Know Thyself: Relating to Yourself, Relating to Others
by Lucia Capacchione, Ph.D., A.T.R.
Our first relationship is with ourselves. Our relationships with others reflect how we see and treat ourselves. Unless we can see ourselves honestly, we aren’t going to be able to really see and love another. Eastern spiritual teachers say that, “The world is as you see it.” In the West, psychologists are fond of saying it another way, “It’s all done with mirrors,” referring to the phenomenon of projection.
In projection we see in others qualities we have disowned in ourselves. When this happens, we either hate the other person or we idolize them. If I’m a workaholic, I will criticize someone who knows how to play and have a good time, judging them as being childish. Or I may fall in love with someone who is playful (because I need to lighten up), only to turn against them “when the honeymoon is over,” and tell them to grow up and “get busy.” Either way, we miss the point. When there’s an emotional charge - positive or negative - in any relationship, that person is showing us something we haven’t seen in ourselves. They are mirroring a quality we’ve condemned or one we’ve longed for or need more of. (The workaholic needs to play more to get into balance.)
How can we see through our projections? How can we learn to see ourselves and our partner more honestly and consciously? I strongly recommend personal journal-keeping. It is the best self-reflective tool I know. Journaling is inexpensive and is readily accessible at all times. It is wonderful self-therapy and it greatly benefits relationships as well. It needs to be kept private and confidential, to ensure honesty and safety. This is crucial, otherwise it won’t work. Journaling exercises appear in all my books, and I assign personal journal-keeping in my clinical practices and my public workshops.
The purpose of journaling is to reflect honestly on our own feelings, needs, wishes and dreams. For this is our responsibility, and ours alone. No one can read our minds, no one can take care of our feelings or determine our needs for us. Unfortunately many people go to love relationships expecting exactly that. “If he really loved me he’d know how I feel.” Or, “If she really cared about me, she’d do.....(you fill in the blanks).” There may be a chance that the person you love doesn’t or can’t love you. All the more reason to examine your needs and the relationship through journaling. You can blame and complain all you want. In the last analysis, how your lover or partner behaves doesn’t absolve you from knowing and meeting your own needs.
Taking responsibility for meeting our own needs is what makes it possible to have a conscious, loving relationship. If we aren’t examining our own needs and getting them met on an on-going basis, we will expect our lover or partner to do it. We want the other person to be the good parent we never had. We want him or her to take care of our Inner Child’s emotional and physical needs. Or we may ourselves unconsciously fall into the role of the rescuing or controlling parent to our partner’s Inner Child (who may be needy, angry, demanding, flaky, addicted, etc.). That’s called co-dependence.
Through journaling, we can reparent ourselves, take responsibility for our own needs and free our partner to do the same. A journal exercise I recommend is the following:
With your dominant hand (the one you normally write with), ask your Inner Child: How do you feel about this relationship (or mention your partner’s name). If you are aware of your Inner Child having a nick-name or a name other than the one you use as an adult, then refer to him or her this way. With your non-dominant hand (the one you don’t normally write with), Let your Inner Child answer the question. It is common for this kind of writing to be very slow and awkward. That’s perfect because we’re talking to a little kid here, the part of you that never grew up and never will. It’s your emotional child-like self. Let your Inner Child print or write long hand and be patient. The effort will be well worth it when you see what he or she has to say.
You can’t have intimacy in a love relationship if your Inner Child (your emotional self) does not feel safe. This exercise has helped hundreds of my students and readers turn the corner in their love relationships. Either they find out the child does not feel safe and wants out. Or they find out that the relationship is safe, but that the Inner Child hasn’t had a chance to express its real needs. This is self-reparenting and it transforms lives and relationships. For more journal activities and information about this process, see my books, Recovery of Your Inner Child and The Power of Your Other Hand.