The Power of a Peer: How a Friendship is Changing the Way I See Myself
When my daughters were growing up, our family watched a lot of Disney movies. (And I do mean a LOT of Disney movies!) I’ve missed most of the newer ones in these years between children and grandchildren, but I was channel surfing one day when I happened upon Enchanted. It was just starting and it drew me in, so I kept watching. Like many Disney movies, this one includes a prince in its cast of characters. Although this prince is handsome and sings like an angel, he bumbles a bit and is not terribly bright. But he is kind-hearted and genuine, which makes him very likeable.
In complete opposite to the prince is the henchman to an evil queen. (You knew there would be an evil queen, right?) Nathaniel is a homely, paunchy, snaggle-toothed man who does one dastardly act after another at the queen’s bidding. In a scene featuring only Nathaniel and the prince, it is subtly revealed that Nathaniel dislikes himself and that the queen uses this weakness to manipulate him into doing her dirty work. When he does what she asks, he receives her approval, which makes him feel slightly better about himself. At the end of the scene Nathaniel cautiously asks the prince, “Sire, do you like yourself?” The prince seems bewildered by the question, like this is something he’s never contemplated, then he cheerfully and innocently replies, “What’s not to like?”
Nathaniel is crestfallen. And, to tell you the truth, so am I.
I believe he and I are thinking the same thing.
Like Nathaniel, I want the prince to say, “Of course I don’t like myself. I wish I was smarter. I wish my chin was more chiseled. I wish I was more macho. I wish I could stop saying stupid things. I wish I could quit breaking into song at the drop of a hat—it makes me look like an idiot—but I just can’t seem to stop myself.”
Like Nathaniel, I want to be reassured that everyone has feelings of not liking who they are.
Like Nathaniel, I want to know that I am not the only one.
I made a new friend last year—which is big for me. I’m friendly and I make acquaintances easily, but asking someone to get together socially is scary. I worry that I’ll say or do something that will be misconstrued and hurt her feelings. Time spent with friends is often followed by time spent second-guessing things I’ve said and then being angry with myself. So I usually do things with my family or on my own. It’s just easier. But when I learned that an acquaintance had just suffered the loss of a sibling, something I have also experienced, I thought she might need a sympathetic ear. So I asked if she wanted to meet for coffee.
When we sat down at the cafe, it quickly became apparent that her emotions were too raw to talk about what she was going through, but we hit it off and talked about a lot of other things. In the course of conversation, she mentioned that she was worried that something she did at work that day had offended a co-worker. Something stirred inside me; what she was saying sounded so familiar. I asked if this sort of thing happens to her often. With a look of defeat and weariness, she said, “All the time.” As we continued talking, I learned that she frequently worries that she’s said or done something to offend someone else. I learned that because of this, she is often angry with herself.
I felt like I was looking in a mirror.
As it turns out, I am not the only one after all.
My friend is soft-spoken and gentle of spirit. The thought of her hurting someone’s feelings is hard to imagine. It makes me sad to know that she is so hard on herself. Unlikely as it may seem, if my friend should ever offend me, I will consider all the kind things she’s said and done and I will conclude that the offense was unintentional. I believe she will do the same for me.
As a result of this friendship, an unusual thing has started happening to me. When I begin to self-recriminate (replaying a conversation and conjuring up possible offenses), I find myself imagining that it has happened to my friend instead of me. I find myself feeling grace and compassion for her. And then I find I am gradually able to extend that same grace and compassion to myself. And I am able to let myself off the hook.
Ultimately, I am human. And humans hurt each other: even when they don’t mean to. I’d love to know that I am the exception to the rule—that I’ll never hurt anyone: that I am somehow above this. But I am not. None of us are and, unfortunately, that’s just how it is.
It’s remarkable that friendship, the thing my fear tried to keep me from, is the one thing with the power to disarm it.
And there is absolutely nothing not to like about that.