It is not possible for anyone to give what one does not have. This applies to giving emotionally within relationships as much as it does to giving someone a loaf of bread. A relationship is not limited to what exists between two or more people. Relationships also include how you feel about and deal with yourself. If this sounds odd, ask yourself these questions:
Do I like myself?
Do I like to spend time with myself?
Do I believe I am a good person?
Do I believe I have worth and value?
Do I treat myself the way I would like to be treated by others?
Am I comfortable in my own skin, or do I constantly wish I were someone or something else?
Relationship with Yourself
Unless you are able to have a true, unconditional relationship with yourself, it is not possible to have a sincere and truly meaningful relationship with others. Remember, you cannot give what you do not have. Can you give hope to others if you do not possess it for yourself? Can you be forgiving of others if you cannot forgive yourself? Can you give love to others if you do not love yourself? One of my favorite children’s books is I Like Me by Nancy Carlson. This is a story about a little pig who is her very own best friend and has learned how to have a relationship with herself. Though it is an extremely simple book, it possess profound truth. As is usually the case, truth is more simple than we tend to make it.
Before looking at some dynamics of interpersonal relationships, let’s take a look at some things to consider in having a healthy relationship with yourself. Bernie Siegel defines healing as “one’s willingness to become reacquainted with one’s own true self and to allow one’s fellow man to do the same.” (How to Live Between Office Visits pg 42) Your relationship with yourself will be directly affected by how much you love yourself–not in a narcissistic kind of way but in an unconditional acceptance kind of way. When remembering healthy relationships you have had throughout your life, you probably had a degree of love for the person with whom you had the relationship. This love is what fed and nurtured the relationship. Your relationship with yourself is no different. It must be grounded in love.
Do you love yourself enough to make your own choices without guessing what other people want? It is not your responsibility to make others happy. Just as you are responsible for your own emotions, others are responsible for their emotions.
Do you love yourself enough to make changes in your life, recognizing that you are the only one who can make your life what you want it to be?
Do you love yourself enough to sincerely believe you have the right to communicate your needs openly and honestly without fear of what others may think or say?
Do you love yourself enough to know that you have the right to state your needs in a clear and assertive manner? You are your own best advocate and can speak to your needs far better than anyone else can.
Do you love yourself enough to identify your feelings and give yourself permission to feel them without letting others tell you what you ought to feel?
Do you love yourself enough to validate yourself? Is what you think about yourself more important than what others think about you?
Do you love yourself enough to believe that you are worthy and deserving of a support system that is comprised of people who care for you?
Do you love yourself enough to make time for yourself that includes self nurturing, without feeling shameful or guilty? Remember that guilt says “I made a mistake,” while shame says “I am a mistake.”
Do you love yourself enough to allow yourself to establish your own sense of self? You get to decide who you are. Nobody else can define who you are unless you allow them to do so.
Relationships with Others
As you ponder and apply these ideas, you will feel your self-acceptance and love for yourself growing internally. As you begin to attain this self-love, you will be in a position to give to others what you now possess yourself–love.
If you are depressed, it may be that the last thing you feel like doing is spending your time with others. It likely feels more comfortable to isolate and exclude yourself from any social contact. Maybe you have already become the proverbial “brick wall,” shutting out everyone who used to matter to you in the name of creating safety for yourself. The problem you may fail to recognize is that this brick wall not only keeps others out–it keeps you trapped inside. Whatever your reasons may be, becoming more socially engaged is a key factor in overcoming the grip your depression has on you.
Humans are social beings. We thrive on social interaction. It is innate. We long for connections with others. It has been said that if a baby were born and no one acknowledged or responded to it in any way, it would not know that it existed. Relationships with others provide us with a sense of nurture, belonging, and purpose. Ideally, your relationships will be healthy. However, to be realistic, you will also have relationships that are not healthy. Depression can result from being in relationships, socially or intimately, that are not healthy. An unhealthy relationship is one that breaks you down and does little, if anything, to build you up. Let’s compare and contrast relationships that are healthy and promote positive growth to those that are dysfunctional and may be adding to your depression.
Growth-promoting relationships: Depression inducing relationships:
I feel treated as an equal. I am not treated as an equal.
I experience emotional balance. I experience an emotional imbalance.
I have choice that is respected. I have no choice.
I am free to do as I please. I am forced to do what is expected.
I want to share my needs/feelings. I am afraid to share my needs/feelings.
I want to be in the relationship. I have to be in the relationship.
“I” begin with me. “I” begins with you.
I have permission to initiate. I am resigned to the role of responder.
I take care of me. I need you to take care of me.
I am based in reality. I am based in delusion.
I am unconditionally accepted. I am repeatedly rejected.
I am allowed to be. I am not allowed to be.
As a new therapist, I worked with a young couple who had not been married for long. The relationship had developed quickly and moved to marriage within a year of their meeting. The wife had initiated therapy on the grounds that her husband was “not the man she married.” She admitted that she was thinking about a divorce. On the other hand, the husband described his wife as being withdrawn, difficult, and boring. He was only attending therapy to appease her.
As our sessions progressed, it quickly became evident that his cultural background was very male dominant, both verbally and emotionally. His was the final word, and her feelings were never taken into account. This created a power differential and emotional imbalance that was fundamental to the relationship. She described not having a choice because his culture allowed for what she termed “veto power” over women. She had not spent much time with his family prior to the marriage and had not noticed this dynamic in his parents’ relationship, but she had become keenly aware of it in the time she had spent with them since being married. She felt she couldn’t talk about her concerns. She had become the “responder” in the relationship according to the unspoken rules of the relationship.
What was perhaps most difficult for her was to let go of the dream she carried of being able to change him. She resisted the reality of her situation. In short, she was chronically depressed. The marriage ended in divorce, and I continued to work with her individually. Over time, she was able to see that when she first met her former husband she had needed to be rescued by a ‘knight on a white horse.’ In the beginning, he made her feel whole. She discovered these beliefs about being rescued were planted during her childhood as she watched her mother try to recover from her own divorce by repeatedly having relationships to stem the negative stigma of being a divorcee. Clearly, the whole situation was grounded in unhealthy, depression-inducing relationships–from what she observed as a child to what she had created in her own life.
I found an example of a much healthier relationship closer to home. For nearly eleven years, I have often seen an elderly couple walking through my neighborhood. They are well into their eighties. Although not as nimble as they once were, they are always side-by-side, neither one ahead nor behind. As sure as the sun will rise, their hands are linked. He helps her tenderly off the sidewalk as they cross the street. She carries his scarf if he gets too warm. Always they are talking and most often smiling with each other. I have not talked to them beyond a casual “hello” as I ran by. I have never seen one without the other, nor do I want to, for that matter. I do not know this couple personally, but what I do know is that they are the personification of a growth-promoting relationship. You may
argue that I have no idea what happens in their home when not in public. Argue all you want! I feel the mutual love and respect that radiates from them as I drive by. It lifts me. I see the ease and comfort of their non-verbal body language as they glide along the sidewalk. They are always in the present–never a worry or trace of concern is visible. They ooze being in the present. Though they walk as one, they are just as clearly their own personalities, equally accepted by the other. They want to be with each other. There is no sense of force. They are the epitome of balance. I hope to see them for many more years.
This article is only a basic assessment to help you identify what kind of relationships you may be experiencing and what areas you may need to address. I suggest asking these questions and more about each relationship in your life, including the one with yourself.