Using concepts from the Japanese art of Kintsugi, trauma therapist and coach Hannah McKimm shows us how we can build healthier, more loving relationships with ourselves.
Jim Rhon famously said, “We become the average of the five people we spend the most time around.” When you think about those who surround you in your life, who comes to mind? You might think about relationships with partners, family, co-workers, neighbours or even the person who serves you coffee in the morning. However, do you include the most important relationship – the relationship you have with yourself?
Ultimately, the dynamic within the relationship to ourselves heavily influences all of these other connections. It is, after all, the longest relationship we will have, yet for many of us, we find ourselves putting it at the bottom of our list of priorities. In marriage or civil partnerships, we make a legal promise to care for the other person in all eventualities, but do we ever make this promise to ourselves?
We tell ourselves we will get around to taking care of ourselves when we have the time, but then the time never seems to arrive.
Broken but beautiful
It’s vital for our wellbeing and sense of belonging to maintain external connections, including through the act of kindness. According to the Office for National Statistics, positive relationships have one of the most significant impacts on our quality of life and happiness.
So, our task is not to solely focus on ourselves but to find balance and gain a deeper understanding of how the relationship we have with ourselves forms the foundation for all other relationships. Using the process and metaphor of the Japanese art of kintsugi as our guide to expanding our awareness and quality of this relationship, let’s take some time together to bring our focus inwards.
• Try this: Take a few minutes to complete the exercise to explore what kind of relationship you have with yourself and how you might like this to change.
1. Bringing awareness to the cracks
Throughout our lives, we have all experienced events, situations and people that impact on who we are and how we show up in life. However, it is not the severity of the event that has the biggest impact on us but how we dealt with the event at the time. If we did not have the available space to process a stressful event, felt unable to express ourselves or did not feel heard, then this energy will become stored in our bodies and dictate how we respond later in life. Ultimately, this can lead to unhappiness.
These stressful events can leave us feeling a sense of loss, hurt, shame, anxiety or fear. These can form into what we view as our cracks and our imperfections. They are the feelings, thoughts and behaviours we want to push to the back of the wardrobe into Narnia and never speak of again.
Bringing awareness to these underlying and unconscious patterns is the first step to understanding who we are. Your mind and body implemented these coping methods to help keep you safe and survive stressful situations. How amazing is that? So when you bring awareness to them, do so without judgement, being curious rather than critical.
• Try this: A great place to start is to observe your inner dialogue. How do you speak to yourself and where might this have originated? Notice and take note of phrases throughout the day. After a week, go back and
observe if there are any patterns. Are the words uplifting and supportive or are they critical and hurtful? How can you shift these to be more positive and encouraging?
2. Letting the light in
As Leonard Cohen said, “There is a crack in everything – this is how the light gets in”. Therefore, our cracks do not make us broken; instead, they make us whole. When the Shogun of Japan broke his favourite bowl, he didn’t discard it. Even when the bowl was returned to him repaired but not in the way he wanted, he still saw its potential.
Feelings such as shame, guilt and embarrassment may be preventing you from letting in the light and being happy. These are big emotions that we don’t want others to see; they highlight the parts of ourselves we deem as broken, unfixable and unworthy of love.
However, these are the exact parts that will help us connect more fully to others because you are not alone; we all have them. These imperfections make us perfectly human, and understanding this allows you to not only lift the judgment on yourself but also become more compassionate of the struggles of others. When others feel less judgement in your presence, they will be able to connect more authentically with you, forming deeper, longer-lasting relationships.
Finding others on a similar journey can help motivate you on days when you are struggling. You might find you can help each other let in a little more of the light.
• Try this: Next time a stressful situation leaves you feeling insecure, reach out to a close friend or family member. Ask them if they have ever felt this way and what helps them. Try it out for yourself, remembering we are all different, and what works for one person may not work for you, and what works for you today may not work tomorrow. Be curious about what helps, and you’ll start to build resources that are unique to you.
3. Healing the cracks
When the Shogun sent his bowl off for repair a second time, he was stepping into the unknown. He was asking his craftsman to do something not previously attempted. The journey of self-love takes us into the unknown. We are stepping into a way of relating to ourselves we may never have done before. It may feel strange and even unsafe to start to relate to ourselves in this new, vulnerable and caring way.
This step in itself may bring up feelings of fear – what if it doesn’t work, what if I get hurt again, what if nothing changes? Developing this closer, more supportive relationship with yourself will allow you to become more resilient in uncertain times. Knowing you have the anchor and foundation of this positive relationship with yourself will enable you to meet your needs when perhaps others can’t or are unavailable to at that moment.
• Try this: Develop personal affirmations that resonate with you. Not all affirmations will be right for you, and not all will be right for you all the time. Use grounding tools like yoga, exercise, dancing, or play to help you feel more connected to your body, supporting you to find the affirmations that work for you. Pick two or three and repeat them to yourself daily – writing them down or recording them can help.
4. Celebrate the cracks
What if, like in kintsugi, you too could not only highlight but also value and celebrate your cracks, scars, and imperfections? Instead of hiding them away, allow them to make you stand out, make you whole. In today’s society, we can push ourselves to aspire to unrealistic perfections with our body image, job aspirations and life goals. Instead, let’s celebrate our diversity and focus on connecting with who we are rather than who we think we should be.
Celebrate yourself for getting yourself to where you are; you have survived every challenge you have faced. At the same time, know there are new, more supportive and compassionate ways to relate to yourself moving forward. These will not only give you the results you desire but open you up to more fulfilment than you could imagine.
This self-acceptance is where true happiness lies. Acceptance of where you have come from, what got you there and where you are going. It is an ongoing process because our identity changes over time, but returning each time to the question “Who am I?” and “What do I need in this moment?” will
help anchor and centre you. It will support you in understanding how to meet your own needs, be your own parent, friend, carer and teacher.
• Try this: Plan for yourself before anything else. When we feel unworthy due to our emotional scars, we seek validation from others, meaning we can prioritise their needs above our own. Plan your week with your needs in mind first. Be curious about what you need – one week it could be rest, another it could be fun, another it could be adventure or connection. Training our brains to look for joy like this is an art. We are hard-wired to look for danger and the cracks to stay safe.