By Judi Light Hopson, Emma H. Hopson and Ted Hagen
Tribune News Service
Did you ever stop to think about the most powerful force influencing your relationships?
If you think it’s beauty, brains, or money, think again. If you think it’s acting kindly toward others or sacrificing your own comfort for the love of others, think again.
Psychologists say the most powerful force affecting your relationships is how you perceive yourself.
For instance, if you think of yourself as a victim who always gets the short end of things, this will play out in reality.
Your self-image determines how you speak, act, and react in relationships. Your self-image also determines what you will and won’t tolerate from others.
If you have a solid, healthy relationship with yourself, you don’t have to second-guess yourself all the time.
You’ll feel more confident about calling on people to help you, making plans to assist other people, and envisioning how you want to reach goals.
You want to invest time to establish the best kind of relationship with yourself. How do you do that? You do it by making a real effort to improve your self-image.
Here’s how it works:
-Know all of your strengths and focus on them. Tell yourself you’re disciplined or friendly or efficient. Make sure you get those kinds of comments down in your thinking.
-Work on your body and mind. This means you feel you’re worth being cared for. When you start to neglect your diet and exercise, for example, you will feel neglected instead of nurtured.
-Spend time reflecting on your life. We all spend time with our friends, family and pets, but we can easily forget to look inward. Sitting down to reflect on our thoughts and feelings helps us see ourselves more clearly.
-Figure out what you need to stop doing. This might mean you’ll go to bed at 10 p.m. versus staying up past midnight. Or, you might decide to spend less time with a friend who drags you down. By setting limits on yourself, you’ll feel you are worth more. This bolsters self-esteem.
“I used to worry that I wasn’t outgoing like my two sisters,” says a friend of ours we’ll call Katy. “But, when I started praising myself for being quiet, strong and disciplined, I felt better about my role as an accountant. I think the fact I got promoted this year is because I am happy with my personality and lifestyle.”
Katy is right. Once we each accept ourselves and settle into the roles meant for us, we don’t have to waste time comparing ourselves to others.
Keep in mind that other people will always try to rattle you. They will criticize your hair, your career choice and your cat. That’s the nature of mankind.
However, when you take control of your self-image and push your own buttons, you will start to really “own” your power. This takes practice.
“I used to dread meeting up with my in-laws for the holidays,” says a man we’ll call Tony. “They always had these weird questions for me concerning my business and career moves. But, I started coming up with questions for them. I turned the nosy questions back on them.”
Tony continues, “It’s odd how people will back off when you fire a few personal questions their way. They don’t like being on the hot seat, so to speak. I’ve learned people use criticism as a defense mechanism when they aren’t happy with their own lives.”
<em>(Judi Light Hopson is the Executive Director of the stress management website USA Wellness Cafe, Emma Hopson is an author and a nurse educator. Ted Hagen is a family psychologist.)</em>