I first found the word “befriending” from Sue Patton Thoele within the pages of her book, The Courage to Be Yourself. I was struggling with how to live more gently with myself, to get off the fast track and give myself permission to take good care of myself rather than everyone else. I came to understand, in fact, that I didn’t have a clue how to be good to myself—to “befriend” myself—to be as generous and loving toward myself as I was to others.
Think about it for a moment. What kind of friend are you? A faithful friend, a loving friend, a generous friend? I imagine you are, for, in truth, you must be or you wouldn’t have any friends at all! Mean-spiritedness does not bode well for friendship. True friendship is built upon a foundation of generosity and kindness.
Now, consider these attributes of friendship and apply them to yourself:
Do you talk nicely to yourself?
Do you listen to your wise self and heed her advice?
Do you set healthy boundaries?
Do you spend precious time with yourself?
Do you make kind choices for yourself?
If we can’t answer these questions in the affirmative, it’s likely we are too busy to take good care of ourselves, or overly focused on meeting the needs of others.
Befriending requires an attitude of generosity towards oneself. It invites you to take a long, loving look at how you are being with yourself on a day-to-day basis; whether you give yourself the attention and care you so easily give to others. How good of a friend are you actually being to yourself? If you were your friend, would you like to be on the receiving end of your own attention?
How do you begin to befriend yourself? These are some good places to start:
• Befriending requires that you become supremely aware of your thoughts as they emerge because these thoughts can lead to unkind choices. You can recognize these thoughts for what they are—habituated ways of reacting to life. You can see them and address them with compassion so you are better able to make new, empowering choices for yourself. This is mindful awareness.
• Befriending, composed of good self-awareness, allows you to “catch yourself in the act” of being less-than-kind.” This “act” can be any number of things that either minimize your needs, diffuse your energy, or sabotage your good intentions: unkind speech, procrastinating about healthy life style choices, pushing through when you are exhausted instead of resting, and so forth.
• Befriending invites you to new ways of thinking and being that create greater ease so healing can happen, so harmony can return. It beckons you to begin to let go of anything that causes stress or overwhelm; anything that keeps you sourced in frustration or anger, disconnected from your core of inner peace.
• Befriending encourages you to uncover the practices that allow you to feel more peaceful—and actually do them! These are acts of loving-kindness, kind choices that bring immediate calm, which, in time, transfer into long-term well-being. Choice by gentle choice, we learn what is good for us and we do it.
• It is good and wise to be fully aware of what your particular patterns are when it comes to ways that you do not treat yourself as carefully and kindly as you should (and that’s a “good should!). This requires transparency.
You can begin to befriend yourself by becoming your own best friend, baby step by baby step. Doing more or doing less. Pushing through or letting go. Listening deeply to yourself so that you know how to treat yourself with “unconditional friendliness.”
When you lose sight of what is the “friendly” thing to do for yourself (which everyone does now and then), simply imagine what your dearest friend would advise you to do. Imagine her touching you gently on the shoulder and saying, “Dearie, what you need is …” and fill in the blank. Or, imagine what you would say to her when she is struggling. When we respond to our current dilemma in either of these ways, the answer is always clear. “Sweetheart, take a breath. Sit down. Let’s have a cup of tea.”
We can treat ourselves ever so gently, choice by tender choice. The key is having as much compassion for ourselves as we do for others. It takes time and perseverance to shift deep-seated patterns. Or, as Michael Bolton sang, “It takes time, love, and tenderness.”
Self-compassion is not just about being nice to yourself. It's so much more than that.
Often we confuse self-compassion with pampering or indulging ourselves—like getting a massage or eating that extra cookie because we "deserve it," or taking a bubble bath.
While those activities are nice and they feel good (they relax the body-mind, decreasing cortisol while amping up oxytocin), they are only the bandaid for the hurt that lies beneath.
When I began my inner journey, I didn't know what self-compassion was. I thought it was "self-nurturing" or "self-care." I did a lot of that in my early years because my body-mind required it for stability. I'd done some real damage to myself because of harboring too much stress. I required gentle activities to heal. I received my first massage, got a facial, went on retreat, took naps and gave myself treats. What I didn't give myself was a break.
Meaning, beneath all of the stress and overwhelm (to which I applied band-aids) were stories I kept telling myself about who I was and how I was supposed to be. Lots of stories! Pampering and self-indulgence worked to relax me but they didn't release the stories that kept me stuck in what I thought I needed to do to be a worthy human being; to be loved; to be successful.
Self-compassion came onto my radar screen years later when I realized that many of my life choices had been based on what people told me when I was a child, role modeling, and old patterns I'd developed to stay "safe." Not until I was ready to take a good, long loving look at these was I able to begin to free myself of things like perfectionism, over-achieving, self-doubt, self-criticism, co-dependency and diminishing my own needs in difficult times, just to name a few. Many of us hold these stories deep within us. In fact, I believe most of us do!
Indulging myself, which provided temporary comfort and healing, did not get to the heart of the matter.
Good self-care could be thought of as "Self-Compassion 101." It addresses the basics and meets our immediate needs. And it's an excellent place to start! On a deeper level, though, there is a story to be uncovered: the story of why we don't care well for ourselves, or don't give ourselves permission to do so in the first place.
Self-compassion requires profound self-awareness and willingness to grow. It also demands absolute honesty and transparency. The path of self-compassion is a bold path. It requires courage and perseverance. It invites us to explore what keeps us in suffering (and sometimes self-neglect), deep into the truth of who we are in our essence. Self-compassion allows us to live more authentically with ourselves in good, loving, kind ways.
So while I do enjoy the occasional indulgence (especially taking long baths and eating chocolate chip cookies), what I really love is feeling at peace within myself, confident that I know how to, thoroughly and honestly, tend well to my whole self (body, mind, heart and soul).
Self-compassion helps me know that I am doing the best I can in any given moment to meet life head-on with courage and grace.
Dive into self-compassion—lovingly and gently!
Put yourself on the path of self-compassion with this directed retreat--a gentle "day in," learning to care for your whole self in nurturing ways. And to unravel a story or two!
"The Kindest Thing" self-paced, at-home retreat is a soulful exploration and experience of "Self-Compassion 101."
Through videos, audios, and self-nourishing activities, Jan will personally guide you through your retreat so you feel the transformational power of your own loving-kindness.
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Janice Lynne Lundy, DMin
is an educator, interspiritual director/guide and retreat leader who has been pointing people back toward the Sacred for more than twenty years. She is the author of several spiritual growth books, including Your Truest Self, My Deepest Me and Portable Peace., and is the co-founder and director of the Spiritual Guidance Training Institute.