Making friends is amazing, but there's a special type of magic to be found in befriending yourself.
The longest relationship guaranteed in our lives is the one we have with ourselves, but isn’t it true that we’re prone to neglecting it? Tending only to the bonds we build with others, we focus all of our time and energy on becoming friends with all around us, but never ourselves. Is this really any wonder though? From the minute we’re born we are encouraged to buddy up. In most stages of life it seems that making friends is a crucial component in the art of survival. In play-school we’re taught to ‘play nicely’; fast forward twenty odd years and playing nicely comes in the form of ‘team bonding’ on work nights out.
Furthermore, from the moment we can comprehend, we work towards the end goal of finding a life partner, because according to society, being single for the rest of your days is something best avoided at all costs. We’re continually bombarded with the notion that we must surround ourselves with others and make connections in any form whether it be platonic or romantic, because that is what we are conditioned to do.
Adam and Eve, John and Yoko, Ant and bloody Dec, partnerships are inescapable and if you don’t have your very own iconic double act going well, poor you.
In the words of Three Dog Night, one is the loneliest number, and surely there must be some truth to that? Well, many scholars in fact disagree with this. What if I told you that one is happy, strong, successful and most importantly fulfilled? Now, I am not suggesting that you do an Enya and buy yourself a castle on the coast and live a life of solitude, oh no. I am merely suggesting that you do the simple act of befriending yourself, that’s it, it really is that easy.
Many argue that harvesting a deep friendship with yourself is crucial to self development, yet it is something we are never taught to do. Before spreading your wings and making friends outside of oneself, it is important to accept, love and importantly, respect yourself first. A growing school of thought says that being your own best friend builds self-esteem, while also giving you a purpose in the world, and in a society full of selfie sticks and Instagram likes, a purpose is probably something we could all get on board with.
One woman keen on delving into the world of becoming your own ally is psychotherapist Carissa Karner. She posits that not being your own best friend may in fact be holding you back in life, while choosing to befriend yourself could just open up a new world of happiness and success.
“Befriending yourself, I have found both personally and professionally, to be the most important thing you can do for your mental wellness” she says in her TedTalks special, The Art of Being Your Own Best Friend.
Speaking on her own struggles with mental health, Carissa tells of a time in her life when she chose to embark on the journey of becoming her own best friend in search of contentment, “I was introduced to the concept of befriending myself several years ago, I was at a point in my life where a lot had been going wrong, I was recently divorced, I was depressed and anxious, I was struggling to figure out my place in the world and being very hard on myself about it.” she recalls. “I didn’t understand how to change my relationship with myself, so I embarked on the journey of understanding what it meant to be my own best friend”.
Eventually finding companionship within herself, Clarissa then turned to helping others with this process, discovering that buddying up with yourself may in fact be the key to mental wellbeing. “In working with clients I discovered that when they would befriend themselves it would calm anxious thoughts, it would ease depression, it would help heal symptoms of trauma and it would even decrease eating disorder behaviours. I realised that whatever kind of healing work you do, whichever method or technique you employed, it is most effective if you begin with befriending yourself.”
Not to be confused with self care, the act of befriending yourself can be understood as a concept entirely separate from the notion of self love. While you may feel that you are doing your mental health a world of good by soaking in a bathtub each week in honour of #selfcaresunday, this ritual isn’t quite going to cut it. Taking positive steps in becoming your own companion may in fact be the key to living a happy life, but it is something which unfortunately cannot be attained overnight.
So, how exactly does one befriend oneself? Clarissa explains that there are three basic steps you need to take in order to become your own BFF. Firstly, the ground rule in the art of becoming your own best friend is to consider the qualities which encompass a good friend, and then apply these to yourself. These qualities come in the form of being a good listener, trustworthy, and forgiving.
“Being a good friend must start with listening, it is how we feel seen and understood, and neurobiologically when you feel understood it is one way that your brain and nervous system can calm down.” Clarissa explains.
The second quality of being a good friend is trust. While trusting yourself can be the most challenging step in becoming your own friend, Clarissa encourages you to listen to your own needs and wants and act on them accordingly. Living to please others just isn’t going to get you anywhere, you must learn to ‘listen to your own wisdom’ and ultimately have your own back no matter what. The third and maybe most important aspect of being a good friend is forgiveness, “There is nothing better than knowing that you can make a mistake and a friend will love you anyway.”
Clarissa explains that silencing a negative inner voice is not the solution, often a voice which tells you you are not smart or skinny enough. To overcome this inner Regina George, you must work with her, seeing her as a part of you and ultimately forgiving her for lashing out at you. Because we all feel a bit sorry for her deep down, don’t we? Research carried out on concepts such as self compassion has proven that when you are supportive of yourself, as a good friend would be, your fear of criticism diminishes. This ultimately helps you to become more engaged in life, you can accomplish more, be more creative, and even shape better relationships.
While life is peppered with ongoing let downs and hardships, having a friend within yourself, who will always be there to pick you up and brush you off is not just a luxury, but a necessity. Your Mam has probably been saying it to you your whole lifetime, but the reality is you truly are precious, and it’s probably about time you invested in you. So go ahead and start harvesting that loving relationship, your future self will thank you for it.