Four ways to silence other people’s judgments in your head
As we grow up within a group, the ideas, beliefs, and values that we learn become the criteria for our decision making. This structure provides us with certainty: we know what our community expects from us and we are rewarded with acceptance when we agree to it.
Everything goes well so far. Until the morning you wake up feeling you are living somebody else's life. Or when you find yourself in what feels the same relationship with a different face.
Other people's judgment can stop you from being honest with yourself. If your only fuel is someone else's acceptance, you will do whatever it takes to fulfill their expectations. You will cover your ears as your needs scream, you will sacrifice yourself in the hopes of following the script that has been assigned to you since you were born.
Down to your feet
Maybe you consider yourself a contemporary, educated, and self-asserted person. I ask you, can you honestly tell me that every single decision you make is focused on meeting your needs?
Have you ever read the original version of Cinderella? As I have grown older, I have felt sadder about the step-sisters. In an effort to meet their mother's expectations of marrying the prince, they were both willing to cut off parts of their foot to fit into the glass slipper. Can you think of a more literal way to illustrate self-destroying practices?
Next morning, he went with it to the father, and said to him, no one shall be my wife but she whose foot this golden slipper fits. Then were the two sisters glad, for they had pretty feet. The eldest went with the shoe into her room and wanted to try it on, and her mother stood by. But she could not get her big toe into it, and the shoe was too small for her. Then her mother gave her a knife and said, "Cut the toe off, when you are queen you will have no more need to go on foot." The maiden cut the toe off, forced the foot into the shoe, swallowed the pain, and went out to the king's son.
But then again, would you blame them? They grew up believing they were only worth as much as their value in the marriage market. Nothing else mattered. There was no other possibility in their lives. There whole life experience was to be assessed by either succeeding or failing the task of “marrying well.”
Your outer structure is there. You can learn to see it, you can understand it you can work with it and sift through those ideas, beliefs, and values to decide which ones you will keep. But it will always be there, lingering in the shadows.
At the end of the day, you have the habit of considering the opinion of the people you value as you make decisions. Habits can change. You can learn to connect with your needs and meet them before and despite how others can judge your choices. As you address your needs you create the well-being that will enable you to create value for yourself and the world.
Amoris amor creates.
Love creates love.
And the love you can offer is only equal to the love that you show for yourself.
Here are a few ideas you can try to make it easier to shush those judgmental echoes while you set out on the journey of discovering the ideas, beliefs, and values that make sense to your dear self.
1: Identify the language of your outer structure
Judgmental language erodes your confidence. It presumes your actions exist in the negative part of only two possibilities. It tells you that the way you are is not desirable.
The next time you catch yourself engaging in a judgmental conversation with yourself, take a moment to become aware of the words you use. You can write them down, trace where they come from, and who has used that language on you.
Ask yourself if you would use those words with other people. Ask yourself how you feel when you receive those words from other people or from yourself.
The next time your outer structure tries to get in the way of your honesty by triggering a self-criticizing conversation, ask why those words would be true. From “I am so weak for wanting comfort,” you can ask, “why does comfort make me weak?” You can usually trace your reason to something somebody else told you or showed you earlier in life. You can then acknowledge that this is not true for you, so you don’t need to consider it.
2. Become curious about your discoveries
When you are curious, you are making the choice of not anticipating a result. Human brains are wired to access stored data to foresee the possible consequences of actions. We call this learning.
When you are crossing the street it's handy to be capable of remembering that cars can come from both ways. This ability allows us to understand that a possible consequence of not looking is to be run over by a moving vehicle. With this understanding, we know to look both ways and avoid being hit.
In the matters of self knowledge and wisdom, though, believing that the information stored in our mind consists of all possible outcomes is a mistake. When you are willing to take the risk of experiencing an unknown situation, curiosity helps you stay aware of what's happening so you can reverse engineer the result.
As you reflect on the choices you made and the outcome they produced, you will gain the wisdom of experience. This is, in a nutshell, what I call an integration process.
Some people are naturally curious and likely to take risks. For others, it’s quite a stretch. If this is your case, you can use these questions to turn on your curiosity:
- Could I die? Is my life or safety in danger? (Yes, it is important to assess this every time)
- Have I experienced a similar situation before? How did it work out?
