Building My Relationship with Myself

For the most part, I have long considered myself an introspective and reflective person. But RJ has given me a whole new perspective on what it means to be intentional about building my relationship with myself.

Though I am usually good at situating what makes me upset, I have not always been the best at situating why. Using RJ has prompted me to dig deeper into the underlying roots and patterns of harms against me, along with empowering me to better assess how I am impacting others. It’s helped me feel surer about the positionality I occupy in my relationships to others and in relation to myself. I’ve never felt more clarity and freedom in my headspace.

But that doesn’t mean it is always easy. RJ emphasizes the importance of space and it’s taken me a while to be gentler in creating helpful and healing spaces for myself. This has entailed new work-life boundaries, leaning into the energy I feel myself gravitating towards when I feel it, and making time to sit and grapple with deep feelings – whether uncomfortable or joyous – rather than quickly suppressing them and moving on with my life.

Our relationship with ourselves, like our relationship with any other being in our life, requires time, attention, and careful cultivation should we hope for it to return our desired outcomes. This year, I made it a goal to center myself and RJ has helped me do this in the most meaningful way. I’ve questioned my values, my perceptions of the world around me, and the ways I treat myself and why. Affective statements and questions, as well as modified, more informal versions of these two tools, have allowed me to hold mini-circles for reflection with me, myself, and I.

As I stand on the verge of entering my last year at Duke and exist on the brink of unchartered territory in the years beyond, I feel extremely fortunate to have found RJ when I did. Integrating RJ into my relationship with myself has been immeasurably empowering and enlightening for my personal and academic growth and plans.

With the help of RJ, I’ve found new ways to cultivate one of my most precious relationships: The one I have with me that takes place right inside my own head.

RJ Everyday

Three weeks ago I used Restorative Justice in real life for the first time.

Last semester in the RJ House Course, I shared intimate details of my life with people who were recently complete strangers, but when it came to conflict with my friends, I often failed to find the right words to say. A disagreement amongst my housemates – who are also my friends – yielded the perfect opportunity to change that. I turned to RJ for help.

A failed house-plan for shared groceries had led to misunderstandings on what did and did not count as shared items – and why someone should, or should not, pay for “shared” items that another housemate had bought. Conversations about money can be understandably tense and uncomfortable, but this one had turned into a 48-hour stalemate between two of my roommates. The four of us gathered around our kitchen table with the tension in the air palpable. Three pairs of eyes, who had never participated in any format of RJ, turned to me and I was thrust into my first (very unformal and not altogether tidy) circle process.

I was nervous, but excited. This circle invoked a plethora of potential opportunities for future use if it went well.

Turn-by-turn, we laid out our grievances with the failed grocery plan and turn-by-turn we proposed solutions to the issue(s) at hand. We reached a resolution, and all agreed on a new plan of action, to be implemented immediately. I felt successful.

Perhaps the most beautiful thing about RJ is the way it constructs space for everyone’s voice to be heard, considered, and listened to equally. When it is your turn to speak, you are able to voice your thoughts without fear of intervention or rebuttal. This space was important when we felt our voices were misrepresented, misinterpreted, or simply silenced over the period of conflict for the past few days. After this first messy effort, I know RJ really is for every day.

However, that is not to say that my first independent circle lead was perfect. If anything, it was quite rough. I had forgotten to lay out some ground principles, failed to mention that we need to speak in “I” statements, and totally did not realize the extent of harm that had been done between the two roommates. The latter would require extra efforts and conversation in a one-on-one setting, which eventually took place and eventually allowed peace and laughter to re-enter our home.

But nonetheless, I was proud – I am proud – of my kitchen table RJ. In reflecting on my experiences in the RJ house course, I realized that the real challenge for me is not making myself vulnerable with strangers, it’s making myself vulnerable with the people that I feel know me best. It’s calling out the patterns of harm I’ve been complicit in and shedding light on them through RJ. It’s telling my housemates we need to have a meeting and we are using RJ to do it.

Three weeks ago I used RJ for the first time in my real life. I have been thinking about how I can and should and will do this more, ever since.