Healing from Judgment
“The moment we commit ourselves to going on this journey [of living], we start to encounter our three principal enemies:
the voice of doubt and judgment (shutting down the open mind),
the voice of cynicism (shutting down the open heart),
and the voice of fear (shutting down the open will).”
– Otto Sharmer
We all judge.
It’s an extremely useful tool for sorting out if we are safe, under threat, or going to be abandoned. The problem is that judgments from childhood, left unchecked, can negatively impact us in adulthood.
Judging is an early experience that we learn from our first care givers. We actually adopt their judgments of safety and threat before we can talk—between birth and 18 months. This is why it’s often difficult to describe our deep-seated beliefs with words since these ideas have existed in us longer than we’ve had words to describe them.
Since we can’t rely on verbal language to communicate danger at this stage of life we instead read body language, facial cues, and use our senses to decide what our caregiver is unconsciously communicating. If our early caregiver tends to be anxious and perceives the environment to be dangerous, we too will experience the environment as dangerous—even if it isn’t. Likewise, if the caregiver is a poor judge of threats and danger, we will adopt those perceptions, making us more prone to remaining in dangerous settings—even if we shouldn’t.
Think of these learned judgments as survival tools.
All of the judgements we accumulate help us to belong, to be loved and accepted, and to decipher safety and danger in our environment.
By adulthood, our judgments have accumulated to make up a complex tapestry of beliefs that assist us in navigating life, relationships, and decisions. These judgments bring us feelings of safety, security, and also pain and discomfort. At times, they contribute to self-doubt, leaving us feeling disconnected from ourselves and others.
Judgments become a problem when they interrupt who and how we are in the world. When the judgements of others begin to shape us into something we’re not or cause us to suppress our dreams, ambitions, or worse, our personality, we enter into dangerous territory.
Luckily the brain is always growing which means we can “out-grow” the judgements we inherit from our early caregivers and society if they don’t serve us well.
I remember being in group therapy as a kid. I was 10 years old and probably too young for group therapy but my mom really believed in it. We did an exercise where the entire group repeated this statement to me: “it’s not your fault”. They only told me this statement, no one else. I didn’t know why they felt the need to tell me that. I truly couldn’t understand all the fuss. I couldn’t see what they thought I thought was my fault. But I must have given them the impression that I blamed myself for things. Lots of things probably, since they created an entire activity to deliver that statement to me.
Later when I learned meditation and eventually pursued therapy on my own, I began to see the patterns I’d inherited. I could feel the weight of the beliefs I’d adopted from my parents, grandparents, teachers, classmates, and society at large. I’ve let so many of those survival beliefs go, die, change, or evolve over the years. With somatic practices, I have even unwound these issues from my tissues and released old faulty wiring that no longer serves me. It is a lifelong practice. We are always changing and growing. Beliefs I have now may not serve me next year. This is the way it is with nature.
Non-judging is the first theme I teach in my mindfulness course. It is the beginning of unwinding ourselves from disharmony and dis-ease. It is pulling out the faulty wiring and resetting ourselves in attunement with what is now. Humans have an incredible ability to adapt to their ever changing environment. We adapt very quickly.
Today, take a moment to thank your mind and body for getting you to this point. You have in fact, survived. Many of the judgments and beliefs you hold have helped you to get to this point while some of them no longer serve you. Make a list of the ones that need to change. Then make a new list of ideas that represent the now you.
Here’s an example from my life. One thought I held through my teens and 20s was, “I’m ugly and that’s why no one wants to date me”. The funny things is that there were tons of reasons I struggled with dating but my mind was made up that this was the cause. When I realized how often I had that thought and how toxic it was for my wellbeing, I began working on it. I actually started to practice a new thought right when I woke up each day. The new thought was, “I am beautiful, inside and out. I enjoy being in my own presence. I’m a great partner to myself and others.” I had to work on believing this and I even dated myself for quite a long time until I truly grew to love my own company. But I first began by eliminating the toxic judgment I kept holding against myself.
After you’ve created a new idea to practice, place the new list somewhere you can read it each morning and again just before bed. Allow yourself time to notice the old beliefs when they come up and try not to judge yourself for judging. We are all works-in-progress. The more that you can practice the new thought, the stronger those new neurons become and the easier it is for your brain to prune the old thoughts away.
Check out these two podcast episodes that touch on this topic:
Episode 26: Coming Into Your Medicine, Purpose, and Gifts
Episode 22: The Stories We Tell Ourselves