- What is the best thing that can happen? What is the worst?
- What scares me? What gets me excited?
You can also work out a curiosity mantra to repeat when you feel that your anxiety or judgment is getting in your way. Something like, I am ready to connect with my needs with compassion and respect, and I know that any decision I make will be the best possible one and will provide me with great wisdom.
Bonus points if you translate this phrase to your own words and write it down somewhere you can read it often!
3. Prevent guilt from interfering with your decisions
Before learning how to love others with respect and compassion, people tend to believe that helping them to fit their expectations is a form of love. This “help” can take the form of:
- Judgment by validating or invalidating their actions through binary adjectives. You might respond to these adjectives with a feeling of unfitness or inadequacy.
- Disappointment by acknowledging a feeling of insatisfaction because the implementation of your identity did not meet their idea of your identity. A usual response to disappointment is guilt.
- Punishments through action or abandonment. Feeling that you are being punished can generate suffering, physical, emotional, or social.
The purpose of guilt is to remind you to make a priority of other people’s well-being, even if that means sacrificing your own. Guilt invalidates your right to feel well about yourself when you create a situation where you meet your needs.
When you are not meeting your needs you don’t feel okay. You might be in pain or in emotional absence, your energy is low, your capacity to want and dream might be deactivated.
When you are not in alignment or when you do not agree to the axis you are using to align your identity, you are not capable of creating value for anybody else.
You are too busy surviving to give purpose to your life.
It's helpful to explore how guilt feels to you. Identify the signs in your body, the words you use, and the thoughts that populate your mind after your “reproachable” action.
This way, you can catch guilt at the very beginning and have a serious conversation with yourself. First, make sure it is guilt and not awareness (remember, awareness is your friend).
- Will this decision put anyone in danger?
- Will it break the law?
- Will it expose anyone to permanent pain, suffering, or distress?
Assuming you are very clear on the need you are addressing, think about whether there is another way to meet your need that does not trigger guilt. If you are still feeling it, imagine guilt as a person (fictional characters work well; for some reason my guilt always looks like Dolores Umbridge, from Harry Potter) and ask them directly, why do you want me to feel guilty? What part of my decision is setting on your alarms?
This is a tough conversation. You will need to practice to get clearer answers, your first experiences may feel blurry or that don’t provide enough information. But insist, keep asking them, keep asking yourself what transgression of somebody else’s expectation is creating this guilt.
4. Assert yourself with your judgmental loved ones
When you learn how to be honest with yourself you also learn how to be honest with others. Honesty overcomes fear and anger: when somebody is trying to force you into their idea of you, you can assert yourself without being defensive, without harboring resentments.
Once you are aware of the role of expectations in your own perspective, it will be easier to understand how it might be impossible for this friend to see you beyond their point of view.
The focus of your honesty, in this case, can be to acknowledge that you cannot change the way they see you and that you appreciate their concern. You feel very clear about your decision and you would like them to respect it even if it doesn’t come out as planned.
Will they hug you as they whisper “of course I respect you, I trust your wisdom”? No, they probably won’t. You might see a faint flicker of doubt as they move on to another conversation. But you will have conquered the first steps to connecting with your needs: you will have valued your perspective on things and set a clear way on how you want this other person to support you.
You can try this plan while you create a strategy of your own:
Spend time getting to know how you experience anger, defensiveness, sadness, and any other feeling that your loved one’s judgement could trigger. Match them with the need they are communicating.
As soon as you identify the feeling is creeping in, focus on your breathing and imagine this other person is saying “I love you but I don’t know how to love you in a way that supports you”.
Restrain yourself from interrupting the other person. I know, it can be hard. But think about how you feel when somebody interrupts you; it can turn the conversation into an argument where both parties get defensive and, well, you know how that goes.
When they run out of air or have said their peace, acknowledge their concern on your well-being and show them you are grateful for it. Assess what they need to hear from you other than a “you are right.” Some ideas:
Thank you for your advice. I’ll think about it.
I know you want the best for me. Thank you for your concern.
Thank you for your perspective. I know you are a good friend/mom/sister/dad…
Change the subject or gracefully leave the space.
This plan can help you to practice loving assertiveness, and will also help you to listen to other people’s opinion without integrating them in your decision making process. Rinse and repeat: remember practice makes mastery.