The Pain of Self-Judgment + Finding Relief With Mindfulness

  Photo by Ben White via Unsplash

Photo by Ben White via Unsplash

Self-judgment.

I believe it’s one of most insidious forms of self-harm.

It’s such a crucial yet overlooked part of mental and emotional health. We often hear about the judgment we have towards others.

In fact, I hear this concern from many of my clients, “I want to be less judgmental of _______ (my husband, girlfriend, kids, parents, etc.).” And it’s very troublesome for the client because they know how harmful it is to them and the person it’s directed towards.

They just don’t know how to change it.

When I hear a client in judgment towards someone else, I turn it back around onto the client and ask, “what are you really judging within yourself?” If we’re constantly in judgment of others, then there’s a good chance that it’s stemming from judgment we have towards ourselves.

When we really begin to hone in on what self-judgment is and how often we engage in this unconscious behavior, we may be surprised by how much it impacts our day-to-day—mentally, emotionally, physically, and relationally.

For me it’s been a continual practice in staying mindful about the thoughts I have and the words I speak towards myself. This first step is honestly that simple.

Create mindfulness. Non-judgmentally observing yourself and your thoughts.

Many years ago I was a self-judgment junkie. This was unconscious for a very long time. When I began working with a therapist, she started to point out how much I was in judgment towards myself and others. I became very aware of how often I was berating and putting myself down. I was even judging my own judging!

I began to see how strongly my self-judgment was connected to my anxiety and depression. Over time, this low-level functioning of self-judgment became very depleting and exhausting.

Sometimes the ways in which I judged myself were more overt in nature than others. Other times it was ever so subtle. It’s not to say that I don’t still engage in self-judgment (we all do, that’s part of being human) but there was a time where it was much more chronic for me and I had to learn how to compassionately change that behavior. For the sake of my health and happiness.

So, where self-judgment stem from?

We develop these “tapes” in the mind often times during our childhood. The things we heard from our parents, caregivers, and others around us become ingrained in our thinking. These recorded messages can be spoken and unspoken—positive or negative.

Soon, we integrate these messages so much so that we begin to repeat them back to ourselves—mostly unconsciously. They become a lens for how we view ourselves and the world around us.

With my personal therapeutic work, I began to connect the dots between what I heard growing up and the way in which I spoke to myself. The more aware I became the more I noticed how often it was occurring in the present moment. Thus perpetuating my sense of anxiety and depression.

As simple as it may sound it took building those awareness muscles, which would alert me of a judgmental thought passing through my mind, to begin healing this behavior. I would catch myself judging myself and then redirect the thought in a more compassionate way. I would apologize to myself for being so hard on myself and then find a response with more loving kindness to replace the judgmental thought with.

For example:

If I got behind on my work I would maybe say something in judgment to myself like, “God, why can’t you get stuff done on time? Why do you wait last minute? Your client is going to be so upset and never want to work with you again.”

I would feed into that thought process and it would increase my sense of anxiety and shame.

Instead, I can pause and notice my own self-judgment. I could stop the mental chatter and say, “Wow, I’m being really hard on myself! Where is this coming from? Oh yeah, I like to do things “perfectly”. But I’m an imperfect human being and it’s okay if I’m running behind. I’ve had a lot on my plate. Maybe I can ask my client for more time. I’m sure they would understand.”

The latter mental dialogue is much more compassionate, understanding, and balanced.

Just the awareness alone of a judgmental thought is healing and potent in itself. We become disengaged from the power our own of judgment.

Another good indicator that we’re in judgment is if we’re using the word “should”. Should implies that we’re doing something wrong. It’s a black and white statement. Judgment is a polarized behavior in of itself—it’s right or wrong.

This practice of cultivating self-compassion takes time, consistency, and self-love. Soon I began to notice I was in judgment of myself much less. In turn, I was judging others a lot less too. And when I would catch myself judging others then that was a good indicator that I was judging myself too.

When we build our mindfulness skills and choose to control the way in which we think our thoughts this in turn can have deep healing benefits. Less anxiety, depression, a sense of being present, a deep sense of self-love, and more.

I believe mindfulness is the core skill to healing emotionally, physically, and mentally. Especially healing self-judgment.

Here is one simple exercise you can practice to help decrease self-judgment:

1. Notice the judgmental thought. The easiest way to do this is to become aware of your own “warning” signals. Maybe you’re using the word “should” in your internal dialogue. Maybe it’s a physical or emotional sense of anxiety, panic, or urgency. Or maybe it’s simply negative self-talk.

2. Take one minute to STOP and breathe. This is important! Disengage from your judgment. Begin to just notice your breathing. Or you can alter the breath by inhaling for the count of six and exhaling for the count of six.

3. Once you feel your nervous system calming down, begin to replace the judgmental thought with a loving one. Speak to yourself like you would speak to a child. Be loving, compassionate, and patient with yourself.

4. Notice any shifts or changes between how you felt in judgment and how you’re feeling in mindful, loving kindness.

5. Practice. Again and again.