Two. Relationship with Oneself

Next Pillar

What Helps

We need to show self-compassion, to listen to our own needs, to be kind and don’t self-attack in the form of constant self-criticism.

It is a cruel and confusing phenomenon that often when we are hurting the most, and need the most support, the person we can rely on least to do this, is ourself. As you will see in the case studies in the books, when that hurt and anger is not expressed externally, it often takes the form of self-attack. People may consciously or just below the conscious level find ways of saying “you idiot” “get on” “you’re pathetic” “it’s your fault.”

The relationship with oneself is the pillar that influences every other relationship in our life and is central to our wellbeing. We need to be aware of what is going on inside us and accept who we find ourselves to be. A good guide is to be as kind and respectful to ourselves as we would be to a good friend.

Feelings are not facts

We need to recognise that feelings are not facts: feeling bad for instance, doesn’t make us bad. There may be many different conflicting and confusing messages going on in our mind -  a useful way to find out what we are thinking is to write a journal.

Write down conflicting messages

Writing down conflicting messages, for example feeling both relieved and sad about the death, writing what we are feeling, enables us to begin to see what we are telling ourselves, and thereby clarify what is going on inside; giving us the information to ensure we find the right support. It is a well-researched source of self-support that has been shown to be as effective as therapy. Perhaps do this before or after the relaxation exercise in the mind/body pillar.

Be aware what our defence mechanisms are

We all need defence mechanisms, and it is useful to be aware of what ours are, and work out for this situation, whether we need to build other mechanisms too. If we tend to shut down when we are upset, it may mean we don’t get the support we actually need. It is useful to be aware of that and tell those close to us, how we are really feeling on the inside.

Denial has a part to play grief

Denial in grief is a natural and important part of self-protection, knowing is incremental because psychologically we couldn’t cope with the full knowledge all at once. Denial over time is eroded by reality as we begin to adjust to this new reality. 

New losses can trigger previous losses

Our whole history of loss will be triggered, so a new loss is likely to bring back previous losses. We aren’t going mad, or failed to do the necessary grieving in the past – it is normal.

As we change through life

As we change over time, our confidence and sense of self change. We may have relied on our physical strength or looks, our job, memory or talent, which may have diminished or changed. We need self-compassion to support ourselves to mourn the loss of those attributes and be active in finding new sources of confidence and meaning.


Having an attitude of gratitude for what we do have, rather than seeking more externally, is increasingly seen as a key component of a healthy relationship with oneself. An exercise that is quick and easy is to keep a note on your phone or keep a book by your bed and jot down every night three things you are grateful for that day – even tiny things can help. When you look back at it weeks later it is often a lovely tapestry of memories, which gives a rich and rewarding underpinning to your life.

To see more on self-compassion see Kristin Neff and also Brene Brown.

Ways to Express Emotion

We all need to find ways of expressing our grief and loss. It is a uniquely individual process to find what works for us personally.