The most dreadful time of the year is finally upon you, when you get together with those people you judge the most in the world, so that you could mentally bitch about all their obnoxious quirks while chewing your turkey to death.
You don't mean to judge, of course. You're a good person. More than a good person, actually. Normally you are generous, kind, self-aware, open-minded, and capable of taking the high road whenever the situation calls for it. But with this handful of particularly difficult ones...Sheesh!
Whenever you see these people, storms gather and emotions fly. The torrid hateful energy they trigger in you surprises yourself. You didn't even know you were able to harbor so much negative feeling towards someone.
You've tried everything. You mediated, cleansed, and psychoanalyzed. You've reprimanded yourself for being judgmental. (But hey, they should have behaved better!) You've tried to accept their flaws, be forgiving, and keep a smiling face. You've even stopped yourself, using sheer will power, from spitting out any critical words. But deep down, you know that none of those tricks have worked. Because even when there's no outright war at the dinner table, there's a violent battle inside. And you're always just a salt bottle away from either breaking your own head or theirs.
Ah, if only people could stop being annoying so that you could get back to being your best self!
Unfortunately, you know they never will.
And since you've tried the rest, how about now try the best? If you find yourself tired of keeping peace with temporary fixes, it may be a sign that you're ready for the real solution. So here you go...
1. Your judgment is never about others.
It's always about you. Have you ever wondered why with some people you could never stop pushing each other's buttons, while both of you could get along with everyone else just fine? Everybody has our own set of "buttons". And yours is completely custom-made just for you. You will never be able to judge something that's not already in you. In other words, whatever you judge in others are simply the issues that haven't been resolved within yourself. For example, I have zero patience for people who behave like a pushover. Whenever I see someone act wishy-washy or have trouble saying no, I get so mad that I'd totally set a fire on their butt. (To keep yourself safe from people like me, make sure you always wear NASA-approved, nonflammable clothing.) Although on surface I'm annoyed with someone else, the heart of the matter is that the person reminds me of how disempowered and let-down I feel whenever I fail to stand up for myself. Ultimately, whatever you judge in others is only a mirror of what you haven't been able to accept within yourself.
2. Your judgment is never the problem.
Embrace it. Don't fight it. It's natural to want to get rid of your negative judgments. After all, they make you feel uncomfortable. They make everyone uncomfortable. Most spiritual teachings try to make you believe that judgment is bad and the more you judge, it means the less spiritually evolved you are. That couldn't be farther away from the truth. Rather than being the sort of moral scorecard you use to rate yourself against some hypothetical enlightened perfection, judgment shows up to shed light on the parts within you that still need your loving attention and acceptance. Be thankful to your judgments. Because they illuminate a path for you towards more personal freedom and harmony. Whenever you find yourself being critical of someone, be curious. Hold your judgment in gentle neutrality. And ask yourself: What is the judgment trying to tell me? Which part of me needs more love and acceptance right now?
3. The ultimate solution to any relationship conflict starts with loving yourself.
Any relationship conflict ultimately boils down to this: the dynamics of the relationship somehow makes at least one person feel unloved and/or disrespected. It may seem that this is something you need to resolve with the other person. But the truth is that your external relationships are always a reflection of your relationship with yourself. The parts of you that you reject, abandon and avoid are bound to show up as disharmonies with others, sometimes repeatedly, until you finally realize that the disharmonies are just your soul's way to tell you which part of you needs more love. When you deepen your love and respect for all of who you are, even for those parts of you that were previously deemed as shameful and unloveable, other people's actions will trigger you less, and you won't be so quick to interpret others' behaviors as unloving or disrespectful. On the other hand, when your love for yourself deepens, you'd find that the population of annoying people dramatically decreases on earth.
Try as you may, there's no such thing as too much self love. Unlike your appetite for pumpkin pies, love is not something you can ever reach the limit of, and you may always discover within yourself the capacity for more. The more expansive your self love is, the deeper and more meaningful a connection you'd be able to have with your loved ones. When you cultivate more love within yourself, everyone benefits and all your relationships improve effortlessly, without you deliberately trying to change anyone's behavior, including your own. This is the best holiday gift you can give to the world, with the side benefit that it doesn't require a trip to the Walmart.
Natasha Che is a personal growth teacher and writer living in Washington DC. She writes about relationship, career, spirituality and creative process on natashache.com, where you can sign up to receive monthly inspirations. Natasha is working on a memoir titled Wizardry: One Woman's Quest for Meaning, Mission, and Magic.