Introduction

When it comes to ourselves, we are often our own worst critics. This can be helpful at times if it’s used in a way to support our goals and continue improving. But when we are too self-critical, it can lead to negative feelings (e.g., guilt, shame, etc.), and put us into a depressive spiral.

For example, someone who recently failed an exam might have strong negative thoughts about themselves. These thoughts might be: “I’m so stupid”, “I’m not good enough”, “I should have done better – why am I like this?”. We’re pretty hard on ourselves.

Interestingly, if we thought about what we might say to someone close to us who had done poorly in the exam, we’d probably be a lot kinder.

The ‘best-friend technique’ is an evidence-based cognitive behavioural strategy that allows us to extend that compassion we typically show to others to ourselves. It’s okay to be our own best friend at times. One reason why the best-friend technique is useful is because it is very simple to use.

Steps on completing the Best-Friend technique

1. Jot down the situation. What was going on at the time?

2. Write down your emotions (e.g., shame, sad, anxious) and the intensity (0 = ‘not at all’ to 100 = ‘extremely’)

3. In one column, write down what you said to yourself. These can be automatic thoughts, self-criticisms, or negative beliefs about yourself.

4. In a second column, write down what you might say to someone close to you if they were in that situation.

5. Read the self-compassionate thoughts aloud.  

6. Re-rate the intensity of your emotions.

An example of the ‘best-friend’ technique

1. I spent an entire day in bed and at home without doing anything productive. I also missed an appointment because of feeling low all day.

2. Shame (80%), guilt (70%), overwhelmed (75%), depressed (90%).

3. What I said to myself:

“I’m so lazy – other people are so much more productive than I am”

“Why am I like this? I wish I wasn’t so worthless”

“I hate myself; I am no good”

4. What I would say to my best friend:

“Everybody has days where they are not feeling great – that’s okay. I have those sometimes too.”

“I know you’re not feeling very good right now. But I know you do so much generally – you take care of your kids; you’re going back to school right now for your nursing degree; and you still make time for friends and family. It makes sense that sometimes you would feel overwhelmed”

5. Re-rating my emotions after reading the compassionate thoughts: shame (50%), guilt (50%), overwhelmed (40%), depressed (60%)

Strategies to support effective use of the ‘best-friend’ technique

  • It can sometimes feel awkward to say these things to yourself. Visualizing someone in front of you can be a helpful way to support use of the best-friend technique.
  • Practice multiple times! Like other skills, the more we use it, the better we get. Try it out in different situations to support learning the skill.
  • Sometimes when we’re on the go, it’s hard to find the time to jot down this exercise. Because it’s a simple and easy-to-use technique, you can also go through the exercise in your mind to make it more accessible. However, if there are specific compassionate thoughts you want to keep, then writing/journaling them can be a great way to do so!
  • Examples, examples, examples! Although self-compassion is great regardless, having specific examples about why it’s okay to not be feeling the best for our brain to latch on can be very helpful. For example, if the thought was “I am not a good student”, then having examples where you did succeed in academia or in other areas can be a good way to providing evidence that maybe the thought was a little too strong.

Other evidence-based strategies for negative thoughts

For some, the ‘best-friend’ technique works incredibly well in improving in improving mood and mental health. However, this doesn’t mean that it works well for everybody. Some may prefer to directly challenge their thoughts using thought records and others may prefer a problem-solving approach.

I always like to think of these strategies as tools in your clinical toolkit. Pick the ones that work best for you!


Best wishes,

P

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