5 Toxic Tendencies Preventing The Relationship You Have With Yourself From Growing

There might not be a dating app for this, but the self-relationship is now getting priority status. The relationship that we have with ourselves is sometimes the easiest to overlook, but the most important. Is a relationship with ourselves narcissistic or selfish? Quite the contrary. We need a solid rapport with ourselves in order to be better with others. After all, how can we develop bonds with others when we have no foundation of a bond with ourselves? A good mantra for this came from Oscar Wilde, who said: "To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance."

While we likely have the best intentions for our relationships with ourselves — or perhaps don't give it enough thought — sometimes patterns and behaviors develop that can become toxic for this core, crucial relationship. These are worth looking at, because they can erode the opportunity to take care of ourselves properly so that we can achieve the goals we've set for ourselves, cultivate meaningful relationships, and take on the unexpected in life, hitting bullseye every time.

Not prioritizing meaningful self-care

One toxic tendency in our relationship with ourselves that we might occasionally slip into is a lack of proper self-care. What we're talking about here isn't so much consumer self-care, like buying ourselves treats and getting manicures, though that can surely be a part of it. The lack of careful, and at times parental, attention to our core needs can foster a personal relationship of neglect and make life harder than it needs to be. Why is conscientious self-care so important? Wellness expert Kelsey Patel told Everyday Health, "People are feeling lonelier and less able to unwind and slow down, which makes them feel more anxious and overwhelmed by even the simplest tasks."

So what are ways that we can take care of our physical and mental health, as well as make sure we're able to cope with stressors and unpredictability? As Mental Health America notes, this should include attention to one's sleep schedule. This should become a non-negotiable priority. Dr. Susheel Patil of the Johns Hopkins Sleep Center said that getting into a routine is the best way to ensure that we get 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night.

In addition to sleep, meaningful self-care can also include prioritizing nutritious food as well as daily attention to personal hygiene, which brings with it social and psychological benefits too. These are the basics, and each person can add to their own self-care list what's significant to them, to create a scaffolding around our day to make sure we're at our best.

Skipping out on what's meaningful to us

In her book "The Writing Life," Annie Dillard wrote, "How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives." For a deep relationship with ourselves, it's imperative that we nurture what's meaningful to us. We're encouraged to do one thing a day that scares us (thanks Eleanore Roosevelt!) but for our purposes here, we're changing the concept to one thing a day that's meaningful to us.

Sometimes our time is gobbled up by mundane chores, but we should try to seek out a regular, consistent practice of doing something that matters to us. Bruce Liese, professor of family medicine and psychiatry, advises his clients to look at the big picture — their long-term goals — to help shape the course of their daily lives. Are we doing one thing daily to inch closer to a goal?

The good news is that this doesn't have to exclude everyday tasks. Maybe a major goal is to have meaningful connections with others, so time with family can be transformed into something richer. Social psychologist Laura A. King said, "We tend to think of meaning as this most profound of human experiences. Yet all of these more ordinary things also foster our sense of meaning. And that, I think, is an incredibly huge relief."

Harsh self-talk can bring us down

While we might never imagine speaking harshly to a friend or loved one, our internal voice can be a totally different story. Critical and harsh self-talk can be detrimental to how we relate to ourselves. As the Mayo Clinic notes, negative self-talk can manifest in different ways and can significantly shape our perception. Unchecked self-talk can lead to something called personalizing, where we assume responsibility when something unfortunate happens. Let's say someone cancels plans; if we're in negative self-talk and fall into personalizing, we're going to assume that it's because they don't really like us and don't want to see us. The truth is very likely to be that something just came up for them, but we might not be able to see that immediately.

A really powerful way to challenge negative self-talk is by rephrasing negative or condemning thoughts for uplifting, hopeful ones. For example, if we hear ourselves say something like, "I'll never be able to do this," flip it and try something positive. "I'm excited to try this new adventure," we can tell ourselves. We can practice speaking to ourselves in ways that promote peace and even encouragement. We can praise ourselves for successes! The Mayo Clinic also urges patience and practice with self-talk. For many of us, it's a new way of self-speaking, so breaking old — potentially unconscious — patterns can take some time.

How we accidentally encourage low self-worth

A low sense of ourselves can impact every part of our lives, including job performance, romantic relationships, friendships, and the relationship we have with ourselves. While certain unexpected moments in life can briefly impact our sense of self-worth, like going through a breakup, we need to foster a consistent, positive way of relating to ourselves. But we can fall into traps where this becomes harder. As the Mayo Clinic observes, an inability to forgive ourselves for mistakes can take a huge toll on our self-worth. Using "should" phrases can also make it harder, as can perfectionistic thinking and unrealistic expectations for ourselves. Without stopping these kinds of expectations, we can beat ourselves up and fall into a cycle of believing that we're not good enough and can't achieve what we want out of life.

So what can we do about this? Dr. John M. Grohol suggests several tools for improving our self-worth. One is to take a self-worth inventory by writing out our 10 greatest strengths and 10 weaknesses, so we have a clear view of ourselves. It'll also make us more honest, both about what we're good at and where we have room to grow. He also urges clients to be very realistic and attainable about setting goals; make sure they're realistic. As we achieve them, we can enjoy the satisfaction that comes from making steady progress. Also, he notes, perfectionism is not our ally.

Resisting our feelings doesn't help

Avoiding and suppressing our feelings is actually a harmful trait, particularly if we want to improve our relationship with ourselves. Greater Good Magazine from the University of California, Berkeley, notes that suppressing our feelings is detrimental not only to our psychological health but also to our physical health. Ignoring our feelings is not the best way to deal with them. In fact, it can often make them come back in the form of rumination.

So what can we do? The annoying truth is that we have to feel them as they arise. It helps to think of feelings as "energy waves," because we can understand that they're powerful in the moment but do eventually pass, and often more quickly than we expected.

As Psychology Today notes, our feelings are often composed of both the primary feelings, relating to the actual situation, and secondary feelings, which come from our interpretations and thoughts about what's actually happening, which can sometimes be distorted. The key is courage; we need to be willing to stay in these feelings and mindfully observe them. Give the feeling a name — sad, stressed, excited, for example. Then see how they make our bodies feel; where do sensations arise? Then delve into the secondary feelings: what's at the root of these feelings? And lastly, hold loving space for ourselves. We're human beings, after all. We're going to feel it all and that's perfectly okay. We're worth the work.