Releasing Judgment...of Yourself

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I’m sure you’ve heard the spiritual trope — let go of what no longer serves you

But does that actually mean anything to you? Do you really have any idea what it would feel like to loosen that toxic grip? Let alone what is involved in such a letting go?

This is what I like to call a doily phrase. Looks nice and gives the impression of spirituality, but that may be all that it can offer...until you’ve truly lived this experience of shedding.

The truth is that there’s a reason we don’t let go of what no longer serves us and it’s not because no one ever told us to do it. It’s because we like our patterns, habits, and the familiar neuroplastic grooves of our addiction to being a victim. There’s a certain kind of power in this victimhood. And because of that, we hold onto what is holding us hostage. We choose it, and choose it again.

So change — aka letting go — only comes when the intention to claim the freedom that is our birthright becomes stronger and more foregrounded than the reflexive recoil into the (illusory) safety of the old self.

This old self is running on one specific program — you’re not good enough. It’s a program that we adopted early in life because we were loved conditionally, but now we are the ones perpetuating that bait-and-switch love. 

As Don Miguel Ruiz Jr describes in his lectures and writings, we are the only animals who self-domesticate. This means that because of early life shaming and guilting, we learned but now retain the programs that are instilled by those unconscious caregiver habits (eat all of your food because other little kids are starving!) long after the trauma of childhood is in the past. We maintain that. And it keeps us from knowing our full selves, meeting our own needs, and loving ourselves and others unconditionally. 

Are you hard on yourself?

I remember the third time I heard someone I trusted say to me, “Kelly, you’re so hard on yourself.” The first two times, I thought, no I’m not...what are you talking about?! It’s all good...I actually really like myself! The third time, I decided to explore what I was being told.

Could it possibly mean that I only like the parts of myself that I present to the world? That I am an expert curator of my personhood, suppressing and repressing the parts that are “bad” or “unlovable” or “unspecial?” Could it mean that I feel okay only when I have exercised a measure of discipline, productivity, and the meeting of others’ needs that matched up with my to-do list for a given day? Could it be related to why I haven’t let myself sleep past 5:30am in four years? Or why I have never taken a sick day from work? In. My. Life.  Could this have anything to do with how I feel frustrated and disappointed by the people in my life, regularly? That I live in a world where I experience a sense of profound isolation and otherness — a kind of terminal uniqueness? And that there seems to be a never ending darkness out there that makes life feel hopeless?

It began to click. 

I live in a world of judgment. Not only do I live in a world governed by these notions of bad, good enough, better, best, but the plot twist is that I am the most powerful purveyor of this assessment...of myself...as I live under the delusion that it is others who warrant my critical eye. The most challenging news is that my entire personality is seemingly built around the cloaking of this judgment in humor. I am self-deprecating, other deprecating, and generally snarky and sarcastic. And who would I be if not for that? Wouldn’t I be boring and just “nice?” Ugh. No thanks.

But it could be worth it to find out who I’d be without judgment if it meant I could finally feel free. Because this is really about ending the habit of fighting. Fighting with others, fighting the system, fighting bad germs, fighting myself. I learned this at a breaking point in my pharmaceutical activism when it became clear that I — like a pharmaceutical! — was perpetuating the war I thought I was fighting to end. 

Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. — Friedrich Nietzsche 

This is what a growth edge feels like — when you touch what it would be like to be you without being you. You feel the head-shaking, palms up, No! resistance and also the irresistible, magnetic pull towards your essential self. 

And that’s what change feels like. It feels like the discomfort of an inevitability, only what results is exactly what you’ve always wanted, not what you’ve been dreading, avoiding, and bracing against. 

Is there really good and bad?

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. (Matthew 7:1-2)

Far from a biblical scholar, I like to imagine that this sentiment was an early harbinger of the quantum dynamics we are now learning about — the self-generating and propagating, holofractal experience of energetic resonance and the potential for multiple simultaneously unfolding realities.

