using a second self for comfort, companionship, and personal empowerment

One of the more toxic and exhausting things I used to do in relationships was get upset when my friends and boyfriends didn't say exactly what I wanted them to say, in reaction to some difficulty I was having. I'd be disappointed or sad or pissed off about something, talk about it with someone, then get annoyed or angry when their response wasn't what I wanted it to be. 

I also used to feel really sorry for myself that because I no longer had a mother or father or older brother to lean on, I had no one to comfort me when life was hard. Leaving aside the fact that, lol, none of those people were ever particularly available for that even when they were living, there's an easy fix for that.

Just like there's an easy fix for the problem of not getting the words you want from someone else:

Say them yourself. Comfort yourself. 

I've written a little bit before about how during the pandemic I learned to self-soothe and be my own best friend. Now I'm going to get granular about what that looks, sounds, and feels like. This is some very personal stuff. Great material for anyone who wants to laugh at me. Don't care. As ever, if something I share helps just one person, that's reason enough. So I'm starting the year with a post about how exactly you can move past feelings of isolation, loneliness, defeat, anxiety - whatever your particular psychological pitfall is - in a way that is both incredibly simple and incredibly powerful. 

Here we go.

It all started one night during a particularly rough walk home. I was utterly exhausted. My body hadn't yet adapted to the hours and hours of walking I had to do every day during the pandemic. I was burned out, overwhelmed, cold, hungry, and miserable. I was working nights, still new in my position at the WeHo location, and didn't feel comfortable leaving early. Most nights I was home after 11pm. While I was grateful to be working at all, I was extremely frustrated that I'd lost my cushy DTLA location schedule and had been cast into these very late evening shifts.

There wasn't anyone to complain to. 

I couldn't bitch to my boss, obviously. My LA friends had all lost their jobs during the pandemic; as someone who still had one, there was no way I could go to them. And anyway, it was way too late at night to reach out to anyone.

So there I was, dragging myself up the very steep if very small hill that led to my street. I had another three minutes before I'd be home, but I was so utterly destroyed I honestly felt like I could just lay down right there on the sidewalk and cry myself to sleep. I had nothing left.

I did what many people would do in that situation: I spurred myself on. Come on, girl. You got this. Almost home. No big deal. Lots of people talk to themselves in encouragement. But it didn't stop there. I just kept talking to myself. At first it was a distraction, something to make those final minutes go by faster. But it felt so comforting, I kept it going. That night and subsequent nights.

In the bath at the end of every brutally long shift, I'd talk to myself about my day. I would literally say the things that a partner might, the wonderfully comforting and loving things that good husbands and wives and boyfriends and girlfriends and roommates and parents and adult children say, to the ones they love. 

"You've had a day, huh. Do you want to talk about it?"

And then I would answer myself. Like an absolute insane person. Talking aloud to myself, in a dark room, in a dark city, in a dark time. And it slowly grew into a habit that has absolutely changed my life, my attitude, and my outlook.

Call it a witness self, or a second self, or a sister self. Or don't call it anything at all. What matters is how you use it. What matters is that you try. You experiment, fearlessly, with ways of approaching yourself in love and kindness and compassion. With ways of expressing to yourself exactly what you need. There won't always be someone around to give you what you need, after all. Loss happens. Separation happens. Regardless, what would it be like to unburden your loved ones of that responsibility? What would it be like to take your need off of them entirely, and relieve your relationships of some of the weight of expectation?

Maybe you don't need to say things out loud. Maybe you just whisper. Maybe you only have to think them, clearly and without distraction. Whatever works for you. Me, I use a combination. The harder the moment I'm having, the softer and gentler my tone. 

And the best part is that this second self can move seamlessly in and out of roles. Commiserating friend. Loving parent. Caring partner. Calming therapist. What do you need? Dial it up. Write the script. It's a placebo that works. Our brains are plastic. New neural pathways are possible. You only have to start mapping them. Try it. The next time a terrible day has just absolutely had its way with you, find a quiet, comfortable place to curl up into yourself, and channel the character who would be most healing, in that moment. Who you would most want to be held by. We are all human, and we are all children deep inside. It's okay to connect to that inner child. So just try it. Gently, sweetly, softly. Add physical touch, if you want. Close your eyes and stroke the back of your neck, like your mother used to. Say "Shhh." Say "I'm here." Say "It's okay, you're not alone." Say whatever will ground you.

