We often consider actions taken to assure self-care as selfish. On the outside, we perceive this fatal character flaw in others who take care of themselves. Selfishness is after all, a bad and horrible thing. Only selfish people put themselves first. Only selfish people say ‘No’ to a friend.
There’s no argument here that selfish people put themselves first from time to time, or that the “selfish” characteristic can be ascribed to those who can say no. But why does selfish carry such a negative connotation? Human characteristics are only good or bad in accordance with how they’re perceived by the larger part of polite society.
It’s interesting to note that in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the needs of esteem and self-actualization come after the need for inclusion, and community. According to Abraham Maslow, his model for motivation shows a map of human endeavor from one goal to the next.
Once we’ve substantially met the needs of one step, we move on to the next, keeping in mind that if anything in the realm of security and physical needs fall, we fall back to reestablish those foundations (Maslow, 1954).
But why do the needs of the “self” come after our social needs?
Remember, we don’t have to completely fulfill each need to move on to the next, we only have to mostly fulfill each need. It’s almost like Esteem and Self-Actualization are desires more than needs, or at least that’s what it seems like for a lot of people.
We like our social structures, our significant others (SO’s), and being included. It becomes a measurement of how good a person is, and it mutes the feelings of loneliness- but only mutes.
Interpersonal and Intrapersonal
- Interpersonal relationships involve other people.
- Our Intrapersonal relationship is the relationship we each have with ourselves.
Yes, our social structures often come first in our needs, but we cannot sustain interpersonal relationships in a healthy way unless we each have a good intrapersonal relationship with our self. It’s just that simple.
Put another way, if you were to go a week without a shower or brushing your teeth and generally just don’t tend to basic hygiene, then your co-workers, your friends, and your family wills start to complain- possibly loudly. Personal hygiene affects the people around us so taking care of the self in this way is not only okay. It’s encouraged.
However, taking the time to focus on your intrapersonal relationship can be construed as selfish in the way selfish is defined as being focused only on the self (Websters II New Riverside University Dictionary, 1984). The negative inference here comes from the fact that selfish is marked by only being focused on the self.
So, let’s step away from the idea that some of the steps necessary to building a great relationship with yourself are negative or bad. Let’s look at the commitment to yourself that will be fundamental in this process.
Boredom and Loneliness
We seek out social structures and significant others because that community we’ve built for ourselves mutes the loneliness. Once we’re alone, though, that feeling of loneliness comes back doesn’t it? Or, because we’re bored, we fill our time with tasks, either physical or mental. Being bored and being alone are the two most difficult tasks any of us can do. But they’re necessary.
Recent studies have shown that being bored can be beneficial especially when we have a specific issue or problem nagging at our consciousness. The constant task of filling our time also fills our brains, and sometimes, it ends up feeling like a spam box.
When we take the time to allow ourselves to be bored, with nothing else to do, our brains have the ability to wander and daydream at will. This increases creativity, which can lead to helping with problem solving skills (Treanor, 2018).
In times of boredom, we also meet the one person we tend to neglect the most. We’re confronted with the possibility of loneliness because we’re alone. Loneliness is known to have many negative physiological and psychological effects but being alone doesn’t have to equal loneliness.
Learning to sit with yourself for a time, without the beat and rhythm of other people, and allowing yourself to be bored for just a moment every now and then allows you the access your need to get to know your inner-self: The person you most need a great relationship with. This is where you with a new commitment to create that awesome intrapersonal relationship you need so very badly.
The next question that undoubtedly popped into your mind is, “What do I do when I’m being bored?” or something to that effect right?
It feels like an odd question, but it’s a legitimate point. We’re creatures of purpose. Because of our sentience, we have the ability for abstract thought and actions beyond achieving a singular goal. So, when someone suggests boredom as a task, we often wonder how we can achieve this task as we would with anything else.
One thing you can do is to simply sit on your couch and try to forget everything on your to do list today, but that’s often easier said than done.
- One focus which works achieve that active boredom and purposeful aloneness is Mindful Meditation. Meditation is, by many, considered to be a practice that brings stillness to the mind. It’s been proven to have many beneficial psychological and physiological side effects like: Lowering blood pressure
- Regulating the heart rate
- Boosting the immune system
- Assisting in creative efforts
- and Improving breathing(Orson, 2018).
However, despite popular belief to the contrary meditation is not about reaching a state of nirvana where your mind becomes empty, and your thoughts become blank. We call that being unconscious.
Make no mistake; that doesn’t mean sleep. Even in REM states our brains are active. That’s why we dream. But, for some reason, this idea of emptying the mind where it’s a total blank has purveyed among popular opinion of meditation. Meditation is a practice that takes time to master.