One of the challenges with judgment is that it assumes only one reality — yours. It is a black and white metric based on what feels good and bad to you which is based on your preferences, beliefs, and habits, which are based on experiences that happened decades ago. Judgment of others does not take into account — as my friend Charles Eisenstein encourages — the totality of lived experiences that lead a given individual to a choice or decision. He invites us to consider that we would make the exact same choice if we had the cumulative storehouse of wounds, programs, circumstances, and even inter-lifetime karma that crystalizes in a single moment of behavior. If we were them, we would do as them.

Well that makes it nearly impossible to call anyone wrong or bad even if their behavior invite condemnation.

When we release others from our expectations — to treat us a certain way, to take care of themselves sufficiently, to comply — we liberate them, and ourselves to simply be okay as we are, first and foremost.

Another nuance of the good and bad world is that if there’s good, then there’s better! Many of us hold ourselves to standards of self-betterment that can end up feeling like we are never there...we’ve never arrived...with the implicit message being that we are not already good enough. The same message that we’ve been trying to outrun since childhood, just now it has a self-help cloak. So if there is only what is — there is only “okay-ness” — then we can experiment with a feeling of self-acceptance even if we never grow, change, or heal one more iota than we already are.

Is there ever a time to judge?

But what about when it’s really not okay?

When we have done something really not okay, we can still first accept and take responsibility for the fact that we have made a choice (own it), then we can promptly forgive ourselves, and only then can we get to the business of reparations. When someone else has done something not okay, we can hold them accountable, declare our perspective (after we have attended to our childself), choose to end a relationship, and even seek justice, however, to do so from a deeper understanding that they lived in a reality that manifested this choice as the one that made the most sense to them at that moment, frees us to make decisions from our adult consciousness rather than from our reactive wounds. 

From this perspective, the age-old dichotomy of good and bad develops nuance. Good and bad become simply polarities, or parts in the theater of life as Neale Donald Walsch depicts in his important children’s book, The Little Soul and the Sun, where we choose to incarnate in order to feel human experiences like forgiveness and acceptance and compassion but someone needs to play the role of perpetrator, violator, and aggressor in order to create the conditions for this transformative experience.

Psychiatry: the good-ing and bad-ing machine

Our parents may have done a number on us when it comes to the message that we are only lovable if we behave in ways that make them feel okay, but there is a meta-enforcer of the good and bad metric that is called Psychiatry.

One of the many (unintended?) consequences of Psychiatric labels, treatments, and associated messaging is that we can blame all sorts of decisions, behaviors, and choices on (fictitious) diseases rather than owning the elements of the experience as a part of who we are. Because of Psychiatry, millions of people understand themselves to be fundamentally sick, broken, and damaged in irreparable ways. And millions of others write off and dismiss those who are Psychiatrically diagnosed saying things like, “he’s really mentally ill.” Once that othering is accomplished (he’s other than me), we don’t have to imagine why he’s like that or what it is in his life experience that makes him express this way...we simply dehumanize and reduce him to a sickness. This robs us of the opportunity to understand that we are all connected, and perpetuates the energy of othering which fundamentally hurts and consumes precious energetic resources because we are all connected. And Psychiatry is, itself, a manifestation of the judgment we each bring upon ourselves — it reflects that to us in that we created it, we participate in it, AND now we are offered an opportunity to say yes or no to what it represents, because we know better.

This is why the first thing I ask patients to commit to is speaking from a voice of self-ownership, choice, radical responsibility, and okay-ness. I ask them to relinquish their identity as victims of their genes, their serotonin, and their labels and step boldly on to the stage of their own performance. 

5 Tips for releasing judgment...for you, for them, for us:

1. Don’t say anything that you wouldn’t say to someone directly

In today’s high-surveillance cultural climate, there’s something cleansing about the fact that all of our digital communications are co-opted and public, and that we could be recorded or tapped through our cell phones at any time. The light of that shadow is accountability. We are seeing it in the #metoo movement and the ways in which men in power are being exposed through digital proof of their behaviors and choices. SO, what if you engaged a commitment to only say (or write, or text) things about others that you would say to their faces. Through this commitment you’ll learn how much of a currency judgment is in your life, pretty quickly. And you’ll also learn that you are still you, even without it. 

