In the world of personal development, there’s a constant refrain to “push beyond your comfort zone.” The implication is to do more. Push harder.
For me, pushing harder to do more is squarely in my comfort zone. Doing less, easing off, relaxing, being lazy — these are my stretch areas. And for all the practice I’ve done here, the feelings of guilt and anger and shame that arise whenever I try to “do less” remain persistent.
I hear the voice of judgment telling me I haven’t done enough. I’m slacking. I need to work harder.
And I want it to stop.
Most people I know have a harsh inner judge. What’s behind it? What does it do to us? And how do we stop it?
This is Part 1 of a 2-part series.
What’s Behind Self-Judgment?
If you want to stop judging yourself it helps to understand what’s behind the judgment. There are two main forces driving self-judgment:
(1) Fear: Not Enough
Behind self-judgment is a fear. Most often, it’s a fear of “not enough.”
I’m not smart/sexy/strong/[insert your own description] enough.
I’m not doing enough. I’m not working hard enough. I’m not relaxing enough.
I’m not putting myself out there enough.
I’m not doing enough of all the things I could be doing or should be doing.
Comparison is actually driving the fear. It’s what creates the feeling of “not enough.”
When you see the world around you, everything and everyone becomes a measuring stick for your own performance.
Whether it’s fitness, creative work, business success, or daily habits, or anything else: if you didn’t know what the effort and result could look like, you’d likely be satisfied with your effort and result.
The inevitable question when you uncover the “not enough” language is “not enough compared to what (or who)?” If you had no basis of comparison, you wouldn’t feel like you’re not enough.
You wouldn’t know better.
The fact that we do see others around us, that we do know what is possible, is what creates this feeling of “not enough.”
What Self-Judgment Does to Us
As foundation, let’s acknowledge what self-judgment does to us.Self-judgment turns us against ourselves. It makes us feel separate from others, and from our true nature.
When we are caught up in judgments, we lose the ability to see the truth of who we are and who other people are.
How to Stop Self-Judgment
Here’s the thing:
If by “stop” we mean “preventing it before it happens,” I don’t think it’s possible.
Self-judgment comes from fear and comparison.
Both of those causes are natural occurrences in life.
A judge is going to judge. If that’s your pattern, it will show up.
Awareness helps us exit the cycle more quickly. Meditation and mindfulness practice create the space for us to recognize:
Ah, yes. I’m in the self-judgment cycle.
That space provides an opening to exit or to explore what’s really going on. The best we can do is cultivate awareness of when it arises, learn how to stay with it, and learn how to respond to it better.
Cultivate Awareness of Self-Judgment
Recognize How and When it Shows Up
In the moment of judgment, we often forget a crucial principle: as within, so too without.
What this means is that we often project onto others what we feel about ourselves.
So if you feel not enough, you’re also likely to be feeling that others are not enough.
If you’re judging yourself, you’re likely judging others too.
The reverse is also true. If you’re judging others, you’re also judging yourself.
If you’re feeling that others are not enough, it’s because you’re feeling not enough.
Sometimes we can see one, but not the other. So look for judgments of others and judgments of yourself.
How to Stay With the Feelings
The RAIN Approach
Staying with the feelings is the hardest part.
We live in a culture that promotes escape. Staying in your feelings is antithetical to everything we’ve learned.
- Recognize it when it arises.
- Allow it and accept it just as it is.
- Investigate it: what’s beneath it?
- Nourish it: with compassion.
How often do you get caught up in self-judgment or find yourself judging others? Is this a common pattern for you? If you’re willing to share in the comments, you’ll help others see that this is totally normal.
Coming tomorrow: 7 Ways to Respond to Self-Judgment.