People say that practice makes perfect right?
No. Perfect practice makes perfect.
You can practice meditation all you want with the goal of emptying your brain, but this will only lead to frustration when you can’t achieve this goal. Perfect practice implies practicing something the way it should be performed – this is why musicians practice scales and fundamentals over and over or practice a difficult piece in a beat and rhythm much slower than it’s intended to be played during a performance.
In this case specifically, perfect practice implies practicing Mindful Meditation with the purpose of being bored and alone for those few minutes.
The Mindfulness part of Mindful Meditation is the part where we meditate for the purpose of focusing on what’s going on physiologically. There is no bliss state in meditation, or other worldly experience. There is you, and your intrapersonal relationship.
The purpose of Mindful Meditation is to focus on being fully present, aware of your surroundings, what you’re doing, what your body is doing, and not be reactive to what’s going on around you (Chua, 2018).
During any type of meditation, we focus on breathing. This is because the purpose of meditation is the breath. Mindful Meditation is very simple and is important to understanding yourself when you’re bored and alone.
- Meditation is about self-exploration, not emptying your mind.
- You don’t become thought free and undistracted.
- Your mind will wonder which will open up unique and interesting doorways of thought and creativity.
- It’s about venturing into the interworking’s of your mind, and deeper personalities to explore yourself.
- It gives you the ability to focus more on external factors like a gust of wind, a certain smell emanating from somewhere else in the house.
- It’s about focusing on your emotions: what you hate, love, or want more of in your life.
- You will eventually develop the ability to spend this alone time without judgment so you can explore your own curiosity.
Researchers believe that the part of meditation that is so beneficial is the point when you realize that your mind has wondered. This creates a bit of cognitive awareness that can eventually lead to physical awareness (Chua, 2018) because you’re focusing on the fact that your mind has wondered, and your breath that will carry you back.
Building a great relationship with you is a long-term goal, and a life-long journey.
After all, you’re going to grow and change just like everybody else. Understanding your thought processes on a deeper level, which is helped by meditation, allows you to recognize those changes as they happen.
This part of developing that intrapersonal relationship also develops that commitment to you because establishing a habit of purpose driven boredom, alone time, and Mindful Meditation is a commitment in and of itself.
Your Story and Self-Talk
You’ve done it. We’ve all done it. You’ve been caught talking to yourself, and the person who caught you very likely looked at you like you’ve flown off your rocker.
First of all, talking to yourself is not a sign that you’re unhinged; as your peers or significant others may have made you feel in the past. On the contrary, a recent study has found that “relevant verbal instruction” is not only a sign of sanity; it’s a sign of good health.
Most of the time when we talk to ourselves, we’re bored, or we’re trying to achieve a specific task. This same study found that when its participants talked themselves through a task, their performance far outreached the performance of those individuals who were specifically instructed to remain silent, or who were prevented from having a conversation with themselves (Kirkham, Breeze, & Mari-Beffa, 2012).
There is one important factor for all of this that needs to be directly addressed: Self-talk needs to be positive and purposeful. The only way to take full advantage of this is to edit your internal voice. That voice that serves as your constant critic, and who tells you things like, “you’re just not good enough,” needs to take a long hike to the tall side of a cliff.
That probably feels rather rude, but seriously, that inner voice is a representation of your intrapersonal relationship as it currently stands. Your inner voice is your self-confidence, your motivation, and your company when you’re bored or alone.
Remember how earlier we established how detrimental loneliness is to the body and mind? This is because loneliness comes from a place of negativity, whereas the ability to be alone is a sign of a healthy intrapersonal relationship that is always being developed and worked on.
All of this said- some amount of feedback is important, but as Tim Grover said: “The only difference between feedback and criticism is how you hear it.” Any time we experience a hardship, we hear that inner voice yelling at us.
Both are a fact of life and a part of growth. However, it’s important to understand why your inner self is telling you something like, “you’re just a failure,” instead of, “get up, dust yourself off, and try again.”
With your significant others and social network, if someone tells you that you’re a screw up, you can’t control the words out of their mouth. Nor can you control their opinion of you in a realistically immediate way.
All you can really do is chose how you react, which we’ll get into in a moment. On the other hand, that voice- that part of you that you’re trying to develop a healthy and great relationship with- is something you do have complete control over, and that control is something you should exercise.
Mindful Meditation has been shown to enhance creativity and pathways for critical thought. Its purpose is to create and develop an awareness of the self; this includes biofeedback and self-talk.
When you spend time with yourself you start to realize when you’re talking to yourself, analyze what you’re saying, and recognize what you’re feeling. This awareness is the only path to beneficial and real change or growth. Once you realize how you’re talking to yourself, and how you make yourself feel, you can begin to edit your self-talk.
