Throughout the last 7 years of my life I have been working on putting down my gavel and substantially decreasing my tendency to pass judgment on the choices/lives of others. Prior to this, I would have described myself as being a bit too comfortable wearing judgy pants. There was an unintentional space of self-righteousness where I resided. This place allowed me to bond with those around me as I pontificated about the “clearly irrational” choices of those who exhibited behaviors that didn’t make sense to me.
As I have grown in age and experience, I have come to learn that most of us do the best we can with what we know, and that judgment alienates us from real empathy and connection. But perhaps most important, I have discovered that the root of my judgment, was often a result of my tendency to be my own worst critic. Yep, I judged others because, the truth of the matter was, I was judging myself.
Sound like a cheesy episode of on air therapy with Dr. Drew? “Tell me what’s really going on Erin?” I can shamelessly proclaim that those cheesy questions exist for a reason. The truth is, what’s really going on is often hanging out in our thoughts and feelings about ourselves.
I was hard on others because I was hard on me.
Though I may not have been someone who, (insert behavior I found unacceptable), I judged this behavior with little empathy, not simply because it didn’t make sense for my life, but more likely because I gave myself little permission to be less than perfect. When I made a mistake, behaved less than appealing, or even compared my life to those around me, I didn’t measure up. The little voice in my head told me constantly that I needed to do better. And that same voice was thrilled when it could point out the poor choices of those around me. This, of course, took the heat off me. If I could point to, and dwell on, the choices/lives of others, then I could temporarily feel like enough. I could momentarily turn the spotlight onto someone else’s life and ignore the parts of myself, and of my own life, that didn’t feel so great. In time, I discovered that I was not alone in this tendency towards projection. Why are mothers often so hard and judgmental of other mothers? Because they feel like they aren’t measuring up? Why do we often pick apart the appearance of others? Because we pick apart our own appearances. In the moments when we stand atop our soapbox and proclaim, “I can’t believe what they are doing/did/looked like…” we are free from the harsh lens that we place upon our own lives.
We are addicted to the security that this momentary judgment makes us feel about who we are. In that moment of judgment, we tell ourselves that our own lives/choices/appearances are enough in comparison.
And that moment feels good. The bad news…this moment doesn’t last. You see, when we practice being harsh towards others in our thoughts and/or conversations we are strengthening are own internal critic, developing what I call our judgment beast.
We are feeding it ammunition, teaching it how to be harsh, perfecting its attack. To think that this critic will be quiet about our own lives, when the lens shifts back to us, is simply preposterous. It’s strong. It’s skilled. It’s a master of this practice. And thus, the judgment beast that devours the lives of those around us will always, in turn, devour our own. Your critic that picks apart the world around you cannot be kept from picking apart your own sense of self. Once this became evident to me I was able to see its hold on my life and on the lives of the people around me. Over the years, I have observed the power of the judgment beast to highlight what’s lurking inside of the people who bark the loudest, the harsher the critic, the deeper their sense of inadequacy. The real loss, in letting this beast run wild, isn’t only in the hurt feelings of those who hear about or feel our judgments. The real loss and consequence manifests in our own lives. We miss out on the opportunities to connect with others from a space of vulnerability and empathy. We strengthen our critic, only to weaken our own sense of self-love and compassion. For me, this “recovery” process has been ongoing and life changing. I am far from judgment free but certainly much less chummy with my judgment beast. I discovered that the only place to begin was with me. As I became more aware of my internal critic, I began to observe its judgment everywhere. I watched it from the observation deck and started to question its harshness and certainty. And most importantly, I began the difficult practice of shifting the focus onto my own feelings of inadequacy that lurked behind my critical lens. I invite you to spend the next few weeks sitting in the observation deck.
How strong is your judgment beast? How critical is your lens? This is simply the beginning. It is only by becoming conscious of our beast’s bark that we can begin to find freedom from it. The magic happens when you start to see that softening the lens that we use to view ourselves changes the shade of the world around us. And I am here to tell you, it’s a whole lot brighter.