For my birthday, my best friend wrote me a beautiful card, listing 11 things she wanted to thank me for. I won’t list them all, but she had thanked me for my loyalty, for always being there and for being unique, just to name a few. Her card made me tear up and it led me to a realisation – she was seeing a different person than I was. Having struggled with mental illness and a rather fleeting feeling of self-identity for years, high self-esteem doesn’t come to me easily. On a bad day, I would struggle to come up with 3 good things about myself, let alone 11. But what if I could see myself the way my best friend sees me? I recently watched a TED Talk (not surprising considering I watch about three of them every day) about a woman and her journey to a positive self-image. In her video she had told the story of how she’d always aspired to be that person who is loyal, beautiful and a great friend and how she’d doubted her own qualities until one day, when her best friend had turned to her and said ‘but don’t you see yourself? you are that person.’ With these words, her friends had held a mirror in front of her and instead of the version distorted by self-doubts and feelings of inferiority she saw the version her friend was seeing. According to her, she never went back, in contrast, she used her experience and battle with low self-worth to help others gain confidence. By helping them see the qualities in themselves that a friend would see.
Seeing yourself through the eyes of a friend sounds simple, yet it’s not. I have spent many therapy sessions trying to achieve exactly that and let me tell you, it is hard work. Because even if you acknowledge these qualities, truly believing them is another story and in my experience requires a lot of practice and affirmation. I hope that she does not mind me sharing that story but when we sat there an hour later chatting on her sofa over a cup of (Christmas) tea, my friend mentioned that she did not have any special talents – no, she wasn’t amazing at singing or the best at running whereas everyone else seemed to have a talent making them unique. Immediately I pointed out that I didn’t have that special talent either and that I certainly wasn’t any good at singing (I can hardly keep up in church on Christmas eve) but instead of agreeing with me my friend just laughed. ‘YOU? But there are so many things you’re good at?!’ And she started listing a few. And hearing these things again led to a realisation, actually not even just one, but two – 1. She had a point, there are things I’m good at and most importantly 2. aren’t we all? We all have that voice of self-doubt, telling us we aren’t good enough to be loved, telling us others are better than us. But here lies the irony – we all have these thoughts. And in the eyes of our friend, we are just the way we should be. I am not saying we are all perfect, no we all have weaknesses and things challenging us but that’s okay. Because first of all, what’s perfect for one, isn’t perfect for another and secondly, how boring would it be if we had nothing to work on, if there was no room for improvement and self-growth? So why don’t we see these weaknesses as exactly that, an opportunity for growth? And why don’t we try and not only see ourselves through the eyes of a friend, but truly try and make friends with ourselves? It might be the most difficult friend to make but also the most rewarding friendship of all. My friend believes she has no special talent but I could easily list so many great qualities she has – from being a talented photographer always open to be inspired by her surroundings, the most loyal friend I’ve known who would not leave when things get difficult to being an amazing listener, a good cook, a person with passion, a talented scientist always questioning the world around her and seeking new answers and new truths. And these are just a few, I could easily write a whole list. And most of all, from a selfish perspective, she makes me feel good about myself and silences the negative voices inside my head. When I’m with her, I can be myself and for a short while, no piece of the puzzle is missing. Her self-esteem might be better than mine but I don’t think she realises her true worth, and I’m gonna take a leap and suggest that most people don’t.
What if instead of putting ourselves down, we could lift ourselves up, like a friend would? I am lucky to have such a friend in my life and in fact many people who lift me up when I struggle to do it myself. But what if I could that myself? What if I could treat myself the way my friend does? It would be life-changing for sure. In the TED Talk I watched, the speaker suggested saying or writing down your qualities and what you liked about yourself. A little bit like writing a birthday card to your friend but that friend is you. So often we focus on the things we’d like to change about ourselves but we rarely focus on what’s good already. So in this post, I encourage you to change that. Let’s try and treat ourselves with the compassion and generosity we would treat a friend. I’m going to start by listing 5 of my qualities: 1. I am a loyal friend. 2. I am generally good at languages and writing. 3. I am creative. 4. I am quick learner and very academic person. 5. No matter how difficult life gets, I’ve always managed to get up again.
What are 5 things you like about yourself? xx