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The Importance of Self-Intimacy

By , 17, Staff Writer Originally Published: May 15, 2021 Revised: May 15, 2021

I’ve never jumped into relationships. I’ve always taken time to get to know people to see if I had a genuine connection with them. I never wanted to feel like I was settling or rushing into something. When I started dating my first boyfriend, it was because I had met someone who I really liked and felt a connection with.

A lot of these values were taught to me by my mom and older sister. They encouraged me to know my worth. I also noticed how they were confident in both their outward appearances and inner qualities, and I internalized their behaviors. I tried to build a relationship with myself by practicing self-care. For me, self-care means taking care of my mental, emotional and physical health. It means checking in with myself and doing the things that make me happy, like reading, going outside and trying out new recipes.

Sure, there were times when I’ve struggled with feeling like I was missing out. I watched as my friends went on dates and got into relationships and couldn’t help but think, I want a boyfriend, too. But it was only when I got to a point where I felt like I knew what my wants and needs were and what my expectations for my partner were that I felt genuinely comfortable being in a relationship. Being secure with myself enabled me to feel comfortable with someone else.

Once I had established intimacy with myself, I was able to have that with someone else.

Once I had established intimacy with myself, I was able to have that with someone else.

Strengthening Self-Intimacy and Self-Worth

Learning to love and value yourself is an ongoing process. It takes time to feel intimacy with yourself, which means knowing your own feelings and worth. Like any relationship, your relationship with yourself will have its ups and downs. No matter how far you’ve come, there will likely be days when you struggle with your reflection in the mirror or find yourself criticizing everything you say and do.

At times, loving yourself can feel like an impossible task, unfortunately. Shifting your mindset away from self-hatred and self-criticism about your physical appearance and inner qualities is often the first step. “To me, loving yourself is appreciating what your mind and body can do for you,” says Angelina, 17, of Milford, NJ. “It’s appreciating the mental and physical strength it takes for you to complete daily tasks and navigate difficult situations. Self-love is about confidence in yourself and your ability to achieve your goals.” Self-love doesn’t have to mean you think you’re totally awesome, wonderful, the best ever! It can just mean you value and respect yourself and can treat yourself with compassion. It can mean that you know that you have worth. Ideally, we should all feel these things.

If you’ve spent years criticizing the way you look and act, being kind to yourself may feel unfamiliar. Try to be patient with yourself. This isn’t like flipping a switch; it’s an ongoing process. You may struggle when learning to value yourself, but there are always things you can do to build self-worth and become more comfortable with yourself—not just physically but also emotionally. It may help to take time out of your day to ask yourself how you’re feeling. Just by making the conscious effort to check in with yourself, you may find that you feel more in touch with your emotions.

Self-Esteem and Relationships

Our expectations for how we should be treated in a relationship are often tied to self-esteem. When you’re struggling to feel confident, it can be easy to let your self-worth become based on how a partner treats you. But when you treat yourself with value, it can be easier to expect the same from your partner.

It can feel challenging whether you’re the one struggling to like yourself or your partner is. “I’ve been in relationships where my partner lacked self-esteem and where I did,” says George, 15, of Frenchtown, NJ. “Both were unhealthy. When my partner lacked it, I felt like I had to constantly reassure them and make sure they knew they were enough. When I lacked it, I was my own worst enemy. I tried to be something that I wasn’t to fit what I thought my partner wanted. I overthought everything and convinced myself of horrible lies about myself and my partner. Both relationships became toxic.” When you’re struggling with self-esteem, it can be easy to sacrifice who you are and what you want to focus on what you think your significant other wants.

After a breakup, you may look back and realize that because you didn’t want to lose them, you lost yourself in the process. Maybe you became used to being mistreated and unappreciated and saying, “It’s O.K. I’m fine,” even when you weren’t. But no relationship is worth staying in at the expense of your own happiness.

How Spending Time On Your Own Can Help

Sometimes you can end up feeling lonely and not intimately connected even if you’re paired up. “In the past, I’ve found it difficult to not let a part of my self-esteem get wrapped up in what other people think of me,” says Brigid, 19, of Boston. “I often found myself looking to those around me for validation, and my relationships became dependent and unhealthy. I needed to be single for a while to see that I couldn’t look outside of myself for confidence. Now I’m capable of both being alone and choosing to spend time with a person.” After spending some time by herself, Brigid was able to better connect with people, both emotionally and physically.

It can be easy to get lost in worrying about what other people’s perceptions of you are, but true confidence comes from the inside. Looking for that kind of validation outside of yourself can lead you to feel overly dependent in a relationship with someone else.

In addition to self-worth, it’s important to develop a sense of intimacy with yourself. When you’re aware of your feelings and are comfortable expressing them to your partner, you can develop deeper, fuller connections with others. If you’re not in touch with your own feelings or are unable to share them with your partner, your significant other may have difficulty getting to know you.

Comparing Versus Connecting

Sometimes we can get stuck in our thoughts and worries about how we stack up to others. “My perception of myself definitely affects my relationships with others,” says Mack, 18, of Philadelphia. “I’m frequently comparing myself—mentally, intellectually and physically—to the people around me.” When you’re busy worrying about what other people think of you, you have less time and energy to spend really connecting with others.

Just think of how much time you spend in your day-to-day life comparing yourself to those around you. Now imagine if you instead spent that time connecting with the people in your life or building your ability to be intimate with yourself by doing things that make you feel good about yourself. When you’re criticizing your physical appearance and the things that you say or do, you’re not being fully present—with yourself or others.

Self-love and self-intimacy are not concrete; it’s not like you either have them or you don’t. Like so many things, they’re on a spectrum. But the more you get to know yourself, the more you’ll be able to be in relationships that feel mutually supportive.

So, give yourself a break and work on believing that you are deserving of good things. Be gentle and kind to yourself. Practicing self-love is not always easy and can take time, but it’s important. Ultimately, it can help you feel more content and worthy and deepen your relationships—with yourself as well as others.

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