The Frenemy Within

September 17th, 2009

I think we all struggle with self-control, self-pity, and self-doubt. It sometimes seems that if someone else were so focused on controlling, pitying and doubting us, we’d probably all file a restraining order. The Bhagavad Gita says, “Self is the friend of self, and self is the enemy of self,” and a recent episode of Public Radio International’s This American Life quoted a commentary that suggested that self is the ultimate frenemy.

Hopefully, if you’re not particularly melodramatic, the concept of a “frenemy” isn’t one you need to think about every day. It seems most appropriate to use to describe the tumultuous relationships of young socialites and reality TV stars. But probably, if you think about it, you can think of social connections you just can’t shake, people who stay in your life and in your circle of friends, even though you don’t get much benefit from having them around. They aren’t always antagonistic, and they’re closer to you than “acquaintances,” but if “friend” suggests you actually like them, then “friend” isn’t quite appropriate. And, if you think about it even more, you can see the ways that your best frenemy is yourself.

How do we deal with our inner frenemies? We have plenty of them. For me, each one is a version of myself, one facet, under the sway of some influence–jealousy, addiction, laziness, scorn, whatever. And perhaps the worst way to deal with a facet is to make a pure enemy: try to eradicate it, say “I will never be angry again,” punish myself for ever letting it happen.

We might be tempted to think the compassionate way to deal with one of these facets is to give in, and do what it tells us to. I think of this like hooking it up to a cart, letting the angry self pull the whole thing around and make decisions. And it might look like the wise thing to do, because anger is not at all suppressed, and the cart goes where the anger wants it to go. But that’s not compassionate either. That puts the frenemy in control, but drains energy from all around.

Maybe the truly compassionate way to deal with these inside influences is to let them go–to recognize that they exist, but we don’t have to make them pull us around. Greed happens, anger happens, we can observe them rising up within us and let them run off without going with them. We forgive our own anger as much as we forgive those who have made us angry.

One Response to “The Frenemy Within”

  1. sfauthor says:

    Nice posting. Do you know about this edition of the Gita?

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