The Kindest Thing You Can Do for Yourself in 2015
In the 1970s, when the phrase "be your own best friend" made its way into the zeitgeist, I was mildly confused: I thought friendship involved, you know, more than one person. Then I grew up and realized that most of us are more than one person. As we figure out how we fit in socially and learn how to tailor our behavior to various situations, we end up with several—often wildly dissimilar—versions of ourselves.
For a long time, my own being housed a bustling community of judges, critics and doomsday prophets who conspired to put me through hell. One day I realized that if I wrote down all the negative things I said to myself and showed the resulting document to the police, they'd issue a restraining order against me on my own behalf. But then I figured out that if I could become my own worst enemy, I could also become my own best friend. I developed a method for doing exactly that, and now I'm going to share it with you.
My method for self-befriending centers on empathic listening. It requires that a friendly aspect of your psyche converse with the part that most needs support.
Paradoxically, this process begins with exaggerating the divisions between yourselves. So let's imagine two versions of you. First, make a list of the qualities you possess when things are at their best—when your gas tank is full, the babysitter shows up on time, and that yogurt is having its intended effect. Is this version of you cheerful, kind, patient? Write it down? This is a description of your Best Friend Self, or BFS.
Now get very honest, and make a list of qualities you exhibit on your worst day. How do you behave when your last frayed nerve finally snaps? Are you whiny and self-pitying? Angry and bitter? Limp and heavily sedated? Let's call this part of you the Train Wreck Self (TWS). For my money, the very definition of self-help is sending in your BFS to befriend your TWS.
Now, that may sound simple, but maybe people, even at their best, don't really know how to be a friend. I've found that many of my clients think friendship means letting yourself be treated abominably in exchange for approval from people who roughly resemble your parents. Not even close. True friendship is about kindness and reciprocity, support and authentic love.
As you read through the following friendship facts, I invite you to speak aloud the statements that follow them. (If you're in court or walking a tightrope, you can just think them.) Don't rush. If you can say these things to yourself and mean them, you can be your own pal.
Friendship Fact:Real friends delight in your happiness.
Say to Yourself: "I want to help you have great adventures, rest when you're tired and make every experience better."
Friendship Fact: Real friends care about what's happening to you.
Say to Yourself: "What's going on with you? How do you feel about it? I want to hear everything!"
Friendship Fact: Real friends don't try to live your life for you.
Say to Yourself: "I really care when you're hurting, but I know you'll be all right in the end. I have faith in you."
Friendship Fact: If you're in dangerous territory, real friends will tell you.
Say to Yourself: "Is your gut saying that something doesn't feel right? Respect that. I do."
Friendship Fact: Real friends like just being with you; they don't need you to entertain them.
Say to yourself: "You don't have to earn my friendship. Just be yourself."
As you can see, true friends are basically talking Labrador retrievers who can drive you to the airport. Their love for you is easy and constant. If you've never had a friend like this, it's time to become one. This is how.
Never-Fail Self-Befriending Exercise
First, choose an accessory (a ring, a scarf, a party hat) that will be worn only by your BFS. I mean it—go get this item right now. When you put it on, you'll be in best-friend mode, speaking from your most enlightened perspective. When you take it off, you're going to shift to your Train Wreck Self. It may sound crazy, but it could help to switch physical conditions: While embodying your BFS, you'll sit in a certain chair; while being your TWS, you'll be in the fetal position under the bed, or whatever.
Now you're going to have a conversation with yourself—this time in writing (it's much more powerful that way). Yes, I know this also sounds nutty. Do it anyway. Trust me. First you'll put on your BFS accessory, go to your BFS chair and write the words scripted as follows. Then you'll take off the BFS regalia, assume your TWS position and respond with whatever comes to mind. Make sure you don't suppress or censor your TWS; real friends can handle each other's truth. Ready? Here we go.
As your BFS, write: "How's it going?"
As your TWS, let it rip: If you're having a boring, frustrating or horrible day, go nuts. Whine, fuss and fume to your heart's content. Throw a verbal tantrum. Get it all out.
BFS: "I hear you, and you get to feel whatever you're feeling right now. Go into more detail. Why do you feel this way?"
TWS: Write whatever comes up. You may repeat yourself, or you may find that your rant is changing, going to new levels of honesty and vulnerability. Just let it flow.
Now repeat the last BFS question over and over until your TWS has said absolutely everything it wants to say. Then move on:
BFS: "So, my friend, what do you want in this situation?"
TWS: Write whatever comes up. Sit with the question until you can find a genuine desire inside yourself.
BFS: "And what's the best thing I can do to help you feel better right now?"
TWS: Sit with the question until you can find something doable: making a cup of tea, listening to music that calms or inspires you, burning an effigy of your boss.
Once your TWS has arrived at an actionable step, put on your BFS attire and take that step. Unfailingly. Friends do things for each other, and on good days your BFS may take your mood from okay to great. On bad days, it may inch you from despair to slight relief. No matter what's going on, one thing is always certain: Friendship makes things better.
I've used this method of self-befriending for years. Gradually, it taught me to trust myself—my Best Friend Self, anyway—and that was how I learned to trust the world. I began to recognize real friendship when it was offered and learned to reciprocate. Every day, my Train Wreck Self still asks for things she wants—it's impossible to predict her demands—and every day, my Best Friend Self tries to get them for her. It's not always easy, but it always makes things better. And that will do, at least until I get a Labrador retriever.
Martha Beck's latest book is The Martha Beck Collection: Essays for Creating Your Right Life, Volume One (Martha Beck Inc.).