When I was in my early twenties, I worked as a waitress in Chelsea. I was fresh to New York City and loving life. My theory was “never say no” (within reason). I said yes to every opportunity to hang out, go to a museum, drag show, road trip, rooftop bar, co-worker’s play, and friend’s wedding at City Hall. You know, the usual.
But despite all of the fun I was having, the people I was meeting, and the things I was doing, when I came home at night, I couldn’t help but anxiously replay the day in my head. My mind would race and I’d make a long list of all the things I had done wrong: “Why did they look at me like that?” “Are they mad at me?” “Am I being annoying?” “Do they really like me?” “Why did I say that?” “They’re just pretending to be my friend.”
I would beat myself up so intensely, I feared that I could never just be. After so much self flagellation, I was completely exhausted. Eventually, a friend sat me down for an intervention of sorts. Emphatically, he told me, “Rachel, you have to be nicer to yourself. You would never talk to me the way you talk to yourself. Sometimes you are so cruel and harsh. You have to learn how to be your own friend.”
I knew he was right. My destructive self-talk had to stop, but I didn’t know where to even begin. At the encouragement of another friend, I decided to start seeing a cognitive behavioral therapist. I was always hesitant to see a therapist. I felt that any issues I had, I needed to figure out them out myself or simply “be more positive.” But it’s nearly impossible to flip a switch like that. I needed someone to give me the tools.
I have now been seeing my therapist for three years and it was one of the best decisions of my life. At the first session, my therapist said, “This will be like a class about how your brain works.” I was hooked immediately, and ever since I’ve slowly been collecting a toolbox full of great methods to alleviate my negative self-talk.
It’s been a long road and I am still a work in progress, but I feel like a new woman. I have learned how to be kinder and more compassionate to myself, and it’s ultimately allowed me to be more in the present. I’m out of my head and back in the moment more. I talk to myself as a friend would: kind, loving, supportive. Sometimes, of course, worries and doubts creep in, but now I know how to better handle them.
Here are five things I have learned through therapy about how to be your own friend:
1. Make A List Of What You Love About Yourself
When you’re feeling low and starting to believe all the little nit-picky things your mind is telling you, this is a good way to fight back. Grab your favorite notebook, a lovely writing utensil (for me it’s just any pen in my house that actually has ink!), have a seat, and write down all the things you like about yourself. It’s so important to see on paper all the reasons that you are special and lovable.
2. Take A Deep Breath
One of the most important things I have learned is to just take a second. When you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed with worry and self-doubt, just breathe. Inhale deeply through your nose and exhale out your mouth. For me, taking a nice deep breath puts me back in the present when my thoughts want to whisk me away to Worry Land.
3. Rewind The Conversation
After you take your deep breath, rewind the conversation in your head. Whenever my thoughts begin to take a cruel tone towards myself, I try and rewind and start over. I give myself a second chance to get things right and say things differently.
4. Use Kind Language
When you start your conversation over, use kind words the second time around. Let’s say you and a friend meet up for a coffee. She tells you that she went on a date the night before and it didn’t go very well. She begins to say things like “I don’t know what I did wrong,” and “Maybe I am just not good enough.” What would you say to her? I bet you would be kind and encouraging.
5. Forgive Yourself
It is vital that we remind ourselves that we are human. No one is perfect. We all make mistakes, say the wrong things, and make incorrect assumptions. When you mess up, it does not do any good to punish yourself with harsh self-talk. Forgive yourself. Say it out loud, write it in your journal, email yourself. However you want to do it, just make sure you say the words “I forgive you.” And then, move forward.