A happy young woman outdoors

How To Repair Your Relationship With You

We are constantly searching for connection that validates and sustains us. Social networking sites, dating apps, coffee shops, and intramural sports teams, etc. create an entire economy around this need for community in a world that continually seeks to isolate us from one another. We filter vacation photos and poll our brain trust of close friends for the most intriguing answers to Hinge prompts. We tell coworkers we’ll play sports every Thursday night for three months even though we have feared physical activity since being picked last in a high school gymnasium. In order to bring ourselves closer to others, we are strongly incentivized to craft images of ourselves that will maximize public admiration. 

In all of this stretching and posing to reflect what we believe others want to see, we often unintentionally betray ourselves and neglect our basic wants and needs. Each time we ignore our authentic selves, we create a pattern of rupture with ourselves. Over time, this consistent self-betrayal can create conflict in our relationship with our sense of self-identity, the way it would with a relationship with a partner, friend, or loved one. When rupture occurs, steps must be taken to repair what’s broken. The question then becomes, how do we begin to repair our relationship with ourselves?

What does “rupture” mean in an intrapersonal relationship?

An interpersonal relationship “rupture” often describes an event or action leading to a “break” in the trust, connection, or engagement between two people. Examples might include: disclosing a secret told to you in confidence; breaking a promise to a loved one; or engaging in action or rhetoric that demeans or belittles another’s identity. On the other hand, identifying a rupture in an intrapersonal relationship (the relationship with yourself) can be difficult.

An intrapersonal relationship rupture can refer to any event or choice you make that causes you to abandon yourself, your true nature, and your individual needs. This can mean:

  • Behaving in a way that makes you feel unsafe or inauthentic to earn others’ admiration
  • Ignoring or numbing your emotions, through alcohol, food, social media, etc.
  • Engaging in negative self-talk, making you feel anxious and ashamed 
  • Continually placing others’ needs before your own (unable to set boundaries, self-advocate, etc.)
  • Placing unrealistically high expectations on yourself and failing to recognize your own accomplishments

If left unaddressed, these ruptures can lead to feelings of loneliness, low self-esteem, and a sense of powerlessness to change or improve your life. It can take time to repair your self-relationship by ending these behaviors and getting back in touch with your emotions and internal sense of identity. 

What does “repair” mean in an intrapersonal relationship?

When a rupture occurs in a relationship with others, the possibility of losing the person is usually an incentive to quickly take reparative action. People often take themselves for granted in this same situation. It can take time to rebuild the trust you may have lost in yourself. It’s common for feelings of anxiety, guilt, and grief to arise in situations where it may not feel appropriate because steps haven’t been taken to rebuild trust in oneself as the agent in your life and narrator of your story. 

“Repair” in a relationship with yourself means rebuilding trust in your subjective experience, your ability to make choices aligned with your values, and your ability to recognize your needs and wants. Before beginning to repair your intrapersonal relationship, you may need to build confidence in the same skills and beliefs necessary for interpersonal conflicts (see more in The School of Life’s article: “On Rupture and Repair”). These steps might include: 

  • Recognize your ability to apologize or notice when harm has been done and recognize it with remorse
  • Expand your capacity to forgive/understand that good people are capable of bad things, and that experiencing rupture does not mean anything is inherently negative about your character
  • Practice your ability to teach and learn reasonable self-expectations and adapt accordingly

How are you supposed to take steps towards repair?

As with any type of conflict resolution, intrapersonal conflict can be intimidating and may feel overwhelmingly negative. Many of us have been socialized to believe that conflict should be avoided at all costs. But like in any relationship, conflict can be used as a way of gaining intimacy and understanding. By investigating your emotions and showing empathy towards yourself, you can learn how best to care for your well-being as you navigate the world. Strategies to help you move towards repair include: 

Slow down and simply notice your negative emotions when they surface “for no reason.”

It’s important to first work on noticing moments when you are distancing from your internal self. Negative emotions like anxiety, sadness, resentment, listlessness, fear, and guilt aren’t pleasant to experience, but they provide important information about how you’re interacting with your environment. Try not to immediately distract yourself or numb these feelings. When they come up, slow down. Try to name and describe your emotions. 

Explore your feelings and articulate your unmet needs. 

Once you’ve articulated what you’re feeling, ask yourself what that feeling might be telling you. For example, “What do I need in this moment, and how might I be ignoring that need?” You can’t remove your emotions, but you can control your response. Think about how you can and have responded to this emotion in the past, with your actions and thoughts. 

Identify what is within your control, and don’t beat yourself up over it.

If you can, make a list of what may or may not be working for you. If you identify some behaviors that aren’t helping or are even hurting, make note of that. This could mean seeing relationships where you haven’t yet set an important boundary or recognizing instances where you engage in increasingly negative self-talk. 

When there is no external negative event to point to, try not to point back at yourself for lack of a better lineup. You have created patterns of thought and behavior in order to survive. Once a pattern no longer serves you, you need to gently acknowledge the harm it’s causing and forgive yourself. You were doing the best you could with what you knew at the time.

Implement a change.

This is the part where everyone who has patiently read to this point throws up their hands and says, “that’s easier said than done,” or something similar with a few expletives thrown in for emphasis.  You are absolutely correct – it’s way easier said than done, but this is the good stuff. 

In an interpersonal relationship, this could mean keeping your promises when you historically haven’t. In an intrapersonal relationship, you may need to dedicate time with a therapist to implement healthy coping skills and re-develop positive beliefs about yourself. It is hard work that will need to be practiced over and over again. Each time you can recognize your emotions, acknowledge them, and respond, you are proving that you are capable of trusting your own experience. Over time, you will be confident that you will not abandon yourself again.

Cultivate a sense of self-appreciation and gratitude

Putting in the work to self-reflect and make changes is an amazing start, but “repair is a process, not a performance.” It’s important to acknowledge and nourish your strengths and unique gifts. Revisit the difficult moments you’ve had in life and thank yourself for all the actions you took to make it through. Give yourself credit each time you show up for yourself and attend to your own needs, with the knowledge that you are worthy of care and love. 

“The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was yourself.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.”

- Derek Walcott, “Love After Love”

References & Resources

  1. Grimmer 2019
  2. Gottman
  3. School of Life
  4. Lindsay Braman