While driving the other day, I saw a sign that read, “Friends have a finger on your faults, they just don’t rub it in.” This got me thinking about the epidemic of self-criticism that I see in my students, the people I see in my clinical mental health practice and, yes, myself.
Often, our automatic response to our lives is to abuse ourselves for our shortcomings. We fail to see the entirety of the situation we find ourselves in, focusing only on our own part in it. We ignore the big picture, the things we can’t control, the role others play in the drama, so we can zero in on everything “wrong” with us. We ruminate about what we did or said, what should have happened, what we could have done differently. We worry that others will see us as poorly as we see ourselves. When this sort of thinking becomes habitual, we end up feeling depressed or anxious.
Self-criticism is actually harmful to ourselves and resolves nothing. It causes us to distance ourselves from our present reality. We give ourselves a hard time and increase our suffering.
What we can do instead is cultivate discernment. Discernment is the ability to understand and evaluate clearly. It means we can see the true nature of things, including ourselves, allowing us to distinguish between what is real and what is illusion. The practice of mindfulness is one way to develop this skill.
When we learn discernment, we open ourselves to the entirety of who we are, without judgements. It means accepting who and how we are. And while we might choose to aim towards a higher level of consciousness or action, we can view ourselves with feelings of love and compassion, much like we might a close friend or loved one. This type of presence reduces our suffering.
Perhaps you can recall a time when someone offered you compassion in the midst of a difficult situation…or maybe you were the one offering it to someone else. Take a moment to recall how that felt in your mind and your body. You might feel warmth or softness in your heart, a release of muscle tension as you feel cared for and connected. It is from this place that we can make open-hearted, wise choices for ourselves.
I wonder what the world might be like if we each stopped rubbing salt into our wounds, and instead treated them with loving-kindness. After seeing that sign, I resolved to start acting as my own best friend-accepting my strengths and my weaknesses and loving all that I am. I can aim to be my best self and forgive myself when I stumble. I am already seeing and feeling a difference in how I see myself and the world around me.
What about you? Can you be your own best friend?