the relationship an individual has with him- or herself. If you don’t like yourself, criticise yourself all the time, judge yourself, remonstrate about the things you could have done differently or regret, it becomes harder to relate to others in a healthy way. You may be putting others on pedestals as being more talented, successful, clever, happier – or perhaps the reverse, making judgements about others instead of yourself.
Becoming Self Aware
One of the many advantages of becoming self-aware is that an individual starts to understand the nature of the connections to all the other people in their network of relationships, and consequently come to know themselves better. Relationships trigger memories of parts of ourselves that deepen understanding and self-knowledge. Many of our bodily and emotional memories are pre-verbal or implicit and therefore people may experience discomfort when someone unwittingly says something that connects with an area of vulnerability. These implicit memories are generally experienced as bodily tension, nausea or digestive stress. They can’t always be traced to specific incidences. Facial expressions like displeasure, disgust, indifference, disinterest, confusion or disappointment may prompt a reaction. This might be felt physically but there is also a cognitive response.
Conversely, facial expressions that are encouraging, curious or supportive are likely to stimulate a positive response. The more we understand how others make an impact upon us, the more we come to know ourselves.
Relationships essential for survival
For an infant, a relationship with a carer is essential for survival. The capacity for emotions is innate but the regulation of these emotions depends on our experience with the primary carers in our social environment. However, this experience is not set in concrete. If early relationships are problematic, there is still a chance for people to develop different pathways, to build relationships with individuals who offer greater comfort and reassurance, to negate the earlier experiences.
Healthy self relationships lead to healthy relationships with others
I have read many articles about people becoming more selfish, preoccupied, self-interested, egotistical, isolated and generally involved in the pursuit of the individual self. Therapy is often criticised for encouraging people to focus on themselves, on meeting their own needs, therefore neglecting the wider group, their family or community. I do not share this view. If individuals have a healthy relationship with themselves, they are more likely to have a healthy relationship with others. The needs of individuals and those around them need not be incompatible. Taking care of oneself enables one to have the energy, the will and the psychological resources to care for those around us. Our relationships with others bring responsibilities but also benefits. It can feel good to do things for the people you care about. It is part of what makes the civilised world go round. This is the old adage of ‘give and take.’ These homilies endure because they embody such truth.