Cultivating a deep friendship with yourself will help you to feel happier, freer and more centered. It will grow your ability to listen to yourself, decrease your need for external validation, and improve your connections with others.
In my work, counseling adults, I’ve found the following five tips to be invaluable in a person’s process toward healing and wholeness, and can be applied in any situation to increase ease, enjoyment and satisfaction.
1. Understand that what you do, and the decisions you’ve made, have been the result of you doing the best you could. All human beings have limitations, and create strategies to survive dangerous or unhealthy situations during childhood. It is the nature of the ego to recreate whatever it survived and repeat whatever coping behaviors worked in the past. Until an adult learns to dismantle the old strategies, repeating these patterns, although out of context, and often with painful results, are completely predictable and necessary steps in the process of letting them go.
2. Learn to stop self-attack and self-criticism.
When a human being is experiencing difficulty, there is often a tendency to add additional suffering by focusing on thoughts that berate the self for being in a difficult situation in the first place. Whatever challenge you are experiencing is hard enough, and there is no need to make it even harder by adding a layer of harsh judgment and criticism. When negative self-talk or self-attack plague you, imagine throwing a pile of sticks in front of that pathway in your brain. What ever you do, don’t go down it.
3. Remember that you are the only one who knows what you have been through. Your hands are the most loving hands that could ever touch you because they know everything about you. Anyone else who perceives your situation will do so through a lens of his or her own experience, and can not possibly understand your struggles as deeply, or with as much compassion as you can. So who better than yourself could be your number one confidant and partner on the path of life?
4. Realize what an enemy you’ve been to yourself, and become a friend to yourself instead.
Start naming the thoughts running through your head about yourself. Notice which thoughts sound like insults someone would shout to his or her enemy. Examples are: “You’re worthless”, “You should have done this better”, “You are unlovable, fat, ugly, stupid, etc.”, “You always make the same mistakes”, “You are unworthy”. Noticing these thoughts is the first step toward changing them. Instead of being your own worst enemy, start being your own best friend. When you catch yourself churning out hateful thoughts about yourself, stop and say, “Hey, that’s my best friend you are talking about. I’m not going to let you say those things about my best friend”.
5. Vow to stop self-abandoning.
We abandon ourselves whenever we don’t feel our feelings, escape via alcohol, drugs, exercise, eating, numbing out, ignoring our needs. When you vow to stay present with yourself no matter what arises, you will feel safer, stronger, capable, and more resilient. You will learn to trust yourself, not as an idea, but as an actual experience. The experience comes because you build the trust, little by little, every time you show up fully.
Please remember that your coping strategies were instated for a reason: survival. They worked for a time (you are still alive), but as they unravel, there are bound to be slips. I always tell me clients, “as we know better, we do better.” So will you.
Also know that increasing awareness takes practice. Don’t let a slip up be a fodder for you to become an enemy to yourself again. Every slip-up is a new opportunity to be a good friend.
“One should lift up the self by the Self and not degrade the self; for oneself alone is one’s friend, oneself alone one’s enemy”
-Bhagavad Gita 6:5