When you and your last partner moved in together, it may not have been the picture of domestic bliss you’d imagined. As soon as the lease was up, perhaps you went your separate ways. It was the right decision, but maybe you’ve still been feeling a little lost when it comes to being on your own. Sound familiar?
Maybe you’re wondering who the heck you are after so much of your (capital-S) Self was wrapped up in someone else. Or maybe you’ve felt swallowed up by being someone’s caretaker for the last year and you don’t remember what it’s like to just look after yourself.
There is a way to climb out of that place and find your Self again. It just comes down to establishing new habits.
How to Focus on Yourself:
- Indulge in your favorite activities
- Learn a new hobby or skill
- Confront fear of the unknown
- Spend more time outdoors
- Start journaling
- Practice weekly self-care
- Practice self-compassion
You start developing self-relation skills when you’re a child. It’s a life-long process that allows you to be accepting and compassionate toward yourself, feel competent to achieve your goals, take action as your authentic self, and genuinely feel all the joys and disappointments of life.
But as we get older and start to develop more complex relationships, things can start to get a little cloudy.
“Often, people tend to build a codependency in their relationship allowing their significant others’ perspective or love define them,” says Imani Wilform, a licensed therapist with Empower Your Mind Therapy.
Here are some ways to (re)learn how to make yourself a priority so you can find fulfillment as an individual.
1. Fall (back) in love with your own favorites
Are you still ordering pepperoni pizza with mushrooms just because that’s what your ex liked? Do you find yourself avoiding a certain TV show because you internalized someone else’s negative opinion of it? It’s time to start making these decisions for yourself again.
Really think about what you like to do, what things bring joy to your life when you don’t have to consider anyone’s preferences. What books, movies, and activities are you drawn to when no one’s watching?
2. School yourself
If you have the inspiration, the time, and the discipline to enroll in a class that interests you, have at it. If not, no worries — there are plenty of learning opportunities around every corner that might help you establish a new passion.
Read books, listen to new podcasts, pick up a new hobby. Wilform says, “Learning new things can improve brain capacity and happiness, while mastering new skills builds confidence and self-respect.”
3. Uncover and confront the fear
After learning to live in a pandemic, there’s obviously legit reason to have multiple sources of anxiety. You may not be as adventurous as you once were. Or, maybe being quarantined with others for so long did a number on your sense of independence.
Avoiding new experiences out of fear can stunt your connection to your true self. Talk to a friend or therapist about your apprehension around trying new things. Talking it through can help either dispel the fearful charge or get perspective on what the actual risks are.
4. Take it outside
Maybe a lot of the codependent traits that you’ve established have something to do with spending so much time in a specific place, environment, or another person’s place.
Not everyone is an outdoorsy type, but taking a little time in nature has a reputation of lowering stress levels and contributing to emotional well-being. Experiment with spending 15 minutes outside and see if your mood improves, or if you’re able to gain some new perspective while getting some fresh air.
5. Break out the journal
After focusing with the feelings of others for so long, it’s time to give your own a little QT.
Journaling about what you’re going through and your emotions can help in two ways. First, the act of getting thoughts out of your head and onto paper helps you to process feelings. And second, you can refer back to journal entries from weeks or months ago to see how you’ve processed those feelings in the past.
If you’re not a words person, try sketching or making a collage instead. There are no rules for expressing yourself.
If you’re new to meditation, it’s not a skill you have to build before you can use and benefit from it. It’s really about spending some time alone with your own thoughts. The best part is you can do it anytime, anywhere, and in any way you choose.
“This simple practice improves overall mental health, helps you sleep better, be more productive, and be kinder to those around you,” Wilform says.
7. Maximize self-care
Self-care may be one of those terms that has a broad meaning universally, while having a very specific meaning to an individual. Keeping it simple: self-care is whatever recharges your batteries, helps you celebrate your authentic, magnificent self, and helps you feel at your mental and physical best.
Taking care of yourself also helps you make healthier connections to others once you understand how you get fulfilled.
8. Practice self-compassion
Didn’t we just cover this? No, self-compassion is different from self-care. Self-compassion is offering yourself the same gentle words and comforting actions you’d extend to a friend who’s going through something difficult. It’s also not punishing yourself for feeling like you need someone else.
As you’re learning to reprioritize yourself, it can feel selfish in a negative way and lead to feelings of self-coldness, which is the opposite of self-compassion. Give yourself the time and space to figure things out.
The struggle is real, but is it normal?
Normal, schmormal. But FWIW, you’re far from alone. Wilform says it’s extremely common for people to struggle with putting themselves first, and it goes all the way back to the playground.
“As children we’re constantly taught to share and be selfless, but this pattern makes us forget about putting ourselves first and somehow makes us feel that self-care is selfish” she says.
You may be going through a period of disconnection from your own needs because a relationship has ended or you’ve found yourself in a caretaker role that consumes all your time and energy (or maybe even both!). The tips listed above can help you get through this phase, but you can also practice them throughout your life to maintain balance and stay primed for healthy relationships, romantic or otherwise.
If you think you’ve failed in some way because a relationship has ended or you’ve been single for a while, a shift in perspective will help. Focusing on yourself is a good, valid way to bloom in your own life, no matter your relationship status.
If you know what your own personal values are and prioritize them, people can come and go from your life without disrupting your sense of self.
“We need to shift the mindset. You define your own happiness. No one is tasked with the job of making us happy except ourselves,” Wilform says.
To consistently take charge of your own happiness throughout life, incorporate the tips listed above while periodically asking yourself these questions:
- What do I really love and how can I experience more of it?
- What am I curious about and where can I start learning?
- If I let my thoughts spill out, what themes emerge?
- Do I talk to myself the way I would talk to someone I care about?
It’s almost never a bad idea to seek professional support when you want to understand yourself better or collect more tools to get through a challenging phase. Therapy is especially important if you’re recovering from an abusive relationship, or find yourself in repeated bad relationships.
“Therapy can help you recognize and understand the patterns behind the trauma you’ve experienced,” Wilform says. “You have the opportunity to gain clarity and closure to ultimately heal from the trauma and embrace who you are and what you deserve.”
Looking for a place to start? Check out these resources to help you implement our suggestions and refocus on yourself:
- Go down a rabbit hole with Brain Pickings. Discover your next obsession.
- Learn more about self-compassion from the leader in research on the topic.
- Explore a million ways to meditate with Insight Timer.
- Learn about the health benefits of forest bathing (but also know you can get your outdoor time on an urban bench or anywhere else in the open air.
- Kickstart your journal with prompts for self-discovery.
There are lots of reasons you may become disconnected from your individuality, including losing a close friend or family member, or the end of a relationship that has defined your life for a while. You can take steps to reprioritize yourself, and focus on getting reacquainted with who you are as an individual.
Establishing consistent self-care habits can contribute to a healthy sense of self no matter what’s going on in your relationships/life. And during periods of personal growth or particularly hard transitions, professional therapy can also be a great tool.