We all have a story. We all have a past. For some of us, some parts of our stories are not so great. Many people have a past that includes neglect or abuse in some way. Others have a past that includes only happy memories, or some sort of confined trauma that affects us years later.
Regardless of what’s in your past, your past is your story. You can’t change it. At the time, you may not have been able to control it- even if you knew then what you know now. All you can do is take responsibility.
This doesn’t mean that you take the blame. Accepting blame and accepting responsibility are two completely different things even though they seem to be synonymous in our current society.
- Blame is to be held at fault
- Responsibility is something for which you are responsible.
These two words aren’t even synonyms.
- Blame: Criticism; Censure; Culpability; Guilt; Charge; Reproach; Condemn(Morehead, 2001)
- Responsibility: Duty(Websters II New Riverside University Dictionary, 1984)
Accepting responsibility for how you react to others, situations outside of your control, and how your story affects your everyday life means deciding for yourself the kind of person you want to be.
It means recognizing your emotions when your inner self tells you that you’re no good and deciding that part of your intrapersonal relationship just isn’t healthy and needs to be re-focused. It means hearing someone call you a name and consciously deciding how to react. It means editing your story and self-talk in a way that is beneficial and healthy.
Editing your story should never include lying to yourself or changing the view of events from reality to fantasy. It means accepting what has happened to you or for you and deciding for yourself how that is going to impact your life and intrapersonal relationship.
Another factor in editing your story and self-talk is forgiveness. It sounds a little cliché, but the truth will always remain constant no matter how much we hate hearing it. The fact of the matter is that if you have a hard time spending time alone, accepting boredom, or focusing on Mindful Meditation, it’s time to ask yourself if you’ve accepted responsibility to the point of blaming yourself for something.
We all do it. Whether it’s a dog that was abducted over Thanksgiving break when the family was out of town, a lost loved one, hateful last words, or an accident that resulted in an injury, constant and un-ending punishment is not healthy.
People say, “Forgive and Forget,” but that’s not healthy either. Choosing to forget does not necessarily mean you’ve forgiven yourself. It only means you’ve edited your story in an unhealthy way and substituted reality for fantasy. There is something like this in everyone’s life. We all have it.
The difference for some is that healthy individuals who have a great relationship with themselves are able to forgive themselves. They’re also able to forgive others. Forgiveness does not mean something wasn’t your fault. It just means that, for yourself, you’ve come to a point where you can forgive.
It’s important to remember that forgiveness is always about you. When it involves you forgiving another person, it’s still about you because it’s ultimately for you. Forgiving another for something horrific does not mean you’ve absolved them of their culpability or crime, nor does it always repair a broken relationship.
That’s not the purpose of forgiveness. Its purpose is to allow you to move on with your life in a healthy manner where your story and self-talk are positives instead of negatives.
Burying hurt or damaged feelings is never healthy, neither is ignoring them. This is why forgiveness is so important. It’s also important to accept reality, feel uncomfortable emotions, and let go when necessary.
There is a vast difference between burying negative emotions, ignoring them, and letting go. By accepting reality, you can recognize when you’re taking part in maladaptive behavior like burying or ignoring emotions rather than recognizing them and letting them go. False forgiveness only leads to animosity, and it hurts your interpersonal and intrapersonal relationships.
The Company You Keep
Once you’ve reached this point you should be able to cultivate your interpersonal relationships and cull the negative and toxic relationships.
Yea, that sounds really harsh, but up to this point, you’ve read about being bored, participating in Mindful Meditation, accepting responsibility, editing your self-talk, and being kind to yourself. But, none of that will do any good if your social needs aren’t balanced. Remember Maslow’s Hierarchy? This is the time when you evaluate your social network, and significant others (SO) matrix.
Consider, for a moment, that you are a person with a specific circle of friends. Yet, none of those friends share your interests. If your circle of friends is into going out to the bar every Friday night, or to Karaoke night every week, but you’re interested in getting up at sunrise to start a 4-day hike across the Ozark Highlands Trail, or the Pine Ridge Mountain Range; you know- for fun, then your interests and the interests of your social circle likely aren’t balanced.
It’s okay to have friends whose interests vary significantly from yours, but your social network must include people whose interests mirror yours in some capacity. A social network is meant to provide balance. That’s what we seek in Maslow’s Hierarchy.
We all need community and to be included. To that point of inclusion, if you have friends who have a significantly negative impact on your life, it may be time to re-evaluate those relationships. Re-evaluating a relationship does not necessarily mean culling the relationship.
Sometimes, for a primary or secondary relationship that has a negative effect on your life, all you need is to figure out why that relationship is so negative and address the issue. Other times, however, if the relationship – or the presence of the individual- has become toxic and is beyond repair, it’s time to cut ties and move on.
