Out of high school I was very passionate and driven. There was a whole life and career that I envisaged for myself and I was keen to get started on it. However, as become clear through my tumultuous, laborious and scattered twenties, none of the things I believed I wanted for my life actually brought me any joy or sense of accomplishment.
I drifted from one career aspiration to the next, with fabulous opportunities to grow and cultivate myself across a range of exciting industries, from live theatre, commercial radio, film & television production, and the visual arts. And each time, the opportunity and experience fizzled out leaving nothing more than a brittle sense of disappointment and failure.
Looking back on all that now, I recognise that I actually had no idea what I wanted. I was a complete and utter stranger to myself. And it’s no surprise, because I treated myself like an absolute d*ck.
When understanding our relationships with others, it makes complete sense that most of us only reveal our real and authentic selves when we feel very, very safe. People cultivate this sense of safety in the way they treat us – with kindness, softness, understanding, and trust. We rarely bare our souls and reveal our intimate needs to someone who heavily criticises us, demeans us, takes advantage of us and doesn’t ever listen. However, this is pretty routine behaviour when it comes to the relationship we have with ourselves.
When it comes to ourselves we don’t think twice to label ourselves “stupid” or “lazy”, “fat”, “old” or “a failure”. We push our bodies to breaking point with work or parenting or partying, never heeding the growing demands to pause, reflect and rest. We avoid quiet time with ourselves, instead, drowning out periods of stillness with illuminated screens and endless Friends re-runs. It’s no wonder we’re reluctant to reveal our innermost needs & desires. We treat ourselves like crap.
But while you may have made this kind of hostile inward relationship second nature, it doesn’t mean you can’t turn things around – after all, you have a lifetime so it’s never too late. I have been working on reinventing my relationship with myself over the past 4 or 5 years. I won’t say it’s been easy, after all, my inner self was understandably suspicious after all the initial maltreatment. But slowly, and reticently she’s begun to reveal herself. And here are some kindness practices that I use to help coax her out – hopefully they’ll help you too…
It’s not motivating. It’s not hip. And it’s not necessary to make hilarious memes. Think of the things you say to yourself and ask yourself if you’d say those things to someone you actually like and would want to be on your side. Trade in cruelty and condemnation for curiosity and compassion. It’s fine to make mistakes, it’s fine to screw up – just be creative in the way you respond to yourself afterwards. See how you can try to soothe and learn, rather than criticise and condemn. Also, call a mate out for being unkind to themselves, help them see how they might reframe that into something fuelled by kindness and self-respect.
If you want to hear what your inner self wants and needs out of life, you need to make space to listen. That means taking time-out to go inward. Practices like meditation, yoga, deep breathing and intentional listening are great to give your mind and body some space from the demands of the world and let your inner connection flourish.
If there are outer relationships or environments that make you feel really shitty, it’s time to move on from them. The longer you resist, the longer you’re telling your inner self that this is what you deserve. Try to surround yourself with people who have your back and lift you up, and immerse yourself in environments that leave you feeling creative, connected, recharged and purposeful.
It can be a tough time reinventing your inward relationship but there really is no rush. Baby steps are better than no steps. And you can be guaranteed that once you foster a better relationship with yourself you will begin to see your external relationships improve, and your relationship blossom with external experiences and opportunities. Best of luck showing yourself some love this year. You bloody deserve it.