Be Compassionate Towards Your “Stupid Friend”

stupid friend
Sculpture titled Love, created by Ukrainian sculptor Alexandr Milov

Eckhart Tolle says that many people live with this terrible judge in their minds, that’s forever tormenting them with all kinds of negative evaluations. Some of you say, “I just don’t want that anymore.” But consider that the inner judge, that negative self-talk, actually helped you survive. It helped you survive, because when you are a child and stuff is happening to you that you suffer from, what you cannot do is to fight back against the environment, because if you do you’re going to get pulverised. It’s that simple, you’re going to get pulverised. You don’t have the strength, you don’t have the power.

The child, therefore, as a matter of survival, makes themselves wrong. Says, “The environment can’t be wrong, because if it was I’d have to leave it, or fight back against it. And I can’t do that because I’m only two years old, so I’m going to make myself wrong to explain what’s going on. That means that at least I can stay in this attachment relationship, which I need to survive.”

So negative self-talk shows up as a way of surviving; it’s got an adaptational value. When it shows up 20 years later, or 30 years later, or 50 years later, don’t make it wrong. Be compassionate with it. First of all, just notice that it’s there. If somebody said to me, “I want to get rid of my negative thinking,” – as soon as you want to get rid of something, you’re resisting it. As soon as you’re resisting it, it’s going to increase in its force. So you say to the negative thinking, “Oh, okay. There you go again. I hear you. You still think I need you to survive.

I talk about this concept of the ‘stupid friend’. It’s a friend. It helped you survive at a certain point, but it’s stupid because it can’t learn. It doesn’t know that you’re no longer two years old, or four years old. It just keeps pestering you with the same information. It can’t help it; it’s a brain circuit programmed with a certain message. Don’t fight it; notice it, notice that it’s there, and accept that it’s there. Don’t make it wrong, but you also don’t have to believe it. Just notice it; it’s an automatic thing that’s happening. “Oh yeah, there you go again. I see, okay. Well, you did your role; you did your service decades ago. Your services are just no longer required.” But be compassionate with it, or in other words accept it. Don’t fight it; accept it. Notice it and accept it.

What you’ll find is that if you can maintain that practice over time, it’s going to get a lot quieter, and quieter, and quieter. It’s not a matter of fighting anything, it’s a question of actually being compassionate, even with that voice that tells you that you’re the biggest jerk and failure in the whole world.

Even those thoughts that tell you that this life isn’t worth living, they want to give you a message. The message they want to give you is that this life isn’t worth living, not that life isn’t worth living. It’s saying to you – do you know what it’s actually saying to you? “Another life is possible. This life, it’s going to make you suffer if you continue with the patterns, but that doesn’t mean that you have to stay with those patterns.

So much of it is a matter of perspective, and from what angle we approach our dynamics with: whether we resist them or whether we want to get the message. The personality basically sees everything as a problem to get rid of, and that’s essentially the medical transaction. The patient comes in with a rash, or joint pain, or a headache, or depression, or stomach aches, or whatever it is, and the patient says, “I don’t like feeling this way. Help me not feel this way.” It’s just a problem to get rid of.

Now, the doctor may say, “Okay, I’m going to help you get rid of this symptom, and if I can I’m going to try and get rid of the disease that underlies the symptom.” Now, there’s nothing wrong with that in itself; there’s nothing wrong with wanting to heal from an illness, or wanting to alleviate a symptom. But if that’s all we do, we’re doing ourselves no favour. In fact, both the symptom and the disease didn’t come along accidentally. They were the products of life experience, and not only life experience but also our life patterns; how we’re living our life right now.

The other way to relate to problems, whether illness, or symptoms, or relationship difficulties, or mood problems, or anything else, is not from the point of view of a problem to get rid of, but as something to learn from. The essential part of you doesn’t care if you suffer, it just wants you to be true to yourself. When you’re not, it’s going to make you suffer.

The other way to approach difficulties and problems is not as issues to get rid of, but issues to grow from; issues to learn from. Once you start looking at it that way, everything that happens is a gift. I can tell you about a recent family upset that I helped significantly to precipitate. But you know what? Once I got over my resentment, my rage, and my self-loathing that I’d done this again, I’m just profoundly grateful that it happened. It meant there was something that I still had to learn, that’s all.

I was fired once. I was the coordinator of the palliative care unit of the Vancouver hospital, looking after terminally ill people, and I got fired. My line was that I was fired for gross competence; I was too good at it. Which was true. But of course, after I went through my initial rage, sense of unfairness and hard-done-by, and absolute commitment to exacting revenge on my tormentors, I began to learn a number of things. Primarily what I learned, first of all, was that my sense of outrage and unfairness had something so familiar about it. It just felt like real old stuff; it was like a tape in my brain that had been whirling since I was just a small child.

That was number one. Number two, I learned that I’d created my own firing. Even though I was doing a great job getting people out of symptoms and helping them die, if you will, I was also arrogant about it. I didn’t bother to document what I was doing; I was too busy to document anything. Other doctors who didn’t have my particular kind of mind, who did things by the rules, they didn’t understand what I was doing. When they questioned me, I took that not as a request for information but as a challenge and a criticism, at which point I became a bulldog and started biting back. Well guess who created my own firing?

I wasn’t fired for the work that I did, I was fired because I was unconscious about my behaviour. When I stopped seeing it as a problem, I got that it was actually a great teaching for me. Not only that, the universe being the way it is, a month later I got a phone call seeing if I’d work in the downtown east side of Vancouver, and if I’d still had that job I probably would have said no.

But as it was I was looking for something new besides my family practice, and I did the addiction work, which is why I’m in front of you today. There’s even guidance in this, you might say, if you believe in such things. I was guided to fire myself so that I could take on something else.

The teacher Almaas says, “Your conflicts, all the difficult things, the problematic situations in your life, are not chance or haphazard. They’re actually yours; they’re specifically yours, designed specifically for you, by a part of you that loves you more than anything else. The part of you that loves you more than anything else has created roadblocks to lead you to your self. You’re not going to go in the right direction unless there’s something pricking you in the side telling you ‘look here, this way’. That part of you loves you so much that it doesn’t want you to lose the chance. It’ll go to extreme measures to wake you up. It will make you suffer greatly if you don’t listen. What else can it do? That’s its purpose.”

This talk was excerpted from a lecture by Dr. Maté in Toronto in 2014 hosted by Beyond Addiction: The Yogic Path to Recovery.


for upcoming workshops with Dr. Gabor Maté, see

for upcoming Beyond Addiction programs, see training

Dr. Maté will be teaching a 2 day workshop for therapists and health professionals outlining a method of working with clients called Compassionate Inquiry.  It will be held in Toronto on Nov 3-4, 2016. Details can be found here.


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