One day I was berating myself in my therapist’s office when she asked if I thought I was a good friend. “I’m sure I let people down sometimes, but I try to be caring, compassionate and non-judgmental,” I said, barely hiding my what are you getting at face.
“Do you often tell your friends they’re stupid?”
“Ha, No. I always make sure they know how amazing I think they are.”
“Do you tell them you don’t have time to deal with their problems, that they should push them away and handle them later?”
“I…no. Wait a minute. That’s different. I need to push things away so that I can be a better, kinder, more attentive. And I am not smart enough, if I was I wouldn’t be depressed.”
(Seriously this how I think of myself when I am at a low point).
“Do you think being mean to your friends helps them become better, kinder people?”
Now, I’m sure you’ve pieced together her message with me.
Those of us who want to be good friends try to be kind, caring, and encouraging. We know no one wants to be friends with someone who calls them stupid or dismisses their problems, so we work hard to be good and never bully others. But it seems they often don’t mind being bullies to themselves.
And that's exactly how self-loathing grows.
Who enjoys spending time with someone who offers hatred and bitterness when it’s so much more pleasant to be encouraged, loved and supported? Moreover, if someone were to treat your loved one so poorly, wouldn’t you advise them to stand up for themselves? Remind them that they deserve more respect?
Understanding this is how I have come to realize I need to work harder on becoming my own friend. I was tired of dreading my own mind. I wanted to be happier and able to enjoy being alone. I have found that working on becoming my own friend has helped me in many ways.
To Be Less Nervous About Spending Time Alone
There are many other human complexities that make it difficult to spend time alone. Countless studies have been done on the importance of feeling like part of a community. Slowly, I have learned that it’s not just the isolation that used to make me hate being by myself. It was because silence offered a playground for my meanest thoughts to surface, which also meant it rendered me extremely unproductive. Since I love writing, and I need silence or something near it to be able to focus, I was determined to learn.
“So,” I thought, “how would I encourage a friend to write?” Well, I would tell them how much I enjoy reading things they create, how impactful their words can be to read, how dedicated they must be to able to complete something like that.
Then I made a deal with myself: if when I am alone I could think of five nice things about my writing, I would have to lift the metaphorical block I kept hitting and let myself put something down on paper (or screen).
Yes, exactly like a bribe. It worked. It still works. Not totally foolproof, but it works more times than it doesn’t. I gave myself permission to accept that I wasn’t the worst writer in the history of time, and therefore my attempts to write were valid. Eventually, I started associating being alone with being productive and started enjoying that prospect altogether.
To Feel More Confident About Finding New Friends/Partners
Being desperate and as afraid as possible are not the ideal qualities we look for in a mate. Unfortunately, I had incredibly low self-esteem in my teens. Since I didn’t think I had value to others, I constantly said negative things and put myself down during interactions. I negged myself so often that I created a cycle.
But who should ever be nice to someone who acts like that? Should've been Me! Once I started to break the cycle and stopped starting every interaction by being unkind to myself, I felt more confident that I deserved nicer treatment from others. I would stop looking for people to reinforce everything I hated about myself, and would instead find kinder people. They would be kinder friends, and I would not want to be alone to protect my feelings.
Once a positive loop was reinforced and repeated a few times, I started feeling better and became much more approachable in general. That created more social encounters which made it more likely to make lovely friends.
The hardest part about this one, is that it took me some time to learn how what I liked about myself. What nice things could I say about myself without cringing or feeling pretentious (or arrogant)? What was I willing to admit I liked about myself? Once I knew what I loved about myself, it became easier to make a case for someone else to love me.
To Start Being One's Own Cheerleader
Teachers are very likely to understand this one without an example, but for the rest of us…have you talked to a friend who was feeling low and found that your joke lifted their spirits? Or someone who really enjoys cooking/drumming/playing basketball/dancing but was convinced they were no good at it? Now, what did better to keep that person perfecting their craft: telling them to quit? That they’re not trying hard enough? Or offering help and encouragement.
Same works for every one of us on an internal level. If I kept telling myself I could never write and that there is no sense in trying, I would keep believing exactly that.
Recently-and this was much harder than it sounds-I tried encouraging myself the way I would my loved ones. When I heard myself about to say, “I don’t know anything, everything I write comes out stupid,” I caught the bubbling thought and would push myself to think instead: “I really enjoy researching mental health topics, maybe I can try to write about that.”
I replaced “I might as well not even try writing, since I can’t even finish one article,” with “I’ve been thinking about this other thing a lot, I might as well just jot it down.”
I don’t do this enough, but when I do, it always works and gets me to be more productive. Clinical Depression is no joke and it’s very difficult to motivate yourself when there is a chemical imbalance as the root cause for such negative emotions to begin with, but it doesn’t hurt to try. What does hurt relentlessly is to continue the cycle of self-abuse unchecked.
The key to moving towards all of these initiatives was the one small notion that maybe I could start working with myself instead of against. Maybe I could become my own friend, so that I could be there for myself when no one was around, and could provide me with all the exact words I needed.
So this Valentine’s Day, that’s what I would like to encourage everyone to do. If you're alone, get comfortable hanging out with you. Show yourself that you appreciate your own company and that you do not take all of your hard work to be a good person for granted. Act like you're friends with yourself. Watch a Disney movie together. And if you hear your friend think they are stupid, list out loud all the wonderful things they actually are. And it wouldn’t hurt to say “I love you,” either. Just to bring the point home.
Do you think you're exceptionally hard on yourself? Or do you think it's important to stay critical in order to grow and learn? Let me know in the comments!