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How to Befriend Yourself: A Psychotherapeutic Approach to Living

In addition to training and experience, the ideal attitude of the therapist toward the client would best be described by the following adjectives: honest, direct, interested, inquisitive, warm, compassionate, non-judgmental, understanding and deeply feeling. In actuality, a person can learn to develop many of these same points of view towards him or herself. People can utilize their personal power and actively contribute to their own growth and development, in essence becoming their own ally.

In this regard it is most important to become aware of the enemy within, the negative thoughts and attitudes that play a significantly destructive part in your life.  These inner voices are directed largely toward the self but may also be directed toward others, particularly one’s partner and loved ones. In either, case they have a destructive effect on oneself.

It is essential to discover what you are telling yourself about yourself and about others. It is necessary to look for the negative ways of thinking that predominate in areas of your life that you feel limited or demoralized. Some of these voices may be assessed directly, whereas others are more hidden or unconscious.  The former are more obvious, like attacking yourself for being fat or stupid, whereas the latter have to be arrived at through the process of deductive reasoning. This involves recognizing parts of your life that make you miserable and conjecturing what your inner voices are telling you on the subject.

Not only is it vital to recognize your destructive voices, but these voices must also be challenged directly and behavior based on the destructive thought process must be replaced with more effective responses. It is significant to recognize that even though there may be elements of truth in what your voices are telling you, the hostile or punitive aspects of the voice must still be found unacceptable. There is absolutely nothing to be gained by attacking yourself; in fact, the process of attacking yourself not only fails to change your behavior for the better but increases the likelihood of it remaining unchanged. The best attitude that you can have is to objectively assess any negative characteristics and work at changing them. In this regard, you would become analytical and try to identify the cause of your negative behavior. In a personal relationship you could take a further step by apologizing for any hurt caused and try to make amends.

The enemy within can be thought of as a negative identity. This negative identity is a byproduct of negative ways you were labeled as a child, the negative attitudes toward yourself that you incorporated from any mistreatment you were exposed to and the defensive strategies that you formed to cope with psychological pain that further bent you out of shape. You mistake the identity that you formed under these circumstances as being the truth and act as though it were. Catching on to this misconception of yourself allows you to challenge and alter this mistaken identity and can help you to become your authentic self. It opens up all sorts of new potentialities for living a better life.

A mature man who was characterized as a shy, withdrawn child acted on this assumption for the better part of his life until he questioned his negative identity. In therapy, he recognized the falseness of this conception, its source and the degree to which he was hurt by this characterization. He began to feel entirely different about himself.  A woman who was hurt in her sexual identity who had spent most of her life feeling sexually inadequate, became aware that this was part of a false identity based on abuses in her family and was able to completely dispel this notion. It changed her feeling and positively affected her sexual experience as well.

The truth is that it is difficult and anxiety provoking to make changes in your negative identity. There is considerable resistance because breaking with old images of oneself and accepting a more positive identity tends to threaten the bond with one’s original family. It disrupts a fantasy connection that once offered safety and security to you as a young child. This process is the primary cause of resistance in therapy.

Nevertheless, progress can be made with courage, insight formation and sustained application. In addition, friends can be allies in this process and provide a valuable support system. When necessary, therapy is available to help develop the new orientation. Adopting a healthy therapeutic attitude can help you become your own close friend.

Read about Dr. Firestone’s latest book, Overcoming the Destructive Inner Voice.

One comment

  1. There is a case to made for going beyond the familiar prescription of analyzing and adjusting thoughts. And that is to examine the idea, the concept of thought itself. J. Krishnamurti imparted remarkable insight on this question. There is nothing spiritual or religious about it; it is simply an examination of how the human mind works, and how thought has created the dsyfunctional world in which we live. If you are truly interested in the workings of the human mind and can appreciate remarkable insight into the subject, I highly recommend the talks of Jiddu Krishnamuriti. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XCdqEM5rZTM

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