Seneca wrote, “What progress, you ask, have I made? I have begun to be a friend to myself.”
I have wrestled with this idea for quite some time now because this thought is incredibly subjective, and so everyone has their own opinion of what it means to be a friend to yourself. Until recently, I really struggled to form my own opinion, as I often found myself on extreme ends of thinking depending on my state of being.
It’s becoming increasingly common in our current culture to see articles, social media posts, videos, and podcasts address topics on self-care and self-love. Conventional advice on self-care and self-love tend to gravitate towards actions and thoughts such as:
Embrace your flaws
Enjoy your own company
Permit yourself to feel things
Be more forgiving to yourself
Indulge in retail therapy
Don’t work too hard or too much
Take a bubble bath
Be kinder to yourself
…you get the gist.
The above actions and thoughts are valid and essential ways to be a friend to yourself. My intention is not to dispute any of the conventional self-care and self-love advice because I recognize its importance in maintaining our physical, mental, and emotional well-being. I merely wish to explore an alternate perspective on these ideas of being a friend to yourself, self-care, and self-love.
Perhaps being a friend to yourself is being hard on yourself. When I say this, I am by no means advocating for this hustle culture that is toxic and unhealthy.
Rather, being hard on yourself is:
Having personal accountability
Holding yourself to a higher standard
Being self-critical and not letting yourself off the hook
Delaying immediate gratification for delayed gratification
The truth is, your brain is wired to keep you safe by signaling you to stop at any form of discomfort. Unfortunately, this is how you get trapped in your comfort zone. It’s the path of least resistance, and we are all prone to it, myself included.
Being hard on yourself, and in essence, the highest form of self-love, is having the willingness to delay what you think you want now for what you want in the future. You do so through having self-awareness.
Seneca wrote, “I do not yet, however, assure myself, or indulge the hope, that there are no elements left in me which need to be changed. Of course there are many that should be made more compact, or made thinner, or be brought into greater prominence. And indeed, this very fact is proof that my spirit is altered into something better – that it can see its own faults, of which it was previously ignorant.”
Self-awareness is mastery over oneself. It’s having a rooted understanding of your principles and values from which you operate. It enables you to properly judge whether your habits, thoughts, and qualities align with your principles and values. If they are incongruent, it’s critical that you eliminate, minimize, or form new ones.
In essence, healthy judgment alongside self-awareness guides you in your day-to-day decision-making processes to create an effective, meaningful, and fulfilling life.
Without self-awareness, you empower other people and circumstances to shape much of your life by default. Therein, you constantly operate from a place of reactivity, which causes much inner turmoil. A reactive mentality may well be the antithesis of being a friend to yourself, of self-care and self-love.
On the one hand, excessive focus on conventional self-care and self-love advice is akin to a person with eternal student syndrome — endlessly studying, never producing, with a lack of results. On the other hand, excessive focus on the unconventional method of self-love that I explored, being hard on yourself, results in ruined physical, mental and emotional health and broken relationships.
To live an effective, meaningful and fulfilling life, you must find a balance between conventional self-care and self-love advice and the unconventional method of being hard on yourself.