This is often difficult with primary relationships that have a familial bond component. But, it’s sometimes necessary, and it’s important to hone the skill sets you need to recognize this, and to recover from the loss. Even if a relationship is toxic, and is hurting you in an unmeasurable way, culling the relationship will be a loss that you will need to mourn should you decide to.
Sometimes, in our SO matrix, we have people who are tertiary relationships but with whom we have a very positive relationship. When this happens, it may be beneficial to cultivate that relationship into a primary or secondary relationship or friendship.
The company you keep will have a huge impact on how well you can meet your needs for esteem and self-actualization. You’ll want to surround yourself with people who are genuinely trying to achieve the same in their lives.
There is strength in numbers, and when one of you falters by negative self-talk, the rest of you are there to call them out and address the problem as a group. If you surround yourself with people who are constantly negative, their bad habits are going to eventually wear off, and wear you down.
Unfortunately, there are people in our lives who we love, and who we cannot discard, but who are pathologically negative. When this happens, and it will happen, you’ll need to find a way to balance that relationship with your other relationships, and with your intrapersonal relationship.
Remember, friends don’t come by the hundreds. Love, though a renewable and infinite resource, does not just pour in from nowhere. Your true friends and loved ones are people with whom you feel safe, can be yourself, and make you feel empowered and supported (Kassianos, 2018).
You find your friends through shared experiences just as you grow with your family from your shared experiences. This is no different when you commit to yourself and develop a great personal relationship with you. After all, with all of your friends and loved ones on your SO matrix, you are the only one who is there for everything.
Your personal growth is dependent on your intrapersonal relationship. Your growth within, and maintenance of, your interpersonal relationships with your significant others is also highly dependent on having a great personal relationship with yourself. They’re interconnected and cannot be cut from each other.
Be Alone with Yourself without Loneliness
It would be easier to take a short-cut and chart out a simple info-graph about how to develop a great intrapersonal relationship and to commit to yourself.
There are literally dozens to hundreds of ideas and tasks that can be assigned in developing a healthy and great relationship with you and focusing on that commitment; and they’re all great ideas.
- Go for a walk
- Focus on self-love
- Laugh often
- Develop a routine of affirmation
- Start a gratitude list
- Pick up a new hobby that will bring you joy
- Take yourself on a date
However, none of them will do you any good until you can be alone with yourself without that negative connotation of loneliness in your life.
An awe-walk is a way to contact your inner child and bring that person out for a visit. You can go to a park you haven’t been to in a while or take a ride on a roller coaster. The basic idea is to spend time alone and look for something that activates your sense of wonder.
There isn’t much that’s more exhilarating than happening upon a nest of ducklings as one begins to hatch or reach the top of Birch Knob tower on a clear day with a blue sky and a high sun when the Pine Ridge Mountain Range has reached its peak color during fall.
But if you don’t like the person, you’re with- yourself- you’re not going to get much joy from it. This is something you do when you’ve reached a point where you like yourself and can be alone without necessarily being lonely.
Even the healthiest people with the best intrapersonal relationships get lonely when they’re alone, and when they’re with their social network. Loneliness happens because we want to share a part of ourselves with others. It’s a part of growth.
The key point here is being able to do something like an awe walk without always needing the rhythm of someone else’s heartbeat. The scenario posited here is fantastic to share, but it should also be fantastic to experience alone. The same concept applies when you take yourself on a date.
Focusing on self-love is another amazing idea. It’s a great task to explore while you’re working on Mindful Meditation, but this is not a standalone task. In one way or another, this is something that is incorporated with other tasks by nature.
Remember how self-talk is healthy, but only if it’s positive? This is one area to address in self-talk, when editing your story, taking responsibility, and learning to forgive. The same concept applies when you find that you need to laugh more, when you work on that gratitude list, or routine of affirmation.
All of these smaller components would fit nicely together on a beautifully designed and well-thought out graph that’s easy to look at with one glancing pass. But they are all part of a larger and more detailed image. It’s like comparing a fact sheet to a Picasso.
Definitely focus on self-love, affirmation, what you’re grateful for, etc. Go on those awe-walks because you never know what you may find. Take yourself on a date. Do all of this in your commitment to yourself but do these things as part of developing your mindfulness, perfecting meditation, editing your self-talk and story, learning to forgive, and understanding your SO matrix because that is how you begin to develop a great relationship with yourself.
Once you get to a point where you can do this with some level of routine, and comfort, it’s time to continue keep doing what works; to continue perfecting your techniques as you emerge a better person with stronger interpersonal relationships because you’ve committed to yourself and you’ve built a great relationship with you.