Being a Friend to Yourself Lets You Out of the Trap of Self-Judgement

Being a Friend to Yourself Lets You Out of the Trap of Self-Judgement
Photo by Aaron Burden / Unsplash

I realized I had made several unfortunate mistakes over the past several days. I’ve had a “cold” (random tiring non-COVID bug), and this diminished my attention for days and days.

I could still do a lot, but not as much. In this state, a lot of my self-regulation habits and structures simply fall off, and the results are no always good. A long-term client I had not heard from in years emailed me asking for help, and I missed her email amidst the pile-up of random emails that flood my inbox. Another long-lost client emailed me, and I missed her reply (among said pile-up).

Not only that, I completely ignored a message from my business partner, who I thought was on vacation. And for some reason, once I noticed it I semi-deliberately chose to refrain from replying to the message several times, waiting instead until our next call, at which point she was worried about me and wondered what was going on.

Some years ago, these types of upsetting mistakes might have thrown me into a maelstrom of self-doubt, fear, and survival mode panic. But even more than this, I might have been awash in harrowing self-judgement (shame).

To the degree that we are not raised in a healthy, great self-esteem way (and how many of us, in our culture, truly were, exactly?), self-judgement and shame is the response to making mistakes: An internalized “angry parent” who chides us in a desperate attempt to make us “just be better”.

As the saying goes, “The beatings will continue until morale improves.”

When the tendrils of self-judgement wind themselves into our cellular structure, it is hard to make a mistake without having them triggered and activated (I may be calling forth images from The Last of Us, if you have seen it; an infection is not a terrible metaphor here.)

We truly believe — as, perhaps, our parents did, or the culture, TV, teachers, whatever — that thinking bad thoughts about ourselves will somehow make us better people.

And in the most primitive, punitive sense possible, it may work: The pain of shame may make us alter our behavior. The trouble is, we lose ourselves completely. The trouble is, are living in fear or our own self-judgement, or the projected self-judgement of others. The trouble is, we are not fully human, free, and alive.

I regret my mistakes, and I must continue to self-analyze and see where those mistakes came from, how I can avoid them more in the future, and work with my own sense of diminishment or pain around having made them. (They obviously raise feelings of fear, because they threaten my wellness and survival. From a higher-order awareness, I can work with those with some compassion, instead of falling into the pit with them, and wrestling around amid the desperation.)

The amazing truth is this: To the degree that we can let go of judgement, our ability to self-correct actually gets better — but without the accompanying sense of “self-improvement” as another way to make ourselves feel wrong, small, or terrible.

I recognize that the very terms “self-improvement”, or even “self-correct” may raise legitimate sensations of wanting to protect yourself from yet another barrage of “needing to be perfect to make up for being imperfect” — shame, in other words.  However, the more you can extricate yourself from the self-judgement entirely, you can see it as a pure, objective thing: “I see that I did these actions; I would prefer not to do these actions; let me observe, and see how I what may be causing those things, and if there may be some things I could do to change that.”

The key is that we must always be in a place of self-love in order to rise above those self-judgements. Let me know if you’d like help with it.