Are you your own best friend, or your harshest critic? If you were a team, would you be playing for yourself, or against? Or perhaps you are a capricious friend to yourself – perfectly civilised when life is rolling along smoothly, but transformed into a snarling viper whenever you make the slightest mistake.
Many of us struggle to find the right balance between being willing to examine our motivations and actions, and giving ourselves an unnecessarily hard time, often over quite minor mistakes. How we treat ourselves depends on complex factors, including our cultural background, gender, religious affiliation and personality.
When people begin a regular mindfulness practice, they often notice an increased friendliness towards themselves. In the words of Daniel Siegel, we can allow ourselves to become our own best friend. Fortunately, this seems to correlate with being less judgemental towards others as well, becoming more patient with their foibles and vulnerabilities.
There is a significant difference between being friendly towards ourselves and becoming narcissistic. Longitudinal studies of American college students have shown a marked increase in narcissistic traits over the past few decades. Related traits such as unrealistic expectations, materialism, low empathy, and less concern for others, have also increased. We might sometimes feel that being too friendly with ourselves will encourage our narcissism, that we’ll no longer care enough about others. Interestingly, it seems the opposite is the case. Studies on the effects of mindfulness meditation have consistently shown that by tuning into our own experiences with an open, friendly acceptance, we are more able to be present and empathic with others as well. Like a well-functioning sports team which relies on good communication and encouragement, but also constructive feedback and a willingness to improve, it seems we’re at our best when we feel supported in our willingness to learn.
It is like a balm to our soul when we walk into a room and are greeted by a friendly smile. If we are greeted by a frown instead, our anxiety levels tend to rise. If we are learning mindfulness meditation to help us decrease our anxiety levels, it makes sense to not spend our lives metaphorically frowning at ourselves. As Mother Teresa said,
‘Peace begins with a smile.’
Weekly practice idea:
This week, when you make a mistake, notice how you react. Are you unnecessarily hard on yourself, or do you find yourself brushing off your mistake without much thought? Are you less kind to yourself than you would be to a friend?