How to be a Good Friend to Yourself
AN ODD IDEA?
Trying to be a good friend to yourself sounds like an odd idea. Initially because we naturally imagine a friend as someone else, not as a part of our own mind. But there is value in the concept because of the extent to which we know how to treat our own friends, with the sympathy and imagination we seldom apply, to ourselves.
If a friend is in trouble our first instinct is rarely to tell them that they are fundamentally a sh*thead and a failure. If a friend complains that their partner isn’t very warm to them, we don’t tell them they’re getting what they deserve. We try to re-assure them that they’re essentially likeable and that it’s worth investigating what might be done. In friendship we know instinctively how to deploy strategies of wisdom and consolation that we stubbornly refuse to apply to ourselves. There are some key moves a good friend would typically make which can provide a model for what we should, ideally be doing with ourselves, in our own heads.
WHAT GOOD FRIEND LIKES?
Firstly, a good friend likes you pretty much as you already are. Any suggestion they make or ambition they have about how you could change builds on a background of acceptance. When they propose that you might try a different tack it’s not an ultimatum or a threat. They’re not saying that you have to change.
A friend insists we’re good enough, already, but they want to join forces with us to solve a challenge. They feel we would properly benefit, from overcoming. Without being flattering, good friends also constantly keep in mind certain things, we’re getting right! They don’t think anything wrong with the odd compliment and emphasis on our strengths. It’s quietly galling how easily we can lose sight of all our own good points, when troubles strike. A friend doesn’t fall into this trap. They can acknowledge the difficulties while still holding on to a memory of our virtues.
The good friend is compassionate
The good friend is compassionate; when we fail, as we will they are understanding and generous around our mishaps. Our folly, doesn’t exclude them from the circle of their love. The good friend definitely conveys that to err, fail and screw up is just what we humans do. We all emerge from childhood with various biases in our character which evolved to help us cope with our necessarily imperfect parents and these acquired habits of mind will reliably let us down in adult life. But, we’re not to be blamed because we didn’t deliberately set out to be like this. We didn’t realistically, have a lot of better options. We’re indelibly required to make big decisions before we ever really understand what’s at stake or how our choices will play out. We steering blind in all our large moves around love and work.
We opt for a move to a different city but we can’t possibly know whether we’re going to flourish there We have to select a career path when we’re still young and we don’t know what our latent needs will be in long term relationships We have to make a commitment to another person before we understand what it will be like to tie our lives, so deeply to theirs’ The good friend knows that failures are not in fact, rare They bring as a starting point their own and humanity’s vivid experience of messing up into play as key points of reference. They’re continually telling us that our specific case, might be unique but that the general structure, is common.
People, don’t just sometimes fail Everyone fails, only, we don’t know about it It’s ironic, yet essentially hopeful that we usually know quite well how to be a better friend to near strangers than we know how to be, to ourselves. The hopefulness lies in the fact that we do actually already possess the relevant skills of friendship. It’s just, we haven’t as yet directed them to the person, who probably needs the most namely, of course ourselves.