Fear and Judgement: Fear of Being Judged

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.

Finding Guides

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.

Image Credits: “Mean looking Eagle Owl” by webheathcloseup is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Updated: 8/27/22

Reparenting: Creating Healthy Boundaries By Being a Part of Someone’s Solution, Not Solving Their Problems

Healthy boundaries. This is a big topic and I hope to do it some justice. For the sake of this post I will be focusing on some of my experiences with my personal boundaries. Mostly with regards to how they’ve been taken advantage of in the past and ways to engage with those encroaching on them, while keeping a healthy distance when you need space to keep healthy boundaries.

Hope you’re still with me : ) It may be a bumpy road. I’d also like to take this time to say, especially if you’ve experienced abuse or trauma, that I strongly urge you to find professional help. I am not a therapist myself and these are only my experiences, opinions and the research I’ve done on the subject. My therapist has been an indispensable resource for me. Guiding me through some very difficult times. Don’t be afraid to ask for the support you need.

Family Dynamics Shape Our Boundaries

The family dynamic I grew up in was very much a black and white landscape of either very rigid boundaries or absolutely no boundaries at all. For instance it was my mother’s job to feed and clothe me. And to her credit she took care of the basics with religious fervor. But I didn’t have the freedom to cook my own meals or request favorite foods. Or was I in any way involved with that decision making process when it came to meal planning or anything domestic. Clearly examples of very rigid boundary setting where she was unable to deviate from her plan.

But on the other hand, she never asked me if I ate while I was out with friends, or even really ask me anything at all about me on a personal level. Though I was punished severely and often for underachieving in high school, I was never shown how to succeed in an academic setting. Or even had a curfew! Nor was anyone home to enforce it if I had been given one.

In short, I was always in trouble for doing something I shouldn’t be doing and with no parent to enforce the severe punishments bestowed upon me due to my caregivers likely out doing the same things I was getting in trouble for. My teenage years were a confusing time to be in. And that’s not even accounting for the biological changes I was experiencing!

As a result, I spent a lot of my time as a teenager wandering aimlessly around my surroundings. Looking for someplace to feel belonging before I was kicked out of the family house at 19. I remember feeling so left out and empty when it happened. It was a cold place to be.

Carrying On The Legacy Of My Family’s Values

There was a lot going on in my family besides personal boundaries being ignored. But it was in these times of not being recognized as a person with boundaries and their (my boundaries) being neglected, that I learned to neglect my own personal needs and let my boundaries be violated. Picking up where my family left off when I was given the boot from our dysfunctional family.

But as crippling as the rules of my family had been, I still desperately clung to them and their lack of regard for my well being. If only to feel a piece of a greater whole. Some belonging. So it was the initial neglect of my boundaries, that set the rules for there to be no rules or healthy boundaries with myself. Only the pain of not feeling wanted or belonging if I chose to create a sense of separate self by establishing healthy boundaries. My own personal identity.

But this wasn’t my family’s fault either. They were most likely experiencing the same feelings I was. The neglect and the hurt, the lack of personal identity and feeling as though they had to cling to one another through the unhealthy ways of being to feel a sense of belonging. It’s sad and a little exhausting just thinking about it.

So if everyone was so hurt by one another, to the point where they were afraid of being around each other, yet feared above all else to feel rejected and hurt by the people who were supposed to love them, why did and what allowed us to all cling to one another with such a tight grip? It was mostly a combination of alcohol, anger and shame.

Using Unhealthy Values to Hold Us Together

It’s hard to see shame for what it is when you’re in its midst of it. Especially difficult when you’re drunk (or to recognize any emotion really when you’re three sheets to the wind). My shame was the internalization of my mother’s critical opinions of me, mixed with the trauma from my abuse. I often wondered what I had done to deserve and make my family feel they needed to punish me so severely.

When abuse happens, all kinds of boundaries are being trampled. The right to be in control of who is allowed to, and how to physically be in contact with your body is one. Emotionally by imbuing terror in the place of where love and safety should be. With and around those who are supposed to be your caretakers. And the paralyzing judgements of who you are told you are by those who are supposed to teach you what healthy self image looks like. Something that should help to guide you through life in healthy ways. While in its stead, leaving fear of and from past and future abuses in its place.

And maybe what’s most confusing is, of being rejected by your loved ones who you are mirroring, in order to feel belonging to and with those (your loved ones) doing the rejecting. This is just a short list of the many different and difficult feelings of abuse and abuse of boundaries that go along with the shame of abuse and trauma. Definitely too much to feel all at once and definitely too much to cover in this post.

Healing Old Wounds

The first step in healing the shame, of the loss of healthy boundaries and loss of loved ones is, to realize that it’s not your fault. This is best done with the aid of a therapist and trusted family or friends. Because as Tara Brach puts it, “we were wounded in relationship, we heal in relationship“. Not only that but we can’t do it alone.

It’s also helpful to know that the people who have abused us are probably hurt themselves. And possibly have been abused in the ways they are abusing others. Not helpful in a way that we are happy for their suffering. That would be likened to seeing them in a large pile of garbage and feeling better that they are in the pile as well. But this perspective allows us to see that they are suffering like we’re suffering. Which if we allow it, will open us to compassion for the person, knowing that it’s interconnected with our own. And to transform that suffering that they’ve handed to us and turning it into compassion is how we find our way out of this abusive cycle.

As I see it, the gift of healing lay in transmuting our suffering into caring. Then we can spread that care and love, instead of hurt and abuse. This is what I believe is meant by being one hundred percent accountable for our emotions and actions. It’s from this place of accountability that we can realize that it is our suffering, hurt or pain, no matter who perpetuated it. And that we can let go the anger that keeps us wrapped up in blaming others for their transgressions and our difficult emotions. And hopefully, move on to a place of healing and love.

