How Healthy Is Your Relationship with Yourself?

woman looking at herself in a mirror while outside in nature

In my last two blogs, I invited readers to consider how to apply the information from the Gottman Institute on determining how healthy or unhealthy any given relationship might be, especially those that are highly significant to a person. While Gottman specifically studied marital relationships, I took the liberty of assuming some of the same principles would apply to virtually all significant relationships.

My invitation now is for you to consider the relationship you have with yourself, your internal dialoguing with yourself and then how to apply the same concepts to it so you can notice how you treat yourself.

One piece of research I found fascinating is scientists’ estimates on how many thoughts we have in any given day and in any given hour. According to the website Success Consciousness, “Experts estimate that the mind thinks between 60,000 – 80,000 thoughts a day. That’s an average of 2500 – 3,300 thoughts per hour. That’s incredible.”

Meditation and mindfulness are practices that help a person become more self-aware of the mental activities going on within them. There is a whole therapeutic approach called Internal Family Systems that invites clients to become more aware of their specific internal interactions. For more information, check out this site.

Using the Gottman information, I invite you to consider how often you speak to yourself in ways that are affirming, nurturing and noncritical. Think about how often today you reminded yourself of things you did well. Have you noticed qualities about yourself that you are proud of and thankful for? Can you hear yourself mentally say, “Good job!” “You handled that well and it certainly was a ticklish situation!” or “Once again you are using your abilities to think on your feet.”

Think about your internal processes when you need to address a problem you might be having with an inner conversation with yourself, a time when you may have outwardly misspoken or shared something you were supposed to keep confidential and now are mentally processing how to handle it. “Hmmm, I can see now how I messed that up. Let me think about the options I have trying to make amends.” Or “Darn, I let my frustration get the better of me and now I think I hurt someone’s feelings. Maybe if I send a quick text that will help repair any possible damage.”

Remember, sharing at least five affirmations to any critical statement and the having the abilities to effectively problem solve are the key characteristics of people who most likely have healthier relationships with significant others.

Looking in the other direction, recall the characteristics Gottman discovered are indicators of less healthy relationships, the Four Horsemen: contempt, criticism, defensiveness and stonewalling. Notice the degrees to which you internally dialogue with yourself using any of these.

• Are you contemptuous of yourself? Do you frequently internally mock yourself, call yourself names like “dummy” or “idiot?”

• Are you frequently critical of things you have said or done? “Well, that was a really stupid thing to say.” “You should have thought that through more carefully and now you really blown it.”

• Do you constantly defend yourself to yourself? “I have every right to think of myself first. I don’t have to listen if other people say they are hurt by something I said or did.”

• Do you stonewall yourself, block yourself from mentally processing things you are saying to yourself or to others? “I don’t have to waste my time trying to figure out if I said something inappropriate. People get over it.”

Pausing to notice how healthy your internal operating system is offers you many opportunities for being more self-nurturing through regularly affirming yourself for who you are, the things you say and do that are healthy and helpful, both towards others and internally toward yourself. You can also practice internally noticing your abilities to problem-solve in healthy, creative and kind ways. You can listen for internal comments, messages you are sending yourself, messages that are contemptuous, critical, defensive or stonewalling and you can snag them, identifying them as unhealthy, unfair and inaccurate.

Applying the Gottman research on what constitutes unhealthy and healthy relationships gives us some tools for enhancing our mental and emotional health without promoting self-righteousness or arrogance.

Invitation for Reflection

  1. Were you surprised to learn how many thoughts you have in any given day? Notice how you were able to think about what you were thinking about.
  2. As you reflect on what happens within your own mind, can you pinpoint ways you affirm yourself? Can you appreciate if, when and how you are creative when problem solving?
  3. As you reflect on what happens within your own mind, do you notice tendencies to be contemptuous, critical, defensive or stonewalling about your thoughts? Consider the fact that no one deserves to internally beat themselves up. Appreciate that you have the right and the power to intercept unhealthy ways of thinking and replace those thoughts with thoughts that promote your sense of self-worth.

Diane Wagenhals, Director, Lakeside Global Institute