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The importance of the relationship you have with yourself

The aim of this ‘Notebook’ section of my website is to share information and insights about mental health, wellbeing and counselling. It is based on knowledge and understanding I’ve gained through my studies, work and personal experience which I think people might find helpful – to give the reader a look inside my own notebook as it were. I recently told an old friend about my plans and she asked me a good question ‘so, what are you going to write about in your first post?’. Until that moment I hadn’t thought about this initial post as being a significant moment but on reflection I do think it is worth celebrating!

So, to honour this launch, I have decided to focus on a subject which is fundamental to counselling but also all about individual autonomy. And that is the concept that the relationship you have with yourself is the most important relationship you will have in your life. This post will look at how today’s culture pulls people away from their true selves, what causes this disconnection and what can help you to build a better relationship with yourself.

Ancient wisdom

I have included the quote below from Aristotle on the ‘About Karen’ page of this website as it sums up a concept which I believe in.

“The most important relationship we can all have is the one you have with yourself. The most important journey you can take is one of self-discovery.”


I have spent many years on this journey so I can speak from experience that it is not always easy and there have been things that I would rather not have encountered along the way, but I have found it fascinating and rewarding. Counselling and other therapies have been a crucial support as I have navigated my way and ultimately it is my own belief in the value of self-awareness that led me to become a counsellor. 

Bearing in mind Aristotle lived in ancient Greece, his words are pretty old wisdom but this concept of focusing on a relationship with yourself is often overlooked in our modern world. You may find you are absorbing so much about what is going on around you that you can no longer identify what your own thoughts are. Feeling the need for comparison with other people or wanting to fit in may mean the stories people tell themselves internally are in direct conflict with the stories they are presenting to the world i.e. they are not being true to themselves.

What is getting in the way?

In today’s culture we live life at a hectic pace and technology captures our attention too much of the time. The world of Google, social media scrolling, celebrities and streaming services gives us 24/7 access to global distraction. This can lead us to unrealistic comparisons to the lives of others, being swept away on ill-fitting dreams and staying caught in an unsatisfactory loop with our external world. Add these technological distractions to day-to-day issues such as the impact of family members or colleagues, experiencing trauma or loss, confidence issues such as low self-esteem, perfectionism or feeling blue and the room for developing self-awareness gets squeezed. 

Many people believe they do not have time or capacity for a self-discovery journey. Why ‘navel gaze’ when already there never seems to be enough time to get the day-to-day stuff done at home and work? Or you may feel you don’t play an important enough role in your own life and there are more important relationships in your life to focus on such as those with a partner, parents, children, friends or siblings.The push/pull of external and internal pressures can very often keep people stuck in a state of stress and unfulfillment. If the mind is continually fed with negative content, intentionally or not, and looking externally for answers, we can fuel worry and anxiety, or our mood can become low and depressed. Modern life is helping to drive high levels of anxiety in an average 37% of women and almost 30% of men in the UK according to Office for National Statistics1 whilst 8.6 million people in the country were taking anti-depressants in the period 2022/23 with 25% of these having done so for more than five years. 

The mind disconnected from the body

As the statistics indicate, it is not uncommon for someone on to get caught in their mind. The pressures of modern life like those I’ve mentioned above can cause people to get stuck with a constant flow of automatic negative thoughts. Conditions like anxiety, depression, low self-esteem and perfectionism keep us locked up in the mind. This can also create disengagement with your physical self and cause the overstimulation of your sympathetic nervous system Your internal world is not just contained to your thoughts. It encompasses your whole physical being. 

It is as if the mind is caught in a relationship with itself and the rest of the body gets left behind and we can become numb to sensations and messages the body is trying to provide. For example, it is commonly known that the mind-gut connection is a physical reality so if stress impacts us physically in our gut, it also impacts our gut instincts and ability to trust our intuition. People can be so caught up in their mind and their outer world, they might ignore the physical messages their body is trying to relay. Or perhaps they are not keen to sit with the discomfort of trying to understand their inner world. Instead, they believe it’s easier to seek answers externally or find ways to numb the sensations. They don’t realise that taking some time to know themselves better might actually make them feel less stressed, anxious, depressed or time poor and more present in their own life. 

Beyond putting on your own lifejacket

The instruction ‘put your own lifejacket on first’ has moved beyond inflight briefings to be offered up as the reason why we should undertake self-care. But self-care can quickly become just something to add to an already too long ‘to do’ list if an individual has not taken time to understand what self-care would be best for them, the benefits they can gain from it and how it fits with their sense of self. Self-care rituals can be pointless if you are unable to be present and believe in their value.

Truly having a relationship with yourself goes far beyond the lifejacket example. It encompasses the relationship you have with your thoughts, behaviours, beliefs and values. It involves your movement, nutrition, how you show up in the world, who you spend your time with and much more. It’s about understanding what makes you you, what makes you feel well in your body and how you want to live your life.  

Starting the journey

Sometimes when you decide to embark on a journey of self-discovery, it’s difficult to know where to start. Factors such as anxiety, depression, poor self-esteem, or issues in your life may make it difficult to find focus or positive belief or it might simply feel too overwhelming to cope with. 

Fortunately, there are an increasing number of resources out there, many free of charge, that can help you to begin the journey. These include podcasts, books, guided journals, videos with mindful techniques such as meditation and breathing exercises together with gentle exercise.

Working with a counsellor can be also helpful as they can provide you with a confidential space where you can explore your current situation and work on goals you would like to achieve. Your regular appointments can give you room to untangle the different elements of your story that have got you to this point. With the counsellor’s support you can consider how you would like to feel and behave differently. 

Trusting yourself as the expert of your own life

Once you have a greater understanding about your needs and desires, you can be more aware about what you need to do to look after yourself and what you need/don’t need from others and different situations in your life. For example, if you begin to realise that enjoying some quiet time at the weekend is essential to having a better week, then reaching out to others to help ensure you carve out some time away for yourself may be key. This can facilitate that 30 minute walk to clear your head or an hour on a Sunday afternoon to read a book. Alternatively, someone working at home may be feel lonely and isolated so ensuring they make it to their monthly book club or organise a night out with friends could be important.

Gaining awareness of what supports your mental wellbeing and putting small initiatives in place to create change will add up over time. It can give you a better understanding of the needs of your mind and your body, what things help to keep your batteries charged, what depletes you and how to respond to the relationships and events in your life in a way that works better for you. Having your relationship with yourself as a priority means it can become your anchor in life, always there during good days and not so good days, allowing you to better enjoy the journey of life and self-discovery.

Office of National Statistics (2023). Public opinions and social trends, Great Britain: personal well-being and loneliness. Retrieved from [Accessed 03/04/2024]

2 NHS (2023) NHS releases mental health medicines statistics for 2022/2023 in England. Retrieved from [Accessed 03/04/2024]