How to be a good friend to yourselfJournaling
“Aren’t you a pretty little girl! Give me a twirl – show me your beautiful dress!”, Granny says. Young Holly complies dutifully, turns her face up and gives her proudest and largest grin. Compliment accepted!
Holly is five years old. For now, the feedback she’s receiving about her defining attributes is overall positive. Her behaviour sometimes calls for adjustment, but generally, she’s pleasing to society – she flaunts her beautiful hair, smile and clothes to the greatest pleasure of the grannies in the park. “She’s going to be a beauty!”
Holly runs off to play with her friends and the grannies grab some literature.
Granny 1 dives back into her latest Jackie Collins romance, while Granny 2 flicks through her favourite magazine. “Oh dear… she hasn’t turned out well!”, chuckles Granny 2, pointing at an article about a gaunt top model exiting a rehab facility in California. “I suppose taking drugs is an easy way to lose weight!”
Holly runs up to her granny “Can I have my treat now? I’m hungry!”. Granny reaches into her bag and hands her a Wagon Wheel. Holly hoovers it down.
“Can I have another one? I’m so hungry!!” Granny caves in, she’s a feeder and another biscuit is a great way of expressing her love and admiration for this gorgeous little creature. “Only this one time. We wouldn’t want you to be fat, would we!”
Holly computes the information.
Fat = terrible shame and no love
Chocolate in excess = love and admiration
She runs off with a feeling of great victory – she’s been given lots of chocolate and lots of love. A job well done.
Granny calls Holly over. “It’s time to go home for dinner!” As she prepares her meal, she sits Holly down in front of television, where she can marvel at the adverts which roll out in front of her.
A beautiful little girl looks ecstatic as she plays with a pink pony and her best friend. They look like they’re in paradise in their large bright pink bedroom with pink lipstick and permed hair. “I want that…”, thinks Holly.
Then comes the little boy drinking sweetened water to gain strength. Suddenly, he’s the coolest kid in class. “I want that…”, thinks Holly.
When Gran tells her she can’t have everything she wants, Holly is puzzled. “But it’s not fair, I don’t have all these things and I want them.”
She feels she’s missing something, and so starts the vicious cycle. The things she doesn’t have gradually become things which she isn’t – a beautiful airbrushed teenage actress advertising acne formula, which she clearly doesn’t need.
And so watching television becomes just like reading a billboard, which would read:
You are not beautiful enough
You are not thin enough
You are not sexy enough
You are not cool enough
… You are not loveable
No surprise, with the thousands of adverts we are exposed to every day, that these messages become part of our personal narrative.
“I’m not good enough”, “I need to constantly strive to become perfect”. Add that to our natural inclination for self-criticism and the media just confirms our worst fears about ourselves: we really aren’t good enough.
So, here we are – all in the same boat, set for an unhappy life of self-flagellation!
“It’s quietly galling how easily we can lose sight of all our own good points, when trouble strikes. A friend doesn’t fall into this trap. They acknowledge the difficulties while still holding on to a memory of our virtues.”
– Alain de Botton
I will however suggest one thing. I would say it’s very important to understand that these horrible things we say to ourselves are not us – they are not part of our personality, and we should train to make them as insignificant as the granny sitting on a bench, chin wagging.
Some people call them gremlins. I like to compare them to the voice of an unsophisticated, bored and selfish granny gossiping on the bench – out for entertainment at all costs. The one who only wants black and white stories with goodies and baddies, the one who has become the fiercest critic of women and sees no responsibility attached to buying tabloid magazines.
That granny tells you day in day out that you are not enough, that you are bound to fail if you take any kind of risk, that you’ll make a fool of yourself in front of the whole village and shame your family in the process, that you are not disciplined, that you have to suffer to be happy, that you are deeply flawed.
If these are the messages which are surrounding us and suffocating our best efforts to be healthy, how then, can we possibly be happy? Friends and family are wonderful allies, but it takes much more than that to recover a decent level of self-esteem.“We know how to treat our friends with a sympathy(.)which we seldom apply to ourselves.”de Botton Tweet This
It takes us. It takes developing an adult conversation with oneself. If the granny is going to be babbling away, then we need to reason her, or better, we should just walk away from her. We need to do that continuously until the adult voice becomes the victor.
In other words, we need to be parenting ourselves to protect us from the damage this demeaning self-talk has on our ability to lead thrilling, engaged and meaningful lives. It’s a scary concept, and yet, it’s a simple habit to put in place. And the best way to do so, is to start keeping a journal.
So let’s fast-forward 15 years down the line and get back to Holly. She’s now a young adult and has taken up journaling. This is how her journal could read:
I feel terrible. I ate so much chocolate this afternoon.
I don’t know what happened. How do all these models manage to have such self-discipline? They’re so skinny.
I’ve decided to stay home. I feel too embarrassed to go tonight’s party – everyone will notice that I’ve put on weight.
Also, I got a really bad grade at university today…I really need to study harder.
I’m just one big failure.
But, this is how her journal could read if she decided to use journaling to develop a healthy conversation with herself:
Oops. I didn’t quite manage the blow of my bad grade today at university!
I rushed to the supermarket to buy chocolate and now feel so miserable and ashamed that my gremlins are telling me to hide tonight instead of going to the party.
I suppose I’ll just have to disappoint them, it’s not as if my friends care about what I ate today and it’ll cheer me up.
I should ask one of them to sit down with me and help me figure out what I got wrong at the test.
Also, next time I feel like this… I shouldn’t make things worse with chocolate, but instead either go to the cinema, call a friend or go for a nice walk in the park.
I don’t want to waste any more time wallowing!
All it takes, is for Holly to step out of her shoes and look at life from a distance, just like a friend would – seeing the big picture and all the elements which are at play, being loving of herself, having the best intentions and seeing her potential to overcome obstacles.
Just like Holly, we would all benefit from being good friends to ourselves and use journaling as a way to free ourselves from the shackles of the standards which asphyxiate us.
Now, I’d love to hear from you! Please use the comments section below to share your thoughts or email me at charlotte(at)astoryworthliving.com
- Do you journal?
- How do you use journaling? Is it a place to release your concerns? Does it give you perspective? Do you find solutions to problems when you’re journaling?
If you’ve enjoyed this article and know someone who could benefit from journaling, please share it with them.
Thank you for reading!