Are you a better friend to others than you are to yourself? I bet you are.
Imagine your best friend calls you up needing to talk. She’s not feeling very good about herself. You can hear in her voice and in her words that she’s beating herself up about something.
You know that she’s still lovable, even if she did kind of mess something up.
You remember her essential goodness quite easily, even if she can’t. And when she tells you what happened, the words to make her feel better come effortlessly out of your mouth.
See? You know perfectly well how to be a friend. So you might wonder why you don’t treat yourself with the same kindness?
Maybe you think you don’t deserve it. If you’re like most women, you have a double standard. Your friend deserves the benefit of the doubt, second chances, room to be imperfect and time to get better. You deserve none of these things. You are to be treated with suspicion, criticism, and cynicism at all times.
Do you treat yourself like some kind of dangerous, reprehensible criminal, likely to do something bad at any moment? If so, what exactly are your crimes? Are they really so terrible that you should punish yourself permanently for them? Even if you have done some truly selfish, cringe-worthy things – most of us have – what type of attitude towards yourself actually makes you behave better: kindness or meanness?
My opinion is we’ve all been trained to believe that lightly abusing ourselves psychologically is necessary to be “good”. In actual fact, maintaining a background level of self-hatred and withholding approval from ourselves hurts us and makes us behave less well. It is counterproductive.
So I think it’s high time that all of us good Best Friends stop cooperating with this outdated idea, that we’ll spoil ourselves if we are too nice to ourselves in our own heads. How about we start treating ourselves like members of the human race.
To start: I vote we get rid of the idea of deserving. Many say to themselves, I will be kind to myself only if I deserve it. I will first review the facts, judge myself, and then grant myself kindness or meanness based on the quality of my behavior and character.
Who are we, Judge Judy? Is life a court of law?
I don’t think love should be withheld as a way to motivate behavior. That is just abuse. When kindness is a reward for good behavior, instead of a basic human right, we get what we have now in our society. A very ill, very hurt, very traumatized version of humanity.
The truth is, it is not necessary, ever, to shame, blame or punish ourselves or anyone else. Shame, blame and punishment are not at all helpful; they are abusive.
Abuse harms the human spirit, and contrary to what authorities have told us our entire lives, it does not create positive behaviors. Across the board, abuse only creates the temporary appearance of goodness (obedience due to fear of punishment), which is not the same thing as voluntarily choosing positive behaviors because of a true recognition of our shared humanity. Abused people, time has shown, spread their abuse. Loved people spread their love.
Here’s my invitation to you:
Write out a definition of how a Best Friend behaves. For example: A best friend helps you laugh it off. A best friend listens without judgment. A best friend helps you feel the feelings. A best friend gives you space and time. A best friend looks past your failings and highlights the good within you.
Now start treating yourself that way. Here are two effective ways to practice this behavior until it becomes second nature (which can take some years, but makes a difference even after just one time, like learning anything new):
- Record your own voice saying very nice, loving things to you, as though you are leaving a voice message for friend. Address yourself using your own name, and speak to yourself in a loving tone of voice. Then listen back to these nice things. The more you do it, the easier it will be.
- Write it out in your journal as a dialogue, where you go back and forth, being your own friend. Like this:
Holly: I can’t believe I messed up like that…
Inner Best Friend: Want to tell me how you feel?
It might be hard at first, but I have 100% confidence that you can learn to treat yourself humanely. If you’re having a “what would people think?” reaction to this, I assure you, no one even has to know you’re doing it. You can be secretly quite decent to yourself, in your own head. This will help everyone, everywhere. You got this 🙂