Your relationship to everything in life starts with your relationship to yourself. Mostly we don’t even know that we have a relationship with ourselves. I’m just ‘I’, aren’t I?
Being human means being in relationship to everything. And it’s not the way the world is that shapes our lives, but how we relate to what is. Relationship is the prism through which all of life is experienced. You could say that the way we relate is what constitutes the world.
So, let’s start with your relationship with you.
In the 1500 years since Saint Augustine introduced the idea of original sin to the western world, we’ve mostly learned to understand the being of being human as essentially flawed, and profoundly broken. Check if this is true for you. What’s the nature of your secret inner conversation about yourself? How much judgement is there? How much “I messed up” or “they’ll find out I’m a fraud”? And how much puffed-up pride that covers a basic sense of not being enough?
And what about all the labels you have for yourself? Idiot? Good-for-nothing? Imposter? How much hidden shame? How does all of this feel?
You might have to observe for a while and be scrupulously honest with yourself to catch on to the harshness of your inner world. Sometimes you’ve lived with it for so long, it’s become invisible. But, in as much as it’s the way you relate to yourself, it’s also a foundation for your relationship with others. The constant, gnawing sense of not being alright fuels our harsh judgements of our colleagues, friends, families, children. It leads to our bouncing between grandiosity and deflation. It has us engage in repeated strategies to feel at ease again: helping so that we can feel that people need us more than from our genuine concern; self-aggrandising; pushing others aside so we can show how important we are; being defensive; distracting ourselves with the soft screen-glow of our devices; busying ourselves with tasks that contribute little but make us feel of significance. It interrupts our generosity, care, and gratitude.
The first step in freeing yourself from the grip of this to relate to yourself with great kindness. Recognise that the part of you that is harsh in this way is not the whole of you. Give it a name: inner critic, the resistance, the super-ego. Naming it can allow you some breathing room, some space from this phenomenon, the possibility of releasing yourself from being swept up by it quite so much.
And understand you did not do anything wrong to have this, though the inner critic will insist that’s the case. It’s just part of our human inheritance.
Finding out that inner critic is there, seeing the shadow it casts, and giving up identifying yourself with it is the first step. It’s a move that can start to liberate you to fully make the contribution you’re here to make.
Because when when you learn to relate to yourself with kindness, you can at last relate to others with kindness too.