Judgement is a tough one for a lot of folks, including myself. It’s ubiquitous in American culture and can be used as a means to evaluate someone’s worth, though usually with a negative bias. In a lot of ways it’s used as you would use currency. To deem if someone holds value measured against your standards.
Using Judgements to Control & Feelings of Inadequacy
People fear judgement to be sure, and for good reason. It’s often times associated with guilt. Usually that guilt comes in the form of “what’s wrong with me that others are seeing me as bad or undeserving?” The idea of feeling like a criminal comes up and paying back society for a debt that’s owed.
And not all judgements are loaded with fear. For example we may make a judgement call that it wouldn’t be safe to drive if we had another drink. This type of judgement is necessary for our survival. Also to keep us safe. But what if judgements were placed on us because a caregiver wanted us to be different? In an attempt to control who we are and who we would become. What then?
This was the case for me growing up. I was criticized and judged so often that I just assumed that I would never add up to my caregivers expectations. And to make things worse, I was never really sure what I could do that would be acceptable to my caregivers. Thinking about it now, there was never any direction on how to improve. Only their negative judgements of me. So I copied their behaviors and habits, hoping I would stumble upon the “correct” way of being.
Trying to Belong to Avoid Judgement & Rejection
We were big drinkers in our family. This was the first habit I picked up that was modeled for me. Also treating other people as though they were disposable wa another habit modeled for me. As though I didn’t really need their friendship. This was a toxic habit I inferred for sure. I burned a lot of bridges acting this way. Though I wish I hadn’t now, some of the relationships I had during those times were unhealthy to say the least. And partially modeled after unhealthy familial relationships.
Knowing what I know now, I could have ended some relationships in a more amicable way. But I just didn’t know any better. And either did they (my caregivers) for that matter. We were operating under faulty instructions and doing the best we could with what we had. Which wasn’t much.
And that is one of the biggest issues that comes with consistent critical judgements. Being left with the paralyzing fear of either not belonging or of feeling rejection. When you are rejected by those who are supposed to love you unconditionally, you are left with absolutely no direction on learning how to have a felt sense of belonging. You just never feel like you belong. Aimlessly adrift.
Unhealthy Habits in a Search for Belonging
For me this happened very early on. I remember me feeling such a loneliness and wanting to belong that I turned to anything that would bring me a sense of feeling apart of something. Regardless of how reckless or self destructive it seemed.
I can remember listening to The Grateful Dead’s, “Touch of Grey” in 1987-88 and connecting with the lyrics, “I will get by”. Later on when I was in high school in the mid nineties, hippy culture was making a re-emergence. I took to the culture so quickly that I was making my own clothes and growing my hair out for dreads in less than six months. Everything I owned smelled of patchouli and I began drinking at the age of fourteen. All because I heard a song that had a seemingly positive message, mixed with the culture being popular at the time.
I was looking for someplace to belong. And if it wasn’t for those fond early childhood memories of feeling a little bit of optimism and hope while listening to the Dead, who knows where I’d be. I also imagine there was a draw to the gypsy culture that the Dead represented. A feeling of homelessness. Or at least a sense of misfits coming together who have been roundly rejected by others to create their own sense of community and belonging.
Finding Guidance in a Healthy Way
But what’s so startling about the life choices I was making at fourteen was, that I was basing them on song lyrics I randomly heard when I was much younger because they gave me a sense of hope, however small. Instead of the loving guidance from capable caretakers, I had Jerry and hippy culture to show me how to “get by”. I had some good times for sure, but I’d trade them all for some love and support from those who should have been there for me.
Not Feeling Like I’m Adding Up
This brings up another aspect of fearing not belonging. The maddening fact that my caretakers had gone out of their way to make sure I knew I was not adding up with their consistent criticisms about aspects of my personality or physical appearance they did not approve of. This led me believe that there was a thread of hope. That if I could somehow managed to please them by living up to their impossible standards, then I’d belong. What I hadn’t realize at the time was, that the reason their standards were so impossible was because they themselves didn’t know how to belong. And if they felt as though they weren’t adding up, how would they be able to teach me to?
So if this fear stems from not knowing how to belong, why then all the judgement? From my experiences with my caregivers, the judgements came when we were too vulnerable to let one another in on a deeper emotional level. This was partly due to feeling as though we didn’t belong. But also as defense to keep each other at a distance. So we wouldn’t be seen as our authentic, vulnerable and hurt selves. The self that felt like we weren’t good enough to be a part of a loving relationship. Because we had been hurt and abandoned so many times that we felt as though we deserved not to belong.
This Leads to a Legacy of Brutality
This was a legacy we were handing down to one another. First because we didn’t know how to break the cycle. And second we were too scared to let people get too close because of all the damage we inflicted and incurred during our past attempts at bonding. So it became the foundation of our unstable relationships. Built on fear of not belonging to something bigger. A more supportive family.
Which is what I imagine we all wanted. But our negative judgements of each other swooped in, keeping us from getting too close to one another. Mostly for fear the other would see our authentic yet “damaged” selves. The one that had been torn down by ourselves and others all too often. This was the cycle we were trapped in.
So if this was the legacy we had been handing down through the generations, and no one was feeling healthy, loved or supported, why haven’t we been able to go in a different direction and break the cycle? What was stopping us from giving up the ghost and finding the healthier, more supportive versions of ourselves and our relationships? The short answer is, because it’s difficult.
Making a Change for the Healthy is Difficult Work
My experience was that I needed to feel through a life’s time worth of collected emotional wounds from those I was told I could rely on. And when our trust is abused, by mixed messages about who we’re able to rely on, there’s a lot of confusion around who we’re able to trust. And when our trust is taken advantage of, that’s when our defenses take over. There’s a line from an Iron and Wine song, “Sacred Vision” that fits this mindset for me, “forgiveness is fickle when trust is a chore”. I was being critical of others, using judgements to distance myself from those I wanted to trust but couldn’t.
