Have you ever been unfairly labeled by someone? Called out unexpected? Told you needed to change? As we explore these topics for today’s #GoddessingSelfCare post, I will be using a series of questions which can serve as a quick reference for evaluating situations in which you feel triggered by someone’s interaction with you. I will be returning to this topic in a future post as well to investigate how to engage in self-care for ourselves when we experience failure and setbacks.
Processing Judgment from Others
Judgment as I will be discussing it here refers to verbal and non-verbal communication from others expressing disagreement directed at self, criticism, disapproval or negative feedback. Judgment can be a direct conduit to shame, especially if we are not rock-solid in our inner relationship with Self. In order to best approach the nuances of judgment in a way that caretakes the vulnerable pieces of who we are, I believe we do well to study the nature of the communication, as well as its intention and true target.
To What Extent Was the Judgment Invited?
It is vital to have at least one person in your life with whom you feel safe enough to have an honest and open relationship. This includes, to me, knowing that you can ask the person to give you feedback, even if it isn’t the easiest thing to hear, and trusting that they will tell you their opinion as directly as possible. We can be lured into a false sense of security by “yes” people in our lives—those who concern themselves solely with ingratiating themselves to us by flattering us no matter our actions. If we allow these types of relationships and behaviors to flourish, the hard truths still tend to make themselves known, but it can become much more difficult for us to accept them. I’d rather get a sense from a loving and caring friend that maybe something has more flaws than I’m seeing rather than to only discover the defects after a lot has been invested and after there is much I stand to lose. All this to say, I think it is good to invite constructive criticism into our lives, and to open to it as one data point, one person’s opinion, when it is shared.
It can be an entirely different affair to receive unsolicited advice or criticism. When this occurs, I believe we do well to consider the questions below such as the person’s intention. We can also take our own boundaries into account. Did we in any way indicate that critical advice-giving, especially if it is repeated or intense, is unwelcome? If not, perhaps all that is needed to let the person know how we feel. One of the most useful questions I’ve ever been asked and have asked of others is “How can I best be here for you in this?” By doing so, I am prohibiting myself from seeing advice-giving or “tough love” as necessary or welcome when a person is relating a struggle unless I am explicitly told such. It is also important to consider the extent to which we feel safe in the relationship. Can we tell the person that what they said didn’t sit well with us and have that be received, or will it trigger a defense reaction? If the other person gives harsh advice often, fails to heed boundaries or requests to stop, and is unreceptive to feedback, I am very likely to curtail the extent to which I express vulnerability with that person and/or to have a go-to response such as “oh, I may look into that” if they continue their behavior in a setting in which I cannot fully disengage.
What Is the Intention Is Behind the Judgment?
Is the person being spiteful/jealous, or, are they trying, in their own way, to give constructive criticism? I believe we owe it to the parts of ourselves who are vulnerable and fragile to stand unyielding against judgment that is coming from an unhealthy place. Even if it is in relation to an area on which we know we need to work, we do not need to be led there by our noses by someone who wishes us ill. It can of course be very difficult to discern someone’s intention, as many times the person offering feedback from a less-than-supportive mindset will go out of their way to act as though what they are saying is in fact a kindess. Here, I think our gut is our best reference point; I think most of us have relatively accurate radar for sniffing out communication which, at its heart, strives to undermine us in order to elevate the one giving it.
A shade of intention to me is also the framework in which the information is couched. Is the person sharing it as “hey, this is what I think” or is it “hey, this is how it is, full stop?” I make very little room in my head for people who think they know the Truth about anything, and especially about intimate aspects of who I am as a person. In addition, when we assess a thought, feeling or behavior that another individual is having as right/wrong and fail to link our belief to a social norm, we are basically playing God/dess in our evaluation of ourselves and others. I often stop when someone makes this type of all-knowing remark and reply in a way that redirects their focus back to themselves and to the fact that they are the one who is holding a norm or belief. With the obvious exception of the legal system, we get to decide if any particular passage from another’s Book of Things Everyone Should and Shouldn’t Do is interesting, relevant or important to us as an individual. If I determine I’m being judged by a moral system to which I do not ascribe and with which I disagree, I state such as plainly as I can—“I know this matters to you because you believe in X, but I don’t follow this religion/philosophy/generally restrictive way of living, so I don’t see it the same way. Here’s how I conceptualize it..” I do this more for my own benefit than the other person—it is actually a way of drawing a line in the sand and refusing to internalize someone else’s system of belief. The other person will likely walk away thinking I am unworthy or doomed, but I am left with my dignity intact.
To Whom or What Does the Judgment Really Refer?
When we feel judged by someone, it is up to us to first determine if we want to look at the issue in question based on factors such as the person’s intention. If we decide it is worth pursuing, I believe it is also incumbent on us to sit with the judgment and find the nugget of truth it contains. To a large extent, someone’s critique of us reveals more about them than it does about us, as it shows us what preferences they have and the assumptions they make about others. They may be projecting their needs and desires that hide in their shadow onto us. If, after processing the information, we find there is a behavior in which we’ve engaged that is worth addressing, we also have freedom in terms of the extent to which we allow the person who shared the judgment into our journey of “fixing” the issue. The more I’ve stewed on this, the more I’ve realized I hit on a truth I wish I’d known a long time ago—even if someone sees something in us we’d dislike or struggle to own, we don’t owe them our story or our process. We may learn from our experience with them without their knowledge.
It is also worth considering whether what we perceive as a judgment is in fact a boundary violation. By this, I am referencing whether the behavior in question is our own to address, or whether we have in fact overstepped our welcome. If what feels stifling from another is their “no,” we need to stop ourselves and discern whether we proceeded without an invitation or in another way broke trust. I am very sensitive to people’s boundaries, so it doesn’t tend to go well for me if someone hints that I’ve crossed them, but I’m learning to sit with my discomfort and press through it to learn how to more fully navigate close relationships. It is easy to experience a boundary being established as a rejection of the entirety of who we are, but I view it (in my best moments) as the person honoring both their own needs and my needs by letting me know how close is comfortable for them.
Self-Care for Sensitive Wounds
When we are in a situation where we’ve felt criticized, I believe we have a responsibility to ourselves to explore the self and relationship dynamics involved. Solely focusing on making ourselves feel better may leave many pages unwritten in our life story. At the same time, we do not need to analyze the situation ad nauseum or deny our little selves feelings of comfort, understanding and protection. In the immediate aftermath of a difficult interaction, the following behaviors may be helpful:
- Express your thoughts and feelings before you focus on the behavioral aspect (confession: I skip this way too much!). This may take the form of artwork, poetry, dance—any kind of creative action that is less focused on fixing and more focused on being. It could also include a conversation with a trusted friend. What would it feel like to talk about the way the feelings you are having are sitting in your body, instead of how unfair it was when she said…?
- Seek and be present with nature. Engaging in mindfulness in a natural setting, without an expectation of immediate change, may help to release the tension you are feeling.
- Care for your physical being. This includes exercise, healthy eating, good hygiene and adequate sleep, all of which can be especially challenging if you are dealing with other physical ailments or mental health concerns. To whatever extent it is within our power to control, I think showing care to our physical bodies is a form of self-respect, which may be particularly important if we feel disrespected in another arena of life.
Very few people revel in hearing about what they are not doing well at and how they should do better. As a result, we are wise to be discreet and selective in our constructive criticism that we offer each other. Deep, trusting relationships allow for a healthy exchange of concerns as well as boundary-setting in a manner that does not reek of blaming and shaming. With time