The Friend Within
This is going to be a bit direct. A bit personal. Now I don't want to stick my nose into your personal life, I just want you to put a personal question to yourself. And answer it yourself. At the right time when you can ponder about it in depth. The question is:
How good a friend of yourself are you?
The structure of this sentence is a bit weird. There is a strange duality in these kinds of statements: “I am happy with myself”, “I like myself”, “I accept myself”. It's as if there is a self that ‘just is’ and another self that is content with the first one, loves it, accepts it. (Or not.) Most of the time it's probably more useful to just be, to experience contentment, love, acceptance. And yet — we do have some relationship with ourselves. Most people, at least from time to time, do reflect on themselves.
A not so pleasant example of this is self-criticism. Criticism can cause quite a crisis for some people, and can lead to criminal situations at night clubs. All three words are derivatives of the Greek κρίνω meaning to judge, decide, separate. So let us separate the two very different parts of criticism. One is to hurt, when we want to make someone feel bad. You have big ears, nana na nana! The other is feedback, information that can help us do things better.
I don't know how it is with the hill tribes of New Guinea, but in our parts we have a rather perverse custom: When we want children to behave differently, we scold them. Children imitate this, of course, then they grow up, becoming the ones who castigate the new generation, and, of course, themselves. Do you ever put yourself down? "What a cow I am" and stuff like that. If you find yourself doing that it might be useful to examine the truth of these statements. When looking in the mirror, is this what you see?
If not, it may be time to switch to more specific feedback, preferably one that helps you improve. What exactly do I want to do differently? Oh, to turn off the computer two hours before bedtime. OK, I'll find an exciting book to read in the evenings.
It also common to disagree with ourselves. A part of you wants to start watching a film at midnight, while another part knows that this would cause a problem tomorrow at 6.30. It's popular to think one of the parts is good and the other one is not good, but that's not a good way to think about it. A more useful attitude to internal conflicts might be to understand that all of our motivations and behaviors have a positive intention. At least that’s one of the presuppositions of NLP and a base of a bunch of therapeutic techniques.
The alternative, exorcising ourselves, is less promising. There's never any incense handy, besides, what happens to the devil once you succeed forcing it out? It’s going to lurk around, and end up moving into the neighbor or your mother-in-law! I believe we are organisms that have been evolving for billions of years, and as such we are pretty well put together. Our motivations serve our survival and well-being, it's just that every now and then something goes astray. The self-criticism I mentioned earlier can be like this. Will shouting insults at yourself at the top of your (inner) voice activate your resources? All you wanted is to do things better.
We can think of even the most idiotic behaviors as coming from a positive intention. Even smoking is like that: When we were adolescents we wanted to look like cool adults. Some people then stayed that way, yet even now the real reason they perform this dumb action is to calm down, concentrate, keep their hands busy, etc. etc. These are all great things, and fortunately they can be achieved in other ways.
When you experience internal conflict, suppressing one side is not the way to go. Even if you succeed you’ll end up like the Chinese when they managed to exterminate sparrows. One of the best phrases I’ve ever read in a personal development book comes from Connirae Andreas. I can only paraphrase it from the top of my head but it goes something like this: "When you succeed in defeating yourself, who do you think loses?"
“All right”, people say. “So then we have to compromise with ourselves, right?” Well, in most cases, no. It wouldn't make much sense to turn the film off halfway through at one in the morning. However, if we can find the deeper (or higher) purposes behind our conflicting parts, we can find completely different behaviors that fulfill them both. When someone is torn in internal conflict, very often both polarities want the same thing. Purposes can even cross over. One part wants to work... in order to be successful... so you can finally relax. The other part wants to rest... so you can be fresh and energetic... and finally be able to work effectively. When your inner parts are in conflict, the first step towards inner harmony is to accept and acknowledge the positive intentions of both.
What if, every day, as soon as you are aware that you're awake, you asked yourself this question: How can I be a better (an even better) friend of myself? Even if you wake up at the sound of the alarm clock and have to rush you can quickly pose your unconscious mind this question. The answer may come later or you may be pondering it on the bus, standing in line, or in another blank moment.
What can lead to greater internal unity? It can be a memory of a time when you knew with absolute certainty, with every fiber of your being, what you wanted and just did it. It can be the very goal to become your own best friend. It can be an inviting inner image. What does the you who is really good with yourself look like? It can be the thought itself that reminds you again and again that it’s time to become a little nicer to yourself. It could be an exercise, an emotion to cherish, an action, even a small one. You can ask yourself a question at every decision: What will make me feel better about myself? If I take this thing that I’ve procrastinated and do it now? Or if I allow myself to just let it go and be OK with it?
You can also model people who have real inner harmony. What do they do? Maybe they sing more. Or move more energetically. Or they put their heart and soul into whatever they do. Or they talk about happy things. Or they do something completely different, but whatever it is, it's worth hanging around and learning from them.
But isn't it selfish to be too good to ourselves? I suspect that complacency, when one is so full of oneself that one ignores others and walks over them, comes from some kind of inner pain. Narcissistic personalities, so much talked about today, probably adore themselves so much in order to not have to look deeper into themselves. Pretentious, arrogant, avaricious people typically don't love themselves. That’s precisely why they are so pretentious, arrogant and avaricious; they need to distract themselves from the void inside. It’s worth examining politicians' faces carefully. Some of the great achievers similarly don’t like themselves. They are driven by achievement, and can only relax for a moment when the gold medal is put around their neck or they are handed their Nobel Prize. Soon they have to charge ahead again to gain some recognition. This is not true for all of these people, some simply enjoy the rush, but for many it is.
So if you get to be at peace with yourself, it will be a relief for those around you. Obviously you're not better than others, it's simple mathematics, eight billion people can't be better than everyone else. I would even go further: We, humans, are no better than beetles or lotuses. However, I am almost certain that they are OK with themselves. They don't philosophize so much, they simply follow their inner commands. Just because we are thinking beings, we can do the same.
A related question is how we can have an (even) better relationship with those close to us. What can we do ahead of time to achieve greater harmony? What is important for the significant others in our lives? As you find more and more friendly ways of being with yourself, it becomes easier to sense the real needs of others.
Like the warmth of the rising sun on a cool dawn, the peace of people who are at ease with themselves radiates out to others. And if anything, peace is of great use to us these days. That's why I want to live among people who are good friends with themselves.