"I'm such a jerk. How could I have said that?"
"I'm a loser. I'll never get anywhere."
"I'm so stupid. I should have learned this by now."
"I don't fit in. I don't belong with these people."
"I'll never be good enough. I'll never do it right."
"I'm permanently emotionally damaged. I'll never be okay."
"No one could love me. I'm not lovable."
... and on and on.
Are you aware of your self-judgments? Are you aware of how often you judge yourself as bad, wrong or inadequate? Are you aware of how you end up feeling as a result of your self-judgments?
In my counseling work with people, I find that self-judgment is one of the major causes of fear, anger, anxiety, depression, guilt and shame. Yet most people don't realize that these painful feelings are the result of their own thoughts, their own self-judgments. Most of the time, when I ask an anxious client why they are feeling anxious, they tell me that it's because of something that happened to them. They usually believe that an event or a person caused their anxiety. Yet when I ask them what they are thinking that might be causing their anxiety, they will tell me a self-judgment such as, "I'll never get this right," or they are projecting their own judgment onto me and telling themselves, "Margaret doesn't like me," or "Margaret is getting impatient with me." When they judge themselves or make up that I'm judging them, they get anxious. There is nothing actually happening that is causing their anxiety, other than their own thoughts.
Pointing out to them that they are causing their anxiety with their self-judgment doesn't necessarily stop the judgment. This is because self-judgment is often an addiction. An addiction is a habitual behavior that is intended to protect against pain. What is the pain that self-judgment is intended to protect against?
Generally, the hope of self-judgment is to protect against rejection and failure. The false beliefs are that, "If I judge myself, then others won't judge me and reject me. I can be safe from others' judgment by judging myself first," or "If I judge myself, I can motivate myself to do things right and succeed. Then I will feel safe and be loved and accepted by others."
However, just as a child does far better in school with encouragement than with criticism, so do we as adults. Criticism tends to scare and immobilize us. Instead of motivating us, it often creates so much anxiety that we get frozen and become unable to take appropriate action for ourselves. More self-judgment follows the lack of action, which results in more anxiety and immobilization, until we create a situation where we are completely stuck and miserable.
The way out of this is to practice becoming aware of the feelings of fear, anxiety, anger, depression, guilt or shame, and then asking yourself, "What did I just tell myself that is creating this feeling?" Once you become aware of the self-judgment, you can then ask yourself, "Am I certain that what I am telling myself is true?" If you are not 100 percent certain that what you are telling yourself is true, you can ask your inner wise self or a spiritual source of wisdom, "What is the truth?" If you are really open to learning about the truth, the truth will pop into your mind, and it will be much different than what you have been telling yourself.
For example, "I'm such a jerk. How could I have said that?" becomes "We all mess up at times. It's okay to make mistakes -- it's part of being human. Making a mistake does not mean you are a jerk." When we open to the truth, we will discover a kind and compassionate way of speaking to ourselves, a way that makes us feel loved and safe, rather than anxious, angry, depressed, guilty or shamed.
Addictions are always challenging to resolve, and an addiction to self-judgment is no exception. So be easy on yourself, and don't judge yourself for judging yourself! It will take time and dedication to become aware of your self-judgments and learn to be kind toward yourself, but the end result is so worth the effort!
Join Dr. Margaret Paul for her 30-Day at-home Course: "Love Yourself: An Inner Bonding Experience to Heal Anxiety, Depression, Shame, Addictions and Relationships."
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