Monday, August 1, 2011

Self-Love for the Overly Literal

The self-lovestravaganza continues! <3

We're often told to "love yourself" (usually, after we have changed everything "wrong" about us, but that's beyond the scope of this post). Even when people are saying to "love yourself" with the best of intentions, it's always been unclear to me what is actually meant by this. Slightly more specific is "be your own best friend", but I feel like even this needs to be broken down further.

I've known about the concept "be your own best friend" for years now, and I've intermittently resolved to put it into practice. It sounds so appealing, but I can't say it's made any headway in changing my everyday life. What actual behaviors would fall under "being your own best friend" anyway? I take it to mean that, when you're feeling down, you'd think about what you might do for a friend in the same circumstances. For instance, you would probably not berate the person further. You'd probably listen to their concerns. Maybe you'd try to cheer them up by baking them cookies, taking them dancing, having them pet a llama, etc. If your best friend was bored or lonely, you'd probably try to make them laugh or tell them that you were there for them.

But for me, what's rewarding about many activities is the fact that I'm doing them with another person. When I'm with a friend, I'm often able to forget about my troubles for a while, because I'm focusing on interacting with the other person rather than on my own worries. Of course, "being your own best friend" isn't a substitute for having a best friend who's another person, but I can find myself comparing solitary activities to social ones. While I can enjoy some things done alone, I would usually enjoy them even more with good company.

It can be especially hard to be your own best friend in personal crisis situations, or times when you're stuck in repetitive behaviors. Your other-person friend, because they're not going through the same thing at the same time, may be better able to take decisive action or give objective feedback than you are. There's also the fact that not everyone has had the experience of a loving friend. A lot of people are socially isolated or are in dysfunctional relationships. Some people have few social needs, making it unclear how a "best friend" metaphor would even benefit them.

At least in my own experience, "being your own best friend" isn't just something that happens one day and then maintains itself over a lifetime. Instead, it seems to be a constant battle between my inner friend and my inner critic. Sometimes my friend wins and sometimes she doesn't. But if I criticize myself for being a bad self-friend, then that's a step even further back.

And the truth is, sometimes I don't know how to help a troubled friend, even as I feel empathy for them and deeply want to help. I want to be the kind of person who quickly jumps into action to help someone, be it myself or someone else. But too often, I find myself mired in analysis of the situation. How can my "inner friend" truly help me when she shares all of my limitations?

As usual, I'm ending on a question (meep!). I'd be interested to know what you all think about the "be your own best friend" concept. Has it been useful to you? Is there another way of conceptualizing it that I'm just missing?


sui said...

Ahh, loving yourself. It's difficult to define, for sure. And I think all definitions fall short of the mark. In my humble opinion, loving yourself is not a feeling but a state of being, & it's manifested through action. The "be your own best friend" definition can definitely fail this at times, because it is indeed limited.

My own personal definition took a long time to pinpoint, but it looks something like this:

And it took several hundred (or thousand!) words. Loving yourself is many things. A lot of things. To me, first & foremost, though, loving yourself is a commitment. Any love is.

Ily said...

@sui: Yep yep...Self-love is very action-based, it's definitely not a program just "running in the background". I feel like many conceptions of self-love don't really touch on this, so I'm glad you brought up the concept of "commitment". That's really the #1 foundation of any long-term relationship, isn't it?

Jessica said...

I think it was Anne Lamott who wrote that one could try to be kind to oneself. In other words, instead of being your own best friend, be kind to yourself, view yourself as you would view your eccentric, loving (imaginary) auntie, who may be a little embarrassing in public or sometimes a bit too needy and weird, but whom you adore anyway, just love her to pieces.

Something like that.

I guess it would simply be good to reframe the concept entirely, getting rid of the "best friend" aspect for me, and to try instead to let myself off the hook of my own grinding, unending judgment. Not to allow myself to do bad or wrong or mean or chronically selfish things, but to not whip myself bloody each time I make a mistake.

That would be cool.

I like and appreciate what the commenter above said, about self-love being an action. That reminds me of M. Scott Peck's own words in THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED, where he also states that love is an action, not just an emotion.

Anonymous said...

I find the concepts 'self love' and 'best friend' too nebulous to work with on a daily basis. I need something I can run constantly as a simple yes/no check without tying myself up in definitions like 'what is love.'

Instead, I go with the related goal of trying to be someone I can live with. The question I use is 'will I regret doing this / will I regret not doing this.' Then I try to act on the answer.

It mostly works. Hope this is some help.

Carolyn said...

I feel like the hardest and yet most useful idea of "being your own best friend" is that another person is able to see you from the outside. We often get too focused on doing our daily, habitual things that we don't look at the big picture and see if we can make improvements. One thing that helped me when I was a very shy, unhappy teen was to write myself letters that I would read a year later describing the person I would like to be when I read the letter. It helped me be honest and objective about my goals and make positive changes in myself.

But personally I don't think I have ever been good at doing the work of loving myself cause it just starts making me really confused. I sometimes don't like myself, but most of the time I think I'm ok, so I think it works out pretty well.

Ily said...

@Jessica: It's funny how the self-criticism's like I'm using it as a form of motivation, when I know full well that negative motivation is totally ineffective.

@Anon: Exactly! The yes/no check. That's what I was trying to get across, but I think the way you phrased it makes more sense. I try to ask myself, "Will this help me?". If I can remember to do it. Which isn't often. We probably all have our own questions that would work best. Like I know "Would I regret this?" wouldn't work as well for me.

@Carolyn: It's true. It confuses me, too. I feel like in some way, it's hard to be objective about anyone, because we all see things through the lens of our own experience. Intellectually (here we go again!) I know that I'm a good person, I do my best, and I'm worthy of love and respect. But I don't tend to treat myself like I know that. Talking about it helps, because it lets me access a place of further objectivity...when I write about these thought patterns, it's a lot clearer how useless they really are.

Good luck to all of us :)

@Carolina: I didn't post your comment because I wasn't sure if you wanted your e-mail address out there. I'll get back to you soon!

Ryan said...

I think the key to your question is to being able to break out of your own thought pattern, so that you get a different perspective from yourself. It's just not necessarily something that is easy to do...or learn.

The way I've experienced trying to self-care is that I reach a point where I'm starting to get signs of fatigue or I start having random negative thoughts float by, that it actually disrupts me and then I would have a chance to stop myself, ask myself why am I berating myself so hard and go from there.