how healthy relationships work (patchwork theory)

Every single one of us is born with the capacity for self love.

This is integral to healthy relationships with everyone you know.

Self love begins with our most basic bodily functions: our breath, our heartbeat, the symphony of our internal organs relentlessly operating to sustain our bodies. Sometimes bodies malfunction, but the intent is constant: remain alive.

I like to visualize self love as a wellspring of life inside each person.

But within the context of society, this is hardly enough to maintain a solid sense of self worth.

When we interact with other people, we have a choice between judgment or acceptance. This choice multiplies into incredibly complicated dynamics among networks of individuals judging and accepting other people in memetic waves across generations. Some judgments are justified, but most of them are based off of arbitrary preferences, external social structures, and moral values that don’t originate from a place of acceptance.

The first place we find the judgment/acceptance dichotomy is in our first relationships with our caretakers, often our parents. It’s important to remember that before we ever enter the world, our caretakers have spent a lifetime judging or accepting others, and being judged or accepted themselves.

So what happens when we, as children, choose to act in a way that our caretakers love and accept?

Our choices are embraced and we interpret this as a validation of our being. We learn to accept ourselves through our actions in the same way we pump our own blood and breathe our own air.

What happens when, inevitably, we choose to act in a way that our caretakers judge or reject?

In order to keep our caretakers’ love and approval, we sacrifice that part of ourselves. This is often our first wound.

I visualize betrayals against your self as a hole being punctured with some of our self love draining out of it. Holes can be created from something as simple as not acknowledging another person (pinprick), or from something as traumatic as abuse (gaping hole).

The role of relationships

To live is to have scars. We are able to repair many holes by ourselves, but in the same way wounds sometimes need bandages to stop bleeding, sometimes we need other people to help us help ourselves. It is a healing act to give and receive acceptance from other people; these are metaphorical bandages on our wounds. The more of yourself that you give (that is accepted), and the more of others you receive (and accept), the more healing the experience.

Everyone carries the responsibility to fill themselves up. When you are overflowing, please share the gift of yourself with others.

But remember: bandages are impermanent by nature, and in the end, who we are underneath is all we have : our beating hearts, breathing lungs, self acceptance, self love.

When you interact with other humans from a place full of self love, are you concerned with the possibility of encountering a few pinpricks? Hardly.

When you embody abundance, you give freely to others: words, time, trust.

You do not hold expectations in your interactions.

You do not demand anything in relationships; you accept what people are willing and able to give you.

You understand that if you give another person the gift of yourself and they leave you with a large hole, you can choose to see if they patch you up or you can choose to leave the relationship. If you embody self love, you do not torture yourself in hurtful situations that have run beyond the benefit of the doubt.

When you are overflowing, you do not anxiously grasp any opportunity for connection or intimacy. You welcome others’ gifts, and give kindly in return.

When you’re toxic

You? Really?

Definitely.

Our first exposures to relationships showed us how perilous it can feel to lose acceptance and love from the people closest to us. Having enough faith to continually give to others after discovering this fear is a learned trait.

When we act from a place of fear, it manifests as toxic behavior:

  • Demanding words, time, or trust from other people instead of asking
  • Having a goal in mind when you enter into interactions or relationships
  • Refusing to look at the holes you have created in other people, let alone patch them

Side note: it’s okay to show judgment to other people when they are behaving in a toxic way. It’s not loving to accept shitty behavior from other people.

How to cultivate self love

This process requires a military-grade flanking maneuver from two angles:

  1. Inside out: allow yourself the time and healing to fill yourself up with self acceptance and love
  2. Outside in: fake it till you make it. Flood yourself with sensory input that confirms what you’re communicating to yourself.

How you go about this will be highly catered to the holes you have endured, but here are some examples.

Inside out

  • Pay attention to your internal voice. Slowly change the tone from one of harsh judgement to one of loving acceptance. Word choice matters.
  • Remind yourself of times you trusted people and were safe. Trust is a slow, incremental process. Do not dismiss quiet instances of earned trust.
  • Treasure sweetness in your day. Hold gratitude. Embrace pleasure without exploiting it.

Outside in

  • Take care of yourself the way you would take care of a loved one: eat good food, move your body in ways that are enjoyable to you, sleep when you are tired.
  • Hold boundaries that you know are necessary for your well being, even if it is difficult. Especially if it is difficult.
  • Make time to connect with other people who accept you, and whom you accept.

And, of course, therapy. If you are struggling to cultivate self love within yourself, know you’re not the first. It may take a few tries to find a therapist you resonate with, and not every session will be groundbreaking. Go anyway.

If you have already cultivated an abundance of self love and are still having trouble accepting others without judgment, I unfortunately don’t have concrete advice for you because this hasn’t been my internal experience and I can’t pretend to have authority here. Kudos for recognizing this pattern within yourself, and please let me know what you find along your path.

In summary

You manifest healthy relationships with others when you act from a place of self acceptance and love.

Healthy relationships may ask of others, but hold no expectations. Healthy relationships can also create space for commitments like relationship agreements, but would exist whether or not the co-created structure was in place.

Healthy relationships give freely and abundantly.

Healthy relationships patch more holes than they create.

For the nerds like me ❤