Many of my patients treat themselves in an unloving manner. They are nowhere near becoming their own best friend. They regularly call themselves “stupid,” “pathetic,” “unlovable,” and other epithets they would never dream of using about others.
Additionally, instead of celebrating their own achievements, they negatively compare them to the perceived successes of others. “Oh, it was no big deal (winning the Nobel prize). It can never top Sadie only setting the fire alarm off once with her cooking!”
I work to help these practiced self-haters realize that life is 100 percent more fulfilling once they begin to value and respect and cheerlead the most important person in their life — themselves.
Here are tips on how to transform from your worst enemy to your best friend:
If a beloved friend was bedeviled by self-hatred and you wanted to remind her of the many gorgeous traits she possessed, you might pen or tap on your keyboard something like this: “If I’m ill, you unfailingly volunteer to pick my kids up from school. You are one of the most thoughtful people I’ve ever met.” Or: “When you want something, even when you are tired or feeling defeatist, you continue going after your dream. I so admire that drive!”
Stepping out of your comfort zone, which alas, is a comfort with self-attack, becomes easier when you can initially "trick" yourself into thinking you are doing something good for someone else. But this letter is about you.
When I’ve assigned this exercise in workshops, it has proven revelatory, with women exclaiming after reading their letter aloud something along the lines of: “Wow, I’m hot stuff!”
2. Become Comfortable In Your Own Company.
When a woman finds it difficult, if not impossible, to befriend herself, odds are she finds it nearly impossible to spend time sans company. Indeed, a study in the journal Science found that many of the participants couldn’t be alone for more than six to eight minutes. The truly horrifying part is that when researchers gave participants the option of spending 15 minutes by themselves or pressing a button that would administer a mild electric shock, 42 people chose the latter. So great was the anxiety of being with herself, one woman even shocked herself 190 times!
Home, ideally, should be a sanctuary, and solitude an opportunity rather than a burden. Cuddle with your pet and watch junk TV while eating junk. Draw yourself a bubble bath, or cook a fabulous meal and savor every bite. Read a book you’ve been dying to dip into. Boogie to Beyoncé while your face is slathered in a mud mask. When difficult feelings crop up, breathe and remind yourself this too shall pass. Then dance on! Consider starting a meditation practice. Check out headspace.com for a good orientation.
Once being solo on the home front starts feeling pleasurable, do a field trip to a museum, bookstore, movie theater, take a hike… The point is to enjoy an experience for its own sake, without needing to make compromises for another person’s taste.
3. Stop Tolerating Toxicity.
This suggestion is two-tier.
First, start challenging your negative self-talk. Wear a rubber band on your wrist. Whenever you find yourself saying, “I’ll never get that job. I’m sure all the other candidates will be much better,” or “I’ll be alone my whole life,” snap the rubber band to stop yourself from going further down that rabbit hole. Breathe, then consider how you would talk to a best friend who needed reassurance. Likely the comment would be, “You will ace that interview,” or “Someone as wonderful as you will definitely find the right partner.” Those positives are the way to talk to yourself!
In a similar vein, if anyone in your inner circle talks to you in a derogatory fashion, he or she should not be in your life. The people surrounding us should be encouraging, kind, uplifting, supportive yet honest (not to wound, but to help us be our best selves). If you feel worse about yourself on a regular basis after hanging out with a "bestie," be your own bestie and end that relationship.
4. Allow Yourself To Be Imperfect.
Typically, when someone is consistently unkind to herself she is holding herself to a much harsher standard than she holds the rest of the world.
Perhaps your parents were overly critical and/or treated you like nothing you did was good enough. Chasing perfection then became about chasing your parents’ approval. But that’s a void that can’t be filled by praise, whether grudging or gracious.
Lasting satisfaction with yourself doesn’t result from external sources. I’m planning on getting T-shirts made that proclaim: SELF-ESTEEM IS AN INSIDE JOB.
We are all flawed. We all have some things we excel at, some things we’re moderately good at, things we skate by with on luck, and things we totally suck at. (NEVER ask me to do anything mechanical, and don’t expect a gourmet meal. However, I order in like a pro!)
Lean into yourself — glory in your strengths, accept your weaknesses, realize that mistakes you’ve made are not dead-ends. Rather, they’ve led you to the beautiful person you are becoming.
Life is a journey — an adventure. Drape yourself in a cloak of love and kindness, and the journey, while pothole-strewn, can be a glorious one.