Your Most Toxic Relationship Could Be The One You Have With Yourself. Here's How To Heal

When you're looking to rid yourself of the toxic relationships in your life, you might want to take a long look in the mirror -– the most impactful relationship in your life is the one you have with yourself. Mental health counselor Stephanie Moir told Bustle that it is crucial to your mental health that you keep your self-perceptions and expectations in check. "When we don't make ourselves a priority, we start to neglect who we are and our needs ... This can impact how others see us, treat us, and ultimately lead to a negative self-image."

People who have a negative relationship with themselves are often overly critical and use harmful words to describe their bodies, actions, and traits, even as a joke. They also seek external validation from others, and put other people's needs before their own in an attempt to appear helpful and liked by those they seek approval from. This toxic relationship doesn't happen overnight –- many people who suffer with poor self image have experienced deep trauma and pain that later manifests as internal shame, self-hatred, and dangerous habits that negatively affect their physical and mental health.

If you have developed a toxic relationship with yourself, there are ways to heal. Finding a way through your negative self-image will not only benefit your own perception of self, but will also positively impact past and future relationships. As the iconic RuPaul Charles says, "If you can't love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love somebody else?"

Practice positive self-talk

One of the best ways to combat a toxic relationship with yourself is by monitoring the way you speak to yourself. You'd be surprised how often you casually insult yourself throughout the day while excusing your actions and making other people more comfortable. Transitioning into more intentional, positive self-talk might seem difficult at first, but the more you practice, the better you will become at identifying your negative habits and replacing them with positive thoughts.

Try spinning your self-criticism into measurable goals. Instead of saying, "I failed, I am lousy," try reminding yourself, "I am proud of myself for trying, and I am always learning." You can also develop a personal mantra that you practice saying daily to yourself in the mirror, on your commute to work, or before bed. Saying personal affirmations has been linked to decreased stress, boosted moods, and an improved sense of self.

Your affirmations can be anything that makes you feel good about you. Some examples include: "I am enough, I am worthy of love, I am strong, I am smart." If you're having trouble thinking of things to tell yourself, try asking your loved ones what they love about you, then turn those reasons into "I am" statements.

Recently, positive affirmations have become so popular, it has transformed into a TikTok-viral sensation called Lucky Girl Syndrome –- women have developed mantras that insist good things happen to them simply because they deserve it. Now that's self-love!

Set boundaries with your loved ones

If you suffer from low self-esteem and poor self-perception, you might often put other people before yourself. Your own needs do not seem like a priority, and it is easier to justify doing things for others even at the risk of your own mental well-being, because others will perceive you as helpful or capable. You might suffer from eldest daughter syndrome and feel the need to manage your family's feelings. Maybe you single-handedly tackle tasks at work that could easily be delegated in order to not seem like a burden. You might stay silent when someone uses the incorrect pronoun when referring to you. When you put other people's comfort before your own, you're telling yourself that your needs and boundaries are not important –- and that's toxic.

While you may feel a momentary boost in your mood because you have helped someone or kept the peace, ignoring your own comfort will only further your emotional distress in the long run. When you start to make yourself smaller, remember that you are allowed to take up space and advocate for your needs. Set boundaries with your loved ones by letting them know that you don't have the mental capacity to listen to them vent, and speak up when someone says something that harms you. Prioritize your comfort over others, and if they don't respect your boundaries, they don't deserve a place in your life.

Show your inner child some love

From learning how to do your taxes to maintaining adult friendships, growing up is really hard. Over time, most of us forget our childlike wonder, but our subconscious doesn't forget our childhood trauma –- oftentimes, we end up carrying the pain and embarrassment we experienced as kids and begin to develop a negative relationship with ourselves as adults.

One of the ways to encourage a healthier self-image is to get in touch with your inner child. @kaituhhh made a TikTok showing that when she is unkind to herself in the present, she is also talking to herself as a child. Her video features an adorable photo of her younger self, sparking a trend of TikTokers remembering to be kind to their inner child.

When certain things in your adult life trigger big, emotional responses that feel like they come out of nowhere, it might be your inner child feeling unsafe or unheard. Remind yourself that you are growing and maturing, and you will listen to your emotional responses and trust yourself. Per Healthline, experts have found that activities such as journaling or writing letters to your younger self has helped the healing process, as well as participating in things you enjoyed doing as a child. Sit down with a flavor of ice cream that was your favorite as a kid and watch that cartoon you used to watch every Saturday morning, but haven't seen in a few decades.

Develop a self-care routine that makes you feel good

If you have a toxic relationship with yourself, odds are you aren't starting or ending the day in a great way. Things like a regular bedtime, practicing frequent hygiene, a clean space, and balanced meals are all ways to boost your mood and battle symptoms of stress, self-loathing, and depression.

When you're looking to develop habits that will make you happier, focus on small changes to your everyday routine that are attainable, manageable, and bring you joy. If you've never been big on exercise, it might not be ideal to expect that you'll hit up the gym every single day or run two miles every day. A more achievable alternative might be to have a step goal or try to get outside and walk your dog each morning. You don't have to invest in an expensive influencer skincare routine or cut out all sugar and carbs cold turkey in order to develop healthy habits.

The key to long-term success is managing your expectations of self and decreasing your chance of burning out by integrating your healthy habits slowly. Over time, as your new routine becomes a habit, you can add or increase even more self-care to your day that keeps you feeling healthy, happy, and productive. And remember, rest is productive. Take plenty of time each day to check in with yourself and make sure you are allowing yourself time to rest and decompress.

Be gentle with yourself as you heal

When you begin your journey towards self-love, understand that healing does not happen overnight. It's easy to get impatient, especially when you have the tendency to use negative self-talk and have high expectations for yourself. One of the best ways to manage your healing expectations and track your progress is by confiding in a licensed therapist. No matter how supportive your tribe may be, having a third party professional to talk to provides many people with a sense of relief and comfort while working through trauma. A therapist will listen to how your unique experience has shaped your self-image and will help you make tangible goals towards building a better relationship with yourself.

If you feel that you have a toxic relationship with yourself and you are having difficulty managing on your own, don't hesitate to reach out to a professional for help.

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.