How to Be Your Own Best Friend

The psychotherapy community and self-help industry toss around all sorts of phrases, such as “self-esteem,” “the inner child,” and “being your own best friend.” These are worthy concepts but are often difficult to actualize. I mean really, if you don’t like yourself, and it’s your thinking you need to change to become your own friend, how do you change your mind when you’re already against yourself?

Despite what clients may think, therapists are human. Some of them have to learn how to heal and become their own ally. That’s what makes a good therapist, I think — someone who has been there understands the struggle and, having developed self-esteem, can offer hope to those who strive to learn the same.

In the work I do, people are often harsh with themselves. When a client is berating herself, I suggest she imagine a close friend coming to her in the same situation, or with the same problem. Would she be as judgmental toward her friend as she is toward herself? Often the answer is no. So the work we face is to help the client to be as gentle with her own heart as she is with others’.

The change occurs first within the heart, and then the mind follows. This is a contradiction to cognitive psychology, which holds that emotions arise from thought. Sometimes they do, and they can be altered by examining thoughts for negativity, so that more constructive thought patterns can be developed. But there is a core disposition toward oneself and others that is beyond the realm of words, that only the loving presence of another can help foster in a wounded psyche.

Last night I read a simple but powerful poem that articulated exactly this type of self-love.

Love After Love

The time will come
When, with elation,
You will greet yourself arriving
At your own door, in your own mirror,
And each will smile at the other’s welcome,

And say, sit here, Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
To itself, to the stranger who has loved you

All your life, whom you ignored
For another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

The photographs, the desperate notes,
Peel your image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

–Derek Walcott

I wish you bon appetit.

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