2. Reframe with compassion

Can you reach for some possible explanation for another’s behavior? Is it possible they were doing the only thing they knew to do in that situation? Can their behavior be reprehensible without their being a “bad person?” In psychology, this is referred to as holding the good and bad object simultaneously, and it is considered an advanced adult skill. Reframe their behavior through a lens of release — let them be the person they are even if you don’t like it and even if it hurt you. This, in turn, contributes to a reality in which you can let yourself be who you are, even if you don’t like it at a given moment. 

Byron Katie refers to something she calls the Turnaround and it essentially is an interrogative device wherein any judgment you’re dishing out (she’s so entitled and cold), you turn around and personalize (I’m so entitled and cold) to assess whether there might be aaaaaany truth in it, thereby rendering a black and white situation a bit grey.

3. Check the need to be right and control others’ experiences 

Being right! It feels so good...for a little bit. Then it feels, invariably, anticlimactic and even isolating. Being right is the same as being other. Being apart. And our soul’s longing is for reunion with the whole. If you can work to embrace the possibility that even if you’re 100% right, you still don’t want to live in a world where there is right and wrong, blame, and badness, then you will invite into the glow of your heart all of the parts of you that have ever been bad, wrong, or blame-worthy. You will finally have the opportunity to know your whole self and to feel that radical acceptance. It’s not achievable through any other means. 

4. Catch your inner attorney before you hit the stand

I know that my self-judgment is surreptitiously at work when I begin to rationalize and justify my choice. It’s as if I am rehearsing my defense for when it is called upon. Typically this involves a story about how someone has wronged me and how and why my decision is warranted. Sniff this out and recognize it as the protestations of your inner child. Tell her it’s okay and that she is loved no matter what, even if others don’t show you love in a way that you recognize.

5. Act from self-love and acceptance

Reactivity (re-activity as in old patterns resurfacing in the here and now) and shadow material feel like an emergency. They feel like burning in the chest, racing of the heart, and they demand attention. Now. Reactivity is an old program that worked for a good long while. And it’s one you can own, and choose differently around. When you’re feeling triggered, you can turn towards your childself, tell her it’s okay, feel that okay-ness with the not okay-ness, and then act from that place of stability. When you act and respond from self-love, it’s vulnerable but strong. It sounds like, “I know myself, and this isn’t going to work for me.” There’s no fight. There’s no aggressor. It’s a clear No that is simultaneously a Yes to yourself (and also to this other’s higher self!). There’s no pattern replayed. It’s calm, neutral, and strong, and that’s the way you serve yourself, meet your needs, and release others from their own toxic dynamics of looking outside themselves for fulfillment. 

Releasing judgment is a radical act. It also still allows for discernment. Discernment is choice. It is listening to your body’s quiet yes or no — not the Hell no! Go eff yourself! No, but the clear, calm, that’s not gonna work for me No. And, I believe that we might need some help incubating this new way of being. This adult consciousness. This true sovereignty. And that there has never been a more important time for us to resist the socially engineered bait of divisiveness, and to retain our power for creative expansion.

That’s why I’ve turned my advocacies towards group work and community — because beliefs are held as a field, by a collective. And if it feels true to you that adversity is an opportunity to learn more about your whole self, grow, and heal rather than a bad thing that randomly happens and needs to be managed, contained, and avoided, then you deserve to have people around you who share that belief and can hold it at times when you falter.

You deserve to feel hope, empowerment, and to have access to the mystery of this human experience. Because I’m pretty sure it’s not captured by the good-guys-beating-the-bad-guys, end-of-scene sentiment we’ve all been enculturated around. There’s, quite simply, a more beautiful experience if we have the audacity to open to receive it.

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About Dr. Kelly Brogan

KELLY BROGAN, MD, is a holistic psychiatrist, author of the New York Times Bestselling book, A Mind of Your OwnOwn Your Self, the children’s book, A Time For Rain, and co-editor of the landmark textbook Integrative Therapies for Depression. She is the founder of the online healing program Vital Mind Reset, and the membership community, Vital Life Project. She completed her psychiatric training and fellowship at NYU Medical Center after graduating from Cornell University Medical College, and has a B.S. from M.I.T. in Systems Neuroscience. She is specialized in a root-cause resolution approach to psychiatric syndromes and symptoms. Learn More