I have to say I am very blessed to have wonderful friends in my life. My friends are loyal, considerate, understanding and believe in me even when my own self-belief is lacking. They are kind and loving and extremely thoughtful.
Sadly though, the most important friendship I’ve ever had (and certainly the longest standing one) was both love and hate for way too long. Over the years this friendship has changed from being toxic to dysfunctional to much better but there is still work to be done before it becomes completely kind and nurturing. What’s most troubling however is that, unlike all of my other friendships, this one isn’t optional. Who is this friendship with you ask? Myself.
How sad it is that such an important relationship, the relationship we have with ourselves, is often so cruel and uncaring. And yet it is the most important friendship we will ever have. When we consider our best friends in life – the friends that are there for us no matter what – we take for granted how these close bonds developed.
We forget it took work and that we invested a great deal of time into forming those bonds. Bonds that were built on trust, loyalty, empathy, understanding and love. Why then do we not put that same amount of effort into the friendship we have with ourselves? Surely it is nonsensical to think that we can be our own best friend if we fail to invest the time and effort into fostering a healthy relationship with ourselves.
Admittedly, self-acceptance starts with forming a healthy level of self-esteem but that is only part of the picture. After writing my recent article on self-esteem I realised that my work was incomplete. I had only shared part of how to love ourselves and, although developing healthy self-esteem is the most fundamental and basic step towards loving yourself, if we are to completely love ourselves we must also learn the art of self- compassion.
Thanks to the work I’ve done in therapy my self-esteem is quite healthy and my inner critic is mostly under control but I wanted take the relationship I had with myself to the next level. I wanted to practise greater self-compassion – I wanted to learn to be my own best friend.
In many ways I saw it as the next logical step, with self-compassion my graduate study and my work on self-esteem my foundation degree. I discovered one of the most exceptional series on self-acceptance online, by none other than one of my favourite media companies, Sounds True, who specialise in publishing courses, CD’s and books on spiritual wisdom. In their twenty-three part free video series I discovered invaluable, life changing advice and guidance on how to become my very own best friend, even (and some might say, especially) during times of difficulty.
Reassuringly we are not alone; our lack of self-acceptance is a universal and very human condition. It originated from our ancestors thousands of years ago when our survival was dependent on being accepted by our social group. The fight, flight or freeze response is as old as humanity itself and initially served to protect us in life threatening situations.
Unfortunately for us, what is often referred to as the reptilian brain still persists in situations where there is no genuine threat. For example, if I were to say something inappropriate at a party the reptilian part of my brain may very well be activated for fear of social ridicule and rejection. Suddenly my misplaced comment becomes a source of great embarrassment and shame, with my inner critic asserting that I am stupid. As you can see, our inner critic can be very cruel indeed.
One of the first things I learnt through the Sounds True Self-Acceptance Project was that the first step to attaining true self-acceptance and compassion is to become aware of when our inner critic is activated. This is then an opportunity to focus on our breathing, using deep and slow diaphragmatic breaths (breathing from your lower stomach).
Bruce Tift, who has been in private practice since 1979 and has been a professor at Naropa University for the past twenty-five years, says that the path to self-acceptance is for us to recognise when we are in pain and then pay attention to the physical sensations in the body. Critically, rather than seeking to avoid the unpleasant and painful sensations, he recommends turning towards them and being with them at a pure sensational level. The result? Counter intuitively, the painful sensations reduce in severity.
Stay tuned, next week discover how to build unconditional confidence.
How aware are you of your bodily sensations when you are going through painful experiences? Do you try anything to avoid feeling the pain? Do you have any tips of your own that have helped you deal with painful experiences in the past? Please share your thoughts in the comments below, I’d love to hear from you.
by Tami Simon and Bruce Tift (available for pre-order now)