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. In a lot of ways it’s used as you would use currency. To deem if someone holds value measured against your standards.
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 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, and 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 by my caregivers. And thinking about it now, there was never any direction on how to improve, only negative judgements. So I copied their behaviors, their habits, hoping I would stumble upon the “correct” way of being.
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. As though I didn’t really need their friendship, was another toxic habit I inferred. I burned a lot of bridges doing this. Though I wish I hadn’t now, some of the relationships I had during those times were unhealthy to say the least and at least 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 bigger issues that comes with consistent critical judgements. Being left with the paralyzing fear of either not belonging or the possibility of rejection. When you are reject 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.
For me this happened very early on. I remember there being 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 highschool and hippy culture was making a re-emergence in the mid to late nineties, I took to it 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 came to represent. 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.
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.
This brings up another aspect of the fear of not belonging. The maddening fact that my caretakers had gone out of their way to make sure I knew I was not adding up by consistent criticisms about aspects of my personality or physical appearance. 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 in some way, then I’d belong. Of course what I didn’t realize at the time, but see all too clearly now is 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 quite adding up, how would they be able to teach me?
So if this fear stems from not knowing how to belong, why then all the judgement? From my experiences with my caregivers growing up, 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 defence to keep each other at a distance so we couldn’t be seen as our authentic, vulnerable and hurt selves. The selves that felt like we aren’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.
And to make things worse, 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 past attempts to bond. So it became the undercurrent and foundation of all our unstable relationships. Built on fear of not belonging to something bigger, more supportive. Which is what I imagine we all wanted. And our negative judgements of each other swooped in to keep us from getting too close to one another for fear they would see our authentic “damaged” selves that had been tore down by ourselves and others so often. This was the cycle we were trapped in.
So if this was the legacy we had been handing down through the generations, and noone was feeling healthy, loved or supported, why haven’t we been able to go in a different direction and break the patterns? 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.
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 are able to trust. And when our trust is taken advantage of, that’s when our defenses kick in. There’s a line from an Iron and Wine song, “Sacred Vision” that fits this mindset, “forgiveness is fickle when trust is a chore”. In my situation it was being critical of others using judgements to distance myself from those I felt I couldn’t trust.
But this had the effect of breading distrust, with myself and with others. With myself because I would often turn that critical voice inward and tear myself down. With others in that I was keeping them at a distance so as not to get hurt. But they were still feeling the sting and affects of my critical judgements of them.
In order to let people get close, I had to feel the hurt I was avoiding by keeping others at a distance with harsh criticisms. 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. Everytime 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 anxiety and feeling overwhelmed.
And it takes patients with yourself, and 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 people I admire. People I didn’t actually know personally, so 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. As I’ve said above, I don’t know these people personally but 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. And the characteristics I want to use to build my relationships on and with. A firm and solid foundation based on support and caring interest, instead of harsh and critical judgements.
And with these new characteristics, I was then able to use them to build my values. Being loving support as one value and 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 on or creates a value.
But this is all new territory to me. And with this new and steep learning curve came a fair amount of fear and emotional rawness. With noone around to show me what were the types of characteristics that built lasting and sustainable values, I was adrift again. Floating wherever the current took me. But once I started to build these values by practicing these characteristics, I was then able to set anchor and build the strong foundations that would be able to support lasting relationships.
And with the mutually built foundations of my new relationships, 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. Emotion, understanding and forgiveness. All we had to build on in past relationships was a lot of alcohol and a few good times. What I’m finding now, building my relationships from my new set of values is that there is a greater amount of respect.
We appreciate the time and effort we’ve taken and 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 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. As opposed to finding out where we would 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 later. The examples are plentiful, but what remains is that 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.
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, or anything at all. Critical thoughts work in the same ways acid does, circulate in and around the bonds we try to build, leaving them weak and frail. By turning inward and realizing how weak and frail all of my bonds had become, I then understood how important it is to actively work towards healing these weakened bonds 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 question then is, “I’m afraid of what I might find in there.” Incase this is where you are, let me just say that there are no monsters lurking here. Only the parts of us that are badly in need of some love and support 🙂
And there’s another benefit of practicing the characteristics of love and support. You become stronger in the process, building stronger bonds within yourself. You may be checking in with a friend who has had a tough day at work, but caring enough about someone else’s well being, to check in on them is also a way of attuning to your own sense of empathy. You are strengthening your empathic abilities by checking in with how you’re feeling about your friend, and acting with kindness, is a way to practice being support.
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 their value as a source of love and support will outweigh any habit that may rub you the wrong way.
Turning from critically judgemental 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. 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 with 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.