Improving Your Relationship with Yourself and Others

Video presentation of this page

The relationship you have with yourself is the foundation for all of your other relationships. In addition, how you see and treat yourself dramatically affects your coping abilities and your daily sense of well-being.

There are a number of ways you can improve how you feel about yourself: leveraging your strengths, beginning a gratitude practice, adopting a positive and optimistic way of being, and creating a clear sense of meaning and purpose. You can find links to these and other life improvement methods on the Coaching page.

Another way to improve your relationship with yourself is unburdening yourself from the effects of past experiences. This “unburdening” can be accomplished in two ways:

  • Self-forgiveness for things you have done
  • Self-inquiry into the things that have happened to you

You can make significant progress in each of these ways by creating new thought patterns, but it takes intention, a little effort, and a little time.

Creating a New Superhighway of Thought Patterns

Neuroplasticity is a general umbrella term referring to the brain’s ability to modify, change, and adapt both structure and function throughout life and in response to experience. We all had a very high degree of neuroplasticity when we were young. Our early experiences easily created thought patterns, or, “superhighways” of cognition. Now, our adult thoughts want to follow the same superhighways. It is sort of like cross-country skiing: It is easier to ski on a blazed trail than to create a new one.

The thought patterns we have developed because of mistakes we have made often lead to feelings of regret and remorse. Regret has to do with wishing you hadn’t taken a particular action. Remorse comes from true empathy for the pain the other person is feeling because of your actions. Both regret and remorse leave you feeling bad about yourself. They are a drag on your self-esteem and limit the energy you have to be kind and helpful, and to carry out your life purpose.

Similarly, the thought patterns we may have developed as a reaction to pain and neglect do not serve us well when we try to engage in healthy relationships with ourselves and others. These thought patterns may be effective at avoiding pain, but unfortunately, they also shut down our overall range of feelings. Keeping our painful experiences repressed saps our energy and leads to a variety of emotional and physical issues. Bringing these experiences out of the dark and into the light can be rewarding but also challenging. Our protective brains tell us, “I have already dealt with that!” or, “That experience didn’t really bother me that much!”

We can’t erase our memories or get rid of our existing thought patterns. But we can create new superhighways of thought patterns. Think of a new smooth highway next to an old highway in disrepair. Once the new highway is built there is little reason to use the old one.

Because we have lost much of our neuroplasticity by age 11, creating new superhighways can take some effort, but you can do it! The book Habits of a Happy Brain explains that it takes 45 days to create a new superhighway, by thinking for just five or ten minutes per day.

So let’s begin creating a new self-forgiveness superhighway. To make this work you are going to need an ideal “self-parent.”

Imagining the Ideal Self-Parent

The goal of raising children to adulthood is to love, nurture, and guide them to the point where they can parent themselves. Your parents probably did the best they could with the hand they were dealt. But no child gets all of their needs met or escapes youth without an ounce of trauma.

To start down the path of self-forgiveness and healing, you will need to create your “ideal” self-parent. What would that be like? Should your self-parent be controlling, harsh, unloving, and critical? No, that would be like applying a blow torch to heal a burn. Instead, your self-parent needs to be kind, loving, forgiving, compassionate, and accepting 100 percent.

Now, with your self-parent by your side, try to recall the times when you felt you were the least likable. Think of your most cringeworthy moments. Look at those experiences, as an ideal self-parent would, with 100 percent forgiveness, kindness, love, and compassion. You can certainly acknowledge your mistakes and even apologize for them. But realize you likely made your mistakes because you didn’t know better. Or because you had misguided ideas that were reactions to painful experiences.

Your Transformation

Look at this process of recalling and forgiving as part of the transformation from the “old” you to the “new” you. You can now go forward in a beautiful new way, where you imagine the ideal self-parent who has nothing but love, understanding, and encouragement for your inner self. Treat your inner self with huge admiration. You have been through a lot but you haven’t said no to life – you haven’t given up even though you weren’t dealt the best hand. Don’t just think about this stuff. Feel it and recognize that you can build upon these feelings for the rest of your life.

Your Plan of Action - Reflection Sessions

If you want to improve how you feel, and how you cope with life’s challenges, start a 45-day plan to create your new “thought-pattern” superhighway. You will be healing yourself from the inside out and the outside in. It only takes five or ten minutes of reflecting each day and here's what you do:

  • Just before you go to sleep, or after you wake up and are still in bed, spend five to 10 minutes thinking about your past
  • Think about the good things you have done and also your most cringeworthy moments – the ones for which you feel the greatest regret or remorse
  • Allow your ideal self-parent to step in and totally forgive you
  • Feel the warmth of love and forgiveness for yourself, realizing this will make you super powerful

You may not feel a change at first, but stay with it and you will see improvements in less than 45 days. You will notice your most cringeworthy moments will make you cringe less, if at all. This is part of the healing process.

If you feel like you are letting yourself off too easily for mistakes you have made, consider this: You need to be totally forgiving if you want to heal. You can't be your best self if you continue to let the past drag you down. Look at your mistakes as uninformed or misguided attempts at coping with the difficulties of life. If you were able you would have done better. Think about the future and how you want to rid yourself of baggage so you can be the best at helping yourself and the people around you, both of which will generate oxytocin and increase your sense of well-being.

This completes the discussion about self-forgiveness. As mentioned above, there is more “unburdening” you can do with compassionate self-inquiry.

Doubling Down with Self-Inquiry

Unburdening yourself from the effects of past experiences is not only about self-compassion and self-forgiveness. It is about self-inquiry into the things that have happened to you, and how they have shaped your behavior. Once you are up and running with your 45-day self-forgiveness reflection sessions you can begin to add in these questions:

  • What happened to you that should not have?
  • What did not happen that should have?

This is the beginning of a healing process described on the Reframing Your Past page. There you will learn about the four steps to healing and why reconnecting with your past experiences can reduce anxiety, depression, problematic behaviors, and physical health difficulties.

On Healing and Forgiveness - Ted Talk by Dolph Lundgren