How to be your own best friend

Sometimes the greatest obstacle to being all that we were created to be is ourselves. We can be our own worst enemy! Spiritual director Janet Davis says it’s time to break the cycle and stop holding ourselves back

It has happened to almost every woman I know. In some moment of being brilliant, radiant, or beautiful, we hear the voice of self-sabotage say: ‘Just who do you think you are?’ And when we hear it, we run for cover. Our shining becomes hiding. We become our own worst enemy.

I first noticed this complex and destructive dynamic when I was in graduate school more than 10 years ago. A professor asked me to teach a small part of an Old Testament Survey class and I accepted. Though I prepared well, when it came time for me to speak, I just stood where I was (instead of taking the podium), said a few words, and sat down. Finished. I had no idea what had happened; no clue about the powerful force that had shut me down and silenced my voice.

As my surprise, pain and disappointment subsided and my curiosity ignited, I began to talk about my inner experience of those moments with other women. I soon learned that I was not alone. It was especially interesting that many women used those precise words, ‘Just who do you think you are?’ when they described their own encounters with shining turned to hiding. I also learned that this experience had a name: self-sabotage. For the last decade or so, I’ve been listening to women, both biblical and modern, who have taught me a few things about how to not be my own worst enemy. Here are a few pointers you might find helpful. Self-sabotage does not have to win.

Name it

The hidden nature of self-sabotage is part of its power. It does not play fairly and it likes the dark. When it hits, as it did that day in the classroom, it leaves surprise and confusion in its wake. We generally have no idea what happened to douse our light. Often, we write it off to our own personal, irrational craziness and move on as if we are a random, powerless victim. We dismiss our own pain and underestimate the lasting impact such moments can have on our future willingness to shine. Worse still, some of us mistake that accusing ‘Just who do you think you are?’ voice for a wise guard against sinful pride. Do not be fooled: you are not crazy and that voice is not wise – nor is it helpful. What you are dealing with is self-sabotage. Name it.

Notice it

Once we begin to name self-sabotage, we see it everywhere. With only brief reflection, most women can make a list of their personal experiences of being shut down by those seven words. We begin to witness more subtle forms, such as how difficult it is to receive a compliment with a simple heart-felt “thank you” rather than deflecting it with “you are so kind”. We may also uncover patterns of avoidance or diminishing our own beauty through lack of self-care or continual deference to others even in our arenas of strength or giftedness. We might also notice a tendency to invite others to dismiss our words when we speak with phrases like “It’s just my opinion, but …”

Almost all of us encounter self-sabotage most profoundly in the harshness of our own inner dialogue: “You idiot” when we make a small mistake. Or “How stupid!” when it takes us a few tries to learn a new skill. We would never say such words to another person: it would be unkind. And yet, we can be brutal with ourselves and call it good. Notice self-sabotage.

Study shining

“This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.” We sing those words and teach them to our children; yet, we often find ourselves in quite a bind when we actually begin to live them. Though clearly rooted in Jesus’ words, (Matthew 5:16), when we dare to shine, we become uncomfortable. Shining makes us vulnerable; and vulnerability scares us. In our discomfort, we mislabel the experience as prideful attention seeking. Think self-sabotage. Shining is not pride; it is our calling. Would God call us to shine if shining were sinful?

While you are studying, you might also want to examine our related conclusion that hiding is humility. One of my arenas of curiosity through decades of Bible study and listening to others as a spiritual director, is gender different spirituality. How is spiritual growth different for women than for men? In the stories of women in Scripture we see a clear and surprising pattern: growth for women is toward a larger sense of self and a stronger sense of voice. Think of Hannah (1 Samuel 1, 2) who began by being silenced by great pain, found her voice as she said “No” to Eli the priest and her husband Elkanah, and radiantly celebrated with a magnificent song. Great humility; no hiding. Study shining.

Choose authenticity

Did you notice that that painful accusation at the heart of self-sabotage is actually a question? ‘Just who do you think you are?’ Interestingly, it is a question that doesn’t want an answer; it just wants to silence us. But, what would happen if we did answer it? What would happen if we looked it in the eyes and simply said, “I am ... I am not …”

That’s what Hannah did when Eli falsely accused her of being drunk. She began with “Not so, my Lord” then named herself in honest and unapologetically authentic “I am” and “I am not” statements. Something in us has assumed that to simply be who we are is not enough … not good enough, not worthy enough, not strong enough, not smart enough, etc. But the truth is that we are enough because God has made us so. The authentic reality of who I am is worthy of love and belonging, simply because God loves me as who I am. That singular truth leaves the silencing force of self-sabotage speechless. Choose authenticity.

Choose creativity

When God made each of us, he went to a great deal of trouble to make us unique: fingerprints, iris prints, voice prints, etc. That uniqueness extends beyond our bodies into the realm of doing: giftedness, work, and passion. We are called to live creatively; a choice to listen to God in the moment rather than to follow scripts set by society, or our desire to avoid causing trouble. This kind of creative living goes far beyond art supplies.

When I think of women using their feminine souls in powerfully creative ways, I often think of Mary of Bethany. We first meet Mary looking for answers as she made the creative and bold move to learn at Jesus’ feet while Martha kept to the more traditional social script of service (Luke 10). We next see her living deep questions, opening herself to creative new understandings of God as she weeps at Jesus’ feet when her brother Lazarus dies because Jesus did not come (John 11). Both choices developed within her the maturity and vision to hear the unexpected and painful reality that Jesus’ male disciples seemed to miss. Out of her own wisdom, Mary filled the room with fragrance, creating a powerful, wordless and uniquely feminine experience that loudly proclaimed: You are the Christ, the anointed one of God. In the same action, she also anointed Jesus for his burial. I like to think of that powerful fragrance lingering on his skin, perhaps his only comfort for the road ahead. Choose creativity.

Choose radiance

Though there are many women in the Bible who chose to live radiantly, one of my favourites is Queen Esther. In her moment of shining, God asked her to use her Jewish heritage, her position as queen, as well as her relational wisdom and beauty to thwart a wicked plan. She did not hide or pretend she was not powerful. She did not look to the crowd for permission, or to conventional wisdom for guidance. She did not wait for a knight in shining armour or a moment of idyllic perfection. She used all of who she was, solicited the prayers of her community, came up with a creative plan, and did that which was hers to do with great courage. Choose radiance.

Self-sabotage does not have to win. If we listen well to the wise women of Scripture, we can let go of being our own worst enemy, become our own best friend, and shine forth the love of God into a world that needs it desperately.

* Learn more about how to be your own best friend in Janet’s book My Own Worst Enemy (Bethany House ISBN 978 0 7642 0950 5).