“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” - Carl Jung
Judgment and fear have a tendency to hold you back from living a rich and meaningful life that is based on your true values and establishing harmony in relationships. There is often a high price to pay for living in a mental and emotional place of judgment and fear. This price may take the form of avoiding relationships with others, challenging mental or physical pursuits, and even discovering your true identity. In many ways, judgment and fear can function as self-protective defense mechanisms that keep the conscious mind from discovering truths that the self believes to be painful or unbearable. No matter what lies within one’s core identity, it is often the suppression or repression of self-knowledge that ultimately results in greater suffering.
It is possible to let go of judgment and fear in your life, no matter how deeply ingrained it may have become or how convincing your mind may be in its staunch attachments to false beliefs. From the perspective of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), a mindfulness-based behavioral therapy, the mind is neither a “friend” nor an “enemy.” The mind is simply doing what minds do: producing thoughts. The choice lies in how much credence you are willing to give those thoughts. Simply having a thought – however deeply ingrained or repetitive – does not necessarily mean that thought is a fact. It is simply a thought produced by your mind. You are the one who interprets and assigns meaning to that thought.
Strategies for Releasing Judgment & Fear
If you notice a pattern of judgment and fear in your life that you are now willing to change, consider applying the following five ways of letting go of that judgment and fear. You have the choice to begin to release negativity at any moment. While these strategies may be “simple,” they are not always “easy.” If you notice that the benefits of releasing judgment and fear outweigh the costs of holding on, the decision to make authentic changes will become easier and easier. One step at a time.
Learning to become mindful of your thoughts in the moment is a crucial step toward the ultimate release of judgmental and fearful thoughts. When you are unaware of how your thoughts may be impacting your emotions, bodily sensations, and interactions with other people, it is quite difficult to let fearful thoughts go. You can apply mindfulness to your experience with judgment and fear by actively directing your attention toward such thoughts as they arise, noticing they are thoughts created by your mind – not necessarily “facts.” When judgments arise in consciousness, try labeling them as just that: “judgments.” Allow yourself to have such thoughts without acting on them impulsively; observe them, accept them in the moment, and let them go.
(2) Reframe the Judgment in Terms of Consequences
When you are more mindfully aware of judgmental thoughts in the present moment, take a step back to examine the true meaning of those judgments. Notice what potential consequences (without spiraling into catastrophic or dichotomous thinking) may occur as a result of what you or another person is doing. Often, judgmental thoughts spring from a deep fear of what “might happen” if you or someone else engaged (or did not engage) in a particular action. Try stating realistic consequences, combined with your emotional experience, as opposed to allowing the process to end in a knee-jerk reaction of “good” or “bad.” For example, “He just did something really cruel. It resulted in me feeling shocked and hurt.”
(3) Reframe the Judgment in Terms of Goals or Gratitude for Others
Another way of actively reframing judgmental thoughts is to look at the potential ways that you can grow in positive ways as a result of understanding your judgmental thinking or how judgmental thoughts can lead you to a place of deeper appreciation of others. For example, perhaps you mindfully notice your mind developing a judgmental thought such as, “She always looks so great and has it all put together. I’m such a mess in comparison.” Rather than allowing the thought process to end here and potentially result in distress or unnecessary suffering, take it a step further. Reframe the judgmental thought as, “She seems to really take the time to put herself together and present herself well. I admire that and would like to learn how to do that for myself.”
(4) Actively Look for Exceptions & What is Going Unnoticed
We all have a complex and delicate variety of strengths and weaknesses that are the result of many factors and interactions between those factors (e.g., biology, temperament, personality, attachment style, environment, cognitive factors). Our judgments about “how” other people “are” often tend to be skewed, as we can never be fully aware of the intricate process by which another person has journeyed to their current place in life. When judgments are made in terms of comparisons with others, they are often superficial and done in ways that overly focus on the perceived “strengths” of the other person and the perceived “weaknesses” of the self. There is often a paucity of attention given to the big picture and a hyperfocus on dichotomous thinking. Actively look for the bigger picture, for what you are missing/not noticing, and for exceptions. For example, perhaps you have the thought, “I always screw up on these tests. Other people just ‘get it,’ and I don’t.” Instead of proceeding down this dark tunnel and getting stuck in an emotional rut, step back. Notice times in the past when you have done well, if you happened to be ill or distracted that day, or if your perceptions of others’ performance is just maybe a bit off.
(5) Apply Validation
Judgmental and fearful thinking often serves to actively invalidate yourself or others in some way. Judgments are essentially thoughts that say, “I am/others are [negative quality] because of [behavior/perceived weakness].” If you find yourself engaging in judgmental thoughts toward yourself or others, notice ways in which you can release those judgments by transforming them into validating statements. For example, if you find yourself engaging in thoughts such as, “I’m such a failure,” transform that thought with self-validation by thinking or stating aloud, “Progress and change take time and practice. I choose to be patient and direct compassion toward myself right now.”
By taking a mindful and compassionate approach toward your internal experience – and all of the mental chatter that goes along with it – you are allowing yourself the opportunity to develop a different relationship with the contents of your mind. If you find yourself prone to bouts of judgment (of self and/or others) or fear, consider how willing you are to take active steps towards letting them go. Reflect on the protective function that judgment and fear may have served in your life. Notice ways in which you may have been held back from expressing your true self due to judgment and fear. It is possible to let go of judgment and fear… you can make the choice in this moment to practice a new way of relating to yourself, others, and the world.
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Hall, K. (2012). Letting Go of Judgments. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 10, 2012, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/emotionally-sensitive/2012/07/letting-go-of-judgments/
Featured image: Judgmental Cat Judges by quixado / CC BY-ND 2.0