Would you speak to a friend like that?

Picture the scene. Your friend is telling you about a job they’re thinking of applying for. They meet the criteria for knowledge, skills and education. They have a wealth of professional experience already that they could bring to the role. The job itself requires a little more responsibility than they may have had previously, though, so they’re a little unsure.

What’s your response?

Will you provide support and encouragement? Will you suggest examples of times in their life when you know they’ve shown some leadership? Proved they possess initiative? Demonstrated resilience? Or will you simply say, “Yes, you’re right to be wary, you’re not good enough. Don’t waste your time, and theirs, by applying”?

I’m guessing (well, hoping) that the majority of people would react with support and encouragement. And for that tiny minority who might tell someone not to bother applying, I’d have to wonder whether, actually, they had any friends. After all, such a cold, demeaning response just isn’t ok, is it?

So why is it, then, that we subconsciously believe that it’s perfectly acceptable to talk to ourselves like that? Why is it so difficult to show ourselves the respect and encouragement that we’d offer a friend without a second thought? Think about how often you do this. Probably more than you realise.

If I had a pound for every time I hear that sort of self-deprecating comment in the counselling room, I’d be sunning myself in a private villa somewhere exotic, and not looking upon cold, grey Bootle, pondering the complexities of why most of us find it so hard to be a little kinder to ourselves. I recently asked a client why she automatically assumed someone was ‘better’ than her. She responded that she just wanted to be the best version of herself that she could be, and the person she was comparing herself to had some attributes that she admired. And there’s nothing wrong with that, as goals go. But is it really necessary that as we build someone up, we have to bring ourselves down in the process?

Comparisons are inevitable. We all do it. And the simple fact is that there will always be someone out there who gets better results than you do, just as there will be others out there that look at your achievements and wish they could do what you can. But this isn’t really about that. It’s about the automatic negative thoughts that pop into our heads when we consider taking a step out of the comfort zone and doing something new. The thoughts that mean we actually get in our own way.

The reasons we do this are many and varied, and I’m very mindful that this is just a humble blog, and not an academic paper. But at the very root of all those reasons is fear. Fear of judgement. Fear of failure. Sometimes even fear of success, believe it or not. If we succeed, then we have to show up, and keep showing up.

We’re biologically and socially programmed to interact with others. From birth, our very survival depends on it. We tend to look to others for validation, for reassurance that we’re on the right path. It’s why we seek out the opinions of our friends, for in their responses we can usually find some clarity. A friend is on your side. A friend wants what’s best for you. A friend will give you respect, will accept and support you unconditionally, will be real and honest and empathic. Isn’t it time that you started giving yourself these things? Isn’t it time you became your own best friend?

Issy McCann, January 2023