Knowing When To Move On

We can get so attached to that angry self. The one that needs to be seen, heard and justified for the wounds we are carrying at the hands of someone else’s actions, that we forget we can let go of the anger and be free. Free from the idea that we’ve been done wrong and we need retribution for our grievances to move on.

This is not to be confused with not pursuing justice for crimes when the situation requires it. But if we let the wound fester after justice has been dealt, we lock our emotional energies into fixating on how we have been hurt. Or focusing on fantasies of how it could happen again. Closing off our emotional selves, including our more pleasant emotion, for the risk of being harmed again. This works to keep us frozen in anxiety producing emotional states. Like a plant that has been pot bound, unable to spread its roots and subsequently stunts its growth, leaving it small and vulnerable.

Or maybe the time for justice never came and you are truly left with the injustice of a crime never revealed, heard or seen. In this case it is even more important to let go of those feelings of anger and resentment. To find ways of moving towards healthier emotional states and finding healthy boundaries. Because resentment will take the place of the feelings for the relationship that turned sour and penetrate other relationships that may remind us of that abusive connection. And resentment will cripple us emotionally if we allow it to take up residency. Keeping us from fostering new and healthy, loving relationships and establishing healthy boundaries.

Finding More Freedom To Move On, It’s No Easy

Using the analogy above, in order to break the bonds of our personal “pots”, to find more room to grow, we must first give up the bonds of our pots voluntarily. Examples of these bonds being the anger and blame we hold on to or that hold us in a smaller version of ourselves. Ways to break these bonds and find more freedom are by connecting with others in relationship and expanding our social network.

The way twelve step programs work is a great example of allowing space for people with similar experiences to come together and be witnessed to one another. The main goal is of feeling heard and held in caring connection while establishing healthy boundaries. This creates a space larger than the self who is often too small to hold the burdens of a life’s time worth of misdeads and abuse.

And this is probably a good time to mention that none of this is easy. It sounds so simple. To take stock of and list all our grievances and abuses. The ones that most of us carry around with us our whole lives. Then tell them to people whom hopefully won’t hurt us as we’ve been hurt in the past. It seems idyllic written down, but the truth is that it’s difficult. Though like a physical wound, if it’s left unattended, it will only get worse.

I believe what makes this so difficult in the first place is, that it’s not as though we’re carrying around the anger of our old wounds for no reason. There’s a sort of logic to poking the wound to remind us of the pain we feel. We can use it as a tool to remind us to protect ourselves from what can happen if we let our guard down or put ourselves in a vulnerable situation. I.e. trusting another or sharing our wounded selves with them.

This is where working with a therapist and/or trusted friends and family can be invaluable. If you are like I was, I didn’t even know what a boundary was let alone healthy boundaries. If we don’t have the space to talk about how our actions and the actions of others are making us feel in a nonjudgmental environment, we may not be able to find the necessary tools and resources to shape new, healthy boundaries. We need these tools to be strong enough to make the journey towards being the healthiest version of ourselves. Especially if the resources we had were forged by those who’ve torn us down in the past.

Finding Healthy Versions Of Belonging: Being Strong In Ourselves First

And that is what it really comes down to, finding out how we fit into the whole in the healthiest ways possible. For most of us that means finding and being support to family and friends. That being said family can be brutal when it comes to disrespecting personal boundaries. So can friends. So it is especially important to find someone who has your best interests in mind and at heart when learning how to set new, healthy boundaries with those closest to you. A good place to start is by finding a good therapist.

Discerning who is safe in regards to family and old friends who may be ignoring some of our more important boundaries, can definitely be a challenge. If we’ve been taught unhealthy boundaries or been abused in the past, healthy boundaries can be elusive. And boundaries can be fragile when they are first forged as well. So go slow. Be certain that you can take care of yourself before jumping into an old relationship where boundaries were exploited. Especially if the other person is a family member who has unhealthy boundaries.

If we haven’t cultivated the healthy habits that allow us to be strong in taking care of ourselves first, then there’s no way that we’ll be able to be a part of somebody else’s healing. This is where we can get pulled into others unhealthy and possibly self destructive ways of being.

And being strong enough in ourselves may look like knowing how to ask for help from a friend, or to know when to talk to a therapist. Or even something as simple as taking yourself out for dinner at your favorite restaurant. Just you for the night and enjoy the peace and quiet while enjoying your favorite meal. It will look different for each person, but you first need to get comfortable with what those resources look and feel like for you. Also, how to access them when you need them most in order for them to be useful in the moment.

Because those are ultimately the parts of ourselves we want to share with others. The strong, independent, capable, fun loving… insert adjective you want to describe yourself as here. But we can only do that once we’ve found our way to that person. And then draw a map so we can keep getting back home, to our true selves. And we do that by feeling the support of our resources and knowing how to access them when we need them most. As another friend of mine puts it, “when I’m the best version of myself, that helps others be the best version of themselves”-Jay Foss. That being said, don’t be afraid to be less than your best self around those you care about. Those who are true friends will support you whether you are in a good place or a difficult one.

So it is here that I will leave you good reader. I know that I covered a lot of ground and there’s more to be said on the subject for sure, but I feel that will be best left for another post some other time. I’ll post some resources I’ve found handy in my Community page, so don’t forget to hop on over and read like you love yourself (shout out to YWA : )! Peace.

Image Credits: “Boundary – Boulder” by joiseyshowaa is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Edited: 5/26/22

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