Repairing Your Damaged Relationship with Yourself
I’ve often thought about the concepts of self-acceptance and self-compassion, and even self-forgiveness. They are all crucial components of loving oneself well, but something occurred to me recently that I’m not sure I’ve ever thought or talked about. There is a concept in our field of counseling and therapy called “rupture and repair.” This is often called “the secret of successful relationships.”
I want to quote some of this article called “On Rupture and Repair” from The School of Life to help you understand this concept in the context of interpersonal relationships.
It says this:
Many tensions within relationships can usefully be looked at through the prism of a concept much used within psychotherapy: the idea of ‘rupture’ and ‘repair.’ For psychotherapists, every relationship is at risk of moments of frustration or as the term has it, of ‘rupture’, when we suffer a loss of trust in another person as someone in whom we can safely deposit our love, and whom we believe can be kind and understanding of our needs.
The ruptures are often quite small, and to outside observers perhaps imperceptible: one person fails to respond warmly to another’s greeting; someone tries to explain an idea to their partner who shrugs and says off-handedly that they have no idea what they’re on about; in front of friends, a lover shares an anecdote which casts the partner in a less than flattering light. Or the rupture can be more serious: someone calls someone a stupid fool and breaks a door. A birthday is forgotten. An affair begins.
The point about ruptures is that they say nothing – in themselves – about a relationship’s prospects of survival. There might be constant rather grave ruptures and no break up. Or there might be one or two tense moments over a minor disagreement – and things head towards collapse.
What determines the difference is something that psychotherapists are especially keen to teach us about: the capacity for what they term ‘repair’. Repair refers to the work needed for two people to regain each others’ trust, and restore themselves in the others’ mind as someone who is essentially decent and sympathetic and can be a ‘good enough’ interpreter of their needs. As psychotherapy points out, repair isn’t just one capacity among others, it is arguably the central determinant of one’s mastery of emotional maturity; it is what identifies us as true adults.
The article then says that “good repair then relies on four separate skills:” the ability to apologize, the ability to forgive, the ability to teach, and the ability to learn.
This article is telling us how to effectively repair in our relationships with others, but have we ever considered the necessity of repair with self?
Because sometimes we hurt ourselves more than anyone else. We speak unkindly about ourselves and to ourselves. We call ourselves names and don’t listen to what our emotions and body and mind could be telling us. We ignore our needs and push ourselves beyond our limits. We don’t take care of ourselves. We allow ourselves to get into spirals of shame and disgust with who we are or what we’ve done. We don’t forgive ourselves and identify with all our flaws and mistakes. We forget about ourselves and give at the great expense of self. We mistreat ourselves and betray ourselves to the point of no longer being able to even trust ourselves.
Some people who believe in and follow Jesus who are listening today may be getting all squeamish, haha, but stay with me. We are to love God with it all, and love people like we love ourselves. LIKE WE LOVE OURSELVES. I’ve talked about this many times before in this space, but we DO have a relationship with our self. Just like we have relationships with God and other people. We have one with ourselves, and it’s often the most neglected.
We are often there very ones who cause a rupture here. We are often the ones who mistreat ourselves worse than anyone else around us. This is rupture.
So if good repair after a rupture is the “central determinant of one’s mastery of emotional maturity,” and the secret to a successful relationship, then maybe it’s time to engage in good repair practices with ourselves.
How? How do we do this? What can it look like?
1. Apologize to yourself.
Did you hear that? This is profound, friend. Don’t miss it. Apologize to yourself. In all my life, I’ve never done this. I’ve worked toward self-forgiveness and compassion and grace and acceptance, but I’ve never said to myself, “I’m sorry.” I’m sorry for not exercising and eating well. I’m sorry for not prioritizing sleep. I’m sorry for believing so many negative things, lies, really, about you. I’m sorry for talking down to you, for even at times almost hating you. I’m sorry I didn’t give you what you need, the things that were in my power to give. I’m sorry for neglecting you and forgetting you and seeing you as less than. I’m sorry for treating you so badly, for not listening and not understanding. I’m sorry for putting on a mask and not letting others see the real you. Y’all. It’s time to say you’re sorry to yourself. It’s time. This may be one of the most important things you’ll ever do. Something that will hopefully begin to break cycles of shame in your life. Humble yourself and see. Be aware of how you’ve been your own enemy. And be willing to apologize.
2. Forgive yourself.
Forgiveness is about letting go of the hurt and anger, the bitterness and resentment. It’s letting go. It’s choosing not to hold it anymore. Listen to Episode 7 of the podcast: Forgive Yourself for more tips on what the process of self-forgiveness looks like. But here’s the most important piece: stop holding it all against yourself. Your mistakes, how you’ve betrayed and hurt yourself. The rupture. Stop holding it against yourself. It’s time to let it go.
3. Teach yourself.
Teach yourself how to treat you. This sounds so weird, I know. But it begins with awareness of your needs and longings, of your struggle and pain. Pay attention to what is going on within you, around you. Coach yourself by practicing healthier habits and more compassionate self-talk. And maybe right here, you allow others to teach you, too. Let God and safe people teach you how to better treat yourself.
4. And finally, Be willing to learn.
Listen. Listen to what your body needs, what your soul needs, your mind, your spirit. Listen to Episode 19: Listen for more on this. Read about how to better talk to and treat yourself. Be a consistent learner, humble to admit you don’t have it all together, to admit you do have needs and feelings and thoughts that matter. Treat yourself like you would a dear friend. Learn from your mistakes and old patterns that didn’t work. And learn from the ones that did.
Make the repair. Your relationship with yourself is going to continue to remain broken if you make no effort to repair the damage you’ve caused. This isn’t a shaming statement. We all can be our own enemies. We all can betray our values and who we are. We all can forget ourselves and take bad care of ourselves. We all speak down to ourselves at some point. Every one of us. And most of us never admit we’ve done any of that.
But it’s time to bring it to the light. It’s time to make the repair. Because we can’t love others well if we can’t even love ourselves. We can’t make good repairs with others if we don’t even know how to do this with ourselves.
So will you be brave? Will you admit your wrongs and apologize to yourself? Will you forgive yourself and be a more compassionate, attentive learner of your own life?
To end, I’d like to read a simple blessing from John O’Donahue called “To Come Home to Oneself.” He says,
May all that is unforgiven in you
May your fears yield
their deepest tranquilities.
May all that is unlived in you
Blossom into a future
Graced with love.
Original content of this post was in Episode 66: How to Repair Your Damaged Relationship with Yourself in Be Known, the Podcast.