One of my earliest dialogues went something like this: "I'm here. I'm here and I'm never going to leave your side. I promise you, I will always be here with you. I will take care of you. I haven't always, and for that I'm sorry. But now I know how. And I'll never stop." 

Powerful to read, right? Imagine what it was like to hear, and know it was true. It changed my life. It changed my life forever, to realize that I already am everything I need. And I am the only one who can guarantee that I'll never leave me. So why not strengthen that bond above all others? Why not work on that relationship? It's the most important one I'll ever have. And now, there is no moment so dark or painful that I can't get through - and much, much more quickly - because I have developed this second self to pull me through it, with all the love in the world. 

Again, to be perfectly clear: these are things I say literally out loud. And it works, for the same reason mantras and affirmations work. Hell, it works for the same reason marketing works. Our brains are wired to receive and internalize messages. Imagine how much control you can take over your life, when you are the one writing the messages. 

Often during the pandemic, I would have imaginary therapy sessions. I would talk and talk and talk about things I'd experienced that I couldn't understand or make sense of. Things that hurt. Things I needed to air out and accept and then let go of. And though I wasn't engaging in traditional CBT, having this second self just sit and listen non-judgmentally was enough to get me moving through some really heavy, really old shit. And it worked. I don't know what a therapist would have said back, or what questions they would have probed with. But it didn't matter. I know myself enough to know what I needed to talk about. I'm an adult, and I know where my pain hides. 

Sometimes I will just softly ask myself what I feel like doing. What I need. "Should we take a bath? Would that be nice?" Sometimes I'll get anxious, feeling unfocused and ambivalent about what I want to do. In those moments I will stop, take a deep breath, and talk to myself like the sweetest, chillest, most understanding partner you could ever imagine having. "What do you feel, darling? What do you need?"

I mean, can you imagine having someone in your life that would speak to you that way? 

You already do. 

Did someone hurt you? Did a friend or coworker act unkindly, or selfishly? If what you need is another perspective, then yes, you should try to find someone who will listen impartially and reply without bias. But if what you really want is just validation, your second self can do that, no problem. Often we just want to vent about temporarily shitty situations. Situations we know aren't going to last, and we'll get through just fine, but wouldn't it be nice if someone loyal and firmly in our corner was like, "Ugh, totally"?

I use my second self for this all the time. And the more I practice working through negative feelings without bringing someone else in, the more quickly I can let them go in the first place. 

Another very important element of this is humor. My very strong, very dark sense of humor came down to me from both of my parents, and I am endlessly grateful for it. Both of them would be the first to laugh at themselves. And both of them would be unafraid to laugh at absurd moments, whether in public or in private, and would always first divert to finding comedy in a situation rather than stress or crisis or embarrassment. It's a superpower they possessed which I am only now starting to truly appreciate. And I am so, so happy I inherited it. I see all the time how in moments when most others would get anxious or angry at some random, aggravating contretemps, I will instead just laugh. I love that about me.

My second self is my partner in crime, in this regard. No one will ever get your sense of humor, all the time. No one will ever have your exact brand of it. Half the time I have to sit on my hands, so to speak, because I know my jokes get too close the edge for most people. I can't help it. I'm GenX. I have zero patience for wokeness and "safe spaces." I was raised to have a goddamn sense of humor, and I really just cannot with all the things that trigger the overly sensitized, overly coddled generations that came after me. Sorry!

But I can make all the inappropriate jokes I want, to myself. I can indulge that part of me without restraint. Don't need to risk raising even a best friend's eyebrows. My very best friend (me) will get it. 

(And this is starting to get at a whole other kettle of fish I want to explore, which is how much my life has changed by becoming my own best friend in a lifestyle kind of way, and how that has rocked my world in the realization that I could be absolutely, 100% okay with doing my own thing, partnerless...forever. But that's another post for another day.)

I know that living alone, I have a lot more freedom to experiment with all of this. I know a lot of you are partnered, or have children. I understand not wanting to look crazy in front of them. But I will contend that you can still make space to try. In the car when you're driving alone. At night when you're going to sleep. In the shower. Even just in your mind.

If you struggle with anxiety or depression. If you have codependent tendencies and have trouble maintaining boundaries. If you feel isolated or lonely, whether you actually are on your own or just in a disconnected, distant relationship. I truly believe that developing and using a second self can be an incredible tool for dealing with any of those challenges. 

You might feel silly at first. Who fucking cares. Your heart and mind are precious, and you are by far the best, most qualified guardian of them that there will ever be. Don't take the responsibility lightly.