“You don’t need to change the world; you need to change yourself.” ― Don Miguel Ruiz
IF YOU’VE BEEN FOLLOWING THIS SERIES and journaling about the relationships in your life, you began with writing about the most fundamental of all relationships — your parents. You then branched out to write about your interactions and relationships with close and extended family members, friendships, romantic relationships, partnerships, children, and grandchildren.
You wrote about your adult friendships, including those on social media, and professional relationships. And you explored your relationship to self.
Along the way, you experienced “ah-ha” moments, in which insights about the ways you related to certain people (or they related to you) affected your life and even influenced major life decisions you made. You may also have discovered how traumatic relationships affected your willingness or ability to allow people to get close to you. And perhaps you uncovered patterns in certain types of relationships — for example, seeing how the ways you related to your parents were repeated in your relationships with lovers or children or close friends.When you gain self-awareness about the attitudes and behaviors that caused problems for you in the past, you have the power to change. Click To Tweet
What do you do with these insights? How do you take these realizations and translate them into positive personal growth and happier, more fulfilling mutual relationships?
Personal growth involves moving out of “auto-pilot” and interacting with others more consciously while keeping those moments of self-realization in mind. When you gain self-awareness about the attitudes and behaviors that caused problems for you in the past, you have the power to change.
Change of this kind takes conscious effort as well as the following attributes:
- Maintaining self-awareness — Through your journaling process, you have increased your self-awareness around how you treat yourself and others, which relationships are most important to you, and which ones you’d like to improve. Sustaining the growth you’ve begun requires that you maintain that self-awareness and not let it slip back into the realm of the unconscious. Continuing to focus on and journal about your relationships will help you maintain that important self-awareness.
- Taking responsibility — Of course, no real development can happen without taking responsibility for your emotions and responses to life and to people. You can’t control others’ behaviors, but you can control how you respond to them. Self-awareness is the first step; the second is owning how you feel and behaving in ways that exemplify the person you want to become. You grow into being that person through practice.
- Being positive — Growth isn’t a linear process. You’ll have ups and downs, good days and bad. Old, unwanted behaviors will slip out. Don’t be discouraged when this happens, but see it as an opportunity for increased self-awareness and understanding. Our responses and behaviors with people developed as a way of coping and protecting ourselves. Once we learn which behaviors no longer serve us, we can begin to replace them with behaviors that do. So remain positive in your approach to change. It takes time.
- Realizing your worth — You are an amazing, strong, beautiful human being who, though you have gone through so much in life, remains focused on positive intent. Yes, you have been hurt, and you’ve hurt others, but you have a unique and beautiful contribution to make in this world. You know this. So treat yourself with the same compassion and support that you would give to anyone else who is working to become a better person. Treat yourself like you want others to treat you. Know that your thoughts and feelings and creativity all have value.
- Communicating openly and effectively — Relationships thrive on openness and honesty and a willingness to communicate. Stuffing feelings because of fear of confrontation or lack of self-worth doesn’t work. And when you take responsibility for your feelings and understand your worth, you begin taking action to resolve conflict, rather than avoiding it. So, effective communication is key to improving all your relationships. If you struggle with how to communicate difficult feelings and/or what you want, take a workshop or class in effective communication techniques. I highly recommend Marshall Rosenberg’s book on Nonviolent Communication as a place to get started.
- Moving outside your comfort zone — All of this change and growth requires allowing yourself to feel uncomfortable. When we get challenged or stressed, we tend to jump back into our comfort zone and return to old responses and behaviors and ways of being. Be aware of your stress level and don’t let it dictate your responses. Take a few deep breaths and be present with your discomfort. View discomfort as a teacher and listen to what it has to say. You’ll be amazed at how this approach will help you move forward.
Why stop with the gains you make through writing — self-awareness and personal insight — when you can use those insights to create real and lasting and positive change in your life?
No matter what your age or experience, journaling is a wonderful tool for continuously improving your life. Take it deeper and further by reviewing your journal entries. Uncover and highlight the wanted and unwanted patterns in your relationships, make notes about what you want to enhance and what you want to change, and then use the principles I’ve outlined above to forge the kind of relationships you want in your life.