The most important relationship in your life is between you and… yourself. Not your parents, not your kids, your partner, God, your money, whatever. None of these. Just you and you.
Think back to your last breakup, the time when you drew a hard line in the sand. Whether it was with a person, with a career, or with God and church. This moment in time when all your resolve to make it work crumbled. All these doubts, all the suppressed anger, and dissatisfaction, the mental dissonance: it all surfaced. It energized you and a switch flipped. You said goodbye to your old way of life. You packed up your things, literally or metaphorically, and you left.
And it hurt. Because disentangling life paths, woven together over a long time, always hurts. Your emotions went on a rollercoaster ride. From elated freedom to inexplicable dread. We as humans are creatures of habit, and changing such habits will always come with a penalty. And still, as soon as that flip switched, as soon as your mind was 51% sure things couldn’t stay the same, you didn’t worry about penalties. Instead, you chose to believe in your hope for a better future. Now imagine doing that to yourself.
Do you get angry at the part of yourself that is unhappy with you being exhausted?
The one that keeps telling you to rest, to go on that vacation, to cancel those meetings? To ship the kids off to their grandparents? I think all of us have been there at some point. Let’s call her Lara. Your “I need rest”-part.
Lara really annoys you. Here you are, doing your damn best at being that parent your (fur-)kids deserve, at supporting that friend who is struggling. You work hard to reach that next career milestone that you so absolutely deserve. Yet, there is whiny Lara. Instead of cheering you on, she is making you question yourself. Instead of giving you that much-needed energy boost, she is draining you even more with her constant nagging. You hate Lara. You dislike how she makes you feel. You loathe how she makes your steely resolve wobble with self-doubt. You find her completely and utterly unhelpful.
And so you break up with her.
But she is you. She lives in your mind and in your body. She has nowhere to go. You have nowhere to go. But the switch has flipped. So you make her leave, exile her to a part of your mind that you resolve to never, ever visit again.
You work even harder, focused, and diligent. You create loud noise in your mind to stifle her faint voice. You rob her of these moments of quiet when your thoughts accidentally wander into the forbidden areas of your brain where she’s been shipped off to. Coffee, cigarettes, weed, alcohol, parties, social media, a TV running in the background, and the 37th podcast of the day. They all work really well to keep you safe. Even better: engage in drama. Drama is the best internal noise-maker. Highly recommended activities for that are office politics or finding all the flaws in your friends or family. Then ruminating about them for hours, maybe even starting a charade of fixing them. I can also recommend venting about far-away politicians who are the epitome of stupid. Take a long hard, critical look in the mirror. Time for Botox? More time at the gym?
You add a dozen more things to your impossible to-do list.
The breakup with Lara, with your “I need rest”-part, is going really well. You’ve never worked so much in your life, and you’re excited about all the potential career ups this creates. You are a highly beloved member of your social circle, admired for your constant availability to help others. Besides, your stories about these stupid coworkers are really funny. Just great entertainment. You are a stellar parent of high-achieving, perfectly nurtured kids. All the while keeping up an admirable workout and self-education regime. You are the perfect example of Western society’s dream human.
And then your body betrays you.
Your knees start hurting. Shortness of breath. Relentless headaches. Catching every single little sickness the kids bring home. Then your mind follows suit. Your productivity tanks as your exhausted brain refuses to perform as expected. You become angry. You go looking for something to fix. Maybe some nutritional supplements? A better-structured workday? Eventually, you realize there are more unproductive parts, friends of Lara’s, sabotaging you. Surely, exiling them too will help, right? So the number of inhabitants of your mind’s forbidden areas grows. A little more every day.
It works for a while until it doesn’t.
Suddenly, your partner starts getting upset (but why?) All your new clients are difficult. Your friends don’t laugh at your office stories anymore. All of that dream-life is running like sand through your fingers. And no matter how much you fight, you just can’t hold onto it.
What happened? As you exiled Lara and her friends, you became consumed by your fears. The “I’m only worthy if I make a lot of money/am perfect/know everything/take care of every needy person”-parts of your diverse mental makeup. With Lara and the other self-love parts gone, you have also lost the ability to see the world through their eyes. You can only ever see problems, but not happiness. Jest with cynism, but not with an authentic laugh. You had to armor up, instead of being soft and vulnerable.
And with that, you lost the ability to connect to others, to your own body, to your heart.
To that unprofessional silliness, to your pets, your fascinations, and so much more. Consequently, all these other important relationships, the ones that you found more important than yourself suffered too. Your career, your spouse, your kids, that person in need, God. They were all robbed of the ability to connect with you. By making them, or what you thought you should give them, more important than the relationship with yourself, you lost them all instead.
How does that feel? Lonely, so lonely. Enraging. Confusing. Difficult. And unjust. It’s all a lie. Work hard, follow the rules, look like this, behave like that, and everybody will love you. In one version or another, that’s what we’ve all been told. And it’s a lie. A terrible, terrible lie.
What’s the truth?
Learn to love yourself, accept yourself, to have compassion and understanding for yourself, and life will be beautiful.
As you can tell, I’m not promising you that you will be loved or accepted or validated or successful. I don’t have to.
You will be loved because you love yourself.
And you will be loved because humans, at their very undiluted core, are creatures of love. We can’t but be naturally drawn to it. And yes, you’ll be accepted and validated, and successful. Because in a healthy relationship with yourself, you get to define what it all means. Even to that uncontrollable outside world, that natural harmony will ring like a quiet but insistent bell, through the lives of all the people you touched. Altering them. Drawing them to you. Making deep connections effortlessly possible.
And so you become intimately familiar with all the parts of yourself, even the scary and forbidden ones. You slowly flip back that switch. You manage to spend more and more time with yourself. On yourself. On good days and bad days. In good health and bad health. As you reunite, that which you had always craved for–connection, being helpful, passing on love–all flows back into your life. Naturally.
And that is why your relationship with yourself is the most important one in the world. The one relationship that is the sacred foundation to that wonderful human being you always imagined yourself to be. If you want to be there for others, bringing happiness and delight into the world, you need to be your own number one priority first. It’s not selfish. It’s not self-absorbed. Quite simply, it’s healthy and, to use Western culture-speak, the most productive thing you can do.