But this had the effect of breading distrust. First with myself, then with others. With myself because I would often turn that critical voice inward and tear myself down. And with others in that I was keeping them at a distance by saying hurtful things so as not to get hurt letting them in again. But they were still feeling the hurtful affects of my critical judgements of them.
Feeling the Hurt of Past Judgements
In order to break the cycle, and let people get close, I had to feel the hurt I was avoiding by keeping others at a distance with my harsh judgements. And those were some of the most difficult emotions I’ve ever had to feel. Sorting through those emotions was a kin to untangling a knot of live wires. Every time I seized one, I’d get a shock from a past wound. But the more I untangled, the easier it became. The more I allowed the emotions to flow, the more I was able to feel them as they came. Without the anxiety or feeling overwhelmed.
And it takes patience with yourself, as well as persistence. But when I started, I had no idea what I was doing. I had no healthy role models so I needed to find some stat. I started with the people I admire. It was important to start with people I didn’t actually know personally, so that I could feel the safety of distance, while experiencing their wisdom and trying it out for myself.
The people I thought of most were Oprah, Tom Hanks, Buddha, Adrienne from yoga with Adrienne and Dana Shultz from Minimalist Baker. I chose them because it feels like they’re consistently projecting a positive and even tempered demeanor. Their characteristics are ways that I’d like to project myself in the world. Mixed with their work ethic and vitality, these are the people I want to model myself around. Also the characteristics I want to use as a foundation to build my relationships on. A firm and solid foundation based on support and caring interest, instead of harsh and critical judgements.
Building Healthy Characteristics & Creating Strong Values
And with these new characteristics, I was then able to build my values. Being loving support was one value while learning how to trust others and myself, another. When the characteristics of love and support are practiced, that is how trust is created. That is how a characteristic builds a value.
But this is all new territory for me. And with this new and steep learning curve, came a fair amount of fear and emotional rawness. With no one around to show me what were the types of characteristics that built lasting and sustainable values feel like in person, I felt adrift again. But once I started to practice these characteristics with the people I knew, I was able to set anchor and build the strong foundations that would be able to support lasting relationships.
And with the foundations of my new relationships built on mutual respect, I found what I was missing in my old friendships. There was no effort put into building our bonds, so we didn’t value them as I would something that took time and effort. Also emotion, understanding and forgiveness. All we had to build on in my past relationships was a lot of alcohol and a few good times. What I’m finding now is, building my relationships from my new set of values is that there is a greater amount of respect.
Putting in the Effort to Care for Our Relationships & Ourselves
We appreciate the time and effort we’ve taken and Given to one another. And the effort put into the experiences we’ve had and are continuing to build. We value one another as a source of support and kind, genuine caring. We know that we can trust one another with what we’ve built together, because we did it with love. And that’s what was missing from those relationships that were built on only the good times.
Support and the felt sense of belonging that comes with knowing that you are supported, trusted and cared about. The random text messages that get sent throughout the week as a way of checking in on how the other is doing. Not just to finding out where you will be drinking that night. Asking for help in building shelves together to make a house feel more like a home. Instead of cutting down a “friend” in front of a girl in hopes that you’ll hook up with the girl later that night. Feeling belonging and trust built on stable characteristics go hand in hand. Try to build them on anything else and it would be unstable at best.
Care Starts With Ourselves
And none of this would be possible if I didn’t first come to terms with the fear of my critical judgements. Of others, but mostly from myself. If we use critical judgements to keep others away for long enough, it begins to corrode our ability to connect with anyone. Critical thoughts work in the same ways acid does. Circulate in and around the bonds we try to build. Leaving the bonds weak and frail. By turning inward and realizing how weak and frail all of my bonds had become with myself, I understood how important it is to actively work towards healing them. By attending to the bond with myself.
This is arguably the most important bond because it paves the way for all of our other bonds to take shape. And this is where the tough work comes in. If you’ve left your internal landscape fallow for too long, the worry then is, “I’m afraid of what I might find.” Incase this is where you are, let me say that there are no monsters lurking here. Only the parts of us that are badly in need of some love and support 🙂
Building a Stronger You
And there’s another benefit of practicing love and support. You become stronger in the process and are building stronger bonds within yourself. When you’re checking in with a friend who has had a tough day at work, you’re caring enough about someone else’s well being to check in on them. This is also a way of attuning to your feelings of empathy. You are strengthening your empathic abilities by checking in with how you’re feeling about your friend. And acting with kindness with someone is a way to practice being supportive.
These are the healthy patterns that are possible when we choose to practice sustainable, healthy characteristics. We are then able to sustain these new relationships with healthier patterns. Using our characteristics and values as a guide. It isn’t always going to be easy, but it is definitely worth the effort. And with some luck you’ll be surrounded by friends and family that are, sure irritating at times, but also a source of love and support. And this will outweigh any habit that may irritate you.
Making the Turn
Turning from critically judgmental to loving support is difficult. And maybe the most important characteristic that will have the biggest effect on how you make this change is through kindness. To yourself first and others as well. The more we practice kindness, especially toward ourselves, the more our actions, thoughts, moods and behaviors will naturally lean towards a kind disposition. And this will in turn affect how we connect with ourselves and with those close in.
These are only my experiences in trying to rebuild the relationships in my life after what feels like a life’s time worth of avoiding and neglecting my bonds. I hope this has been of some use to you. If you, like me, have found yourself in a reconstruction phase of life, my advice is don’t give up! You’re much stronger than you think. And help has a way of finding those who are in need, as long as you are open to the opportunity. Be well, good luck and peace 🙂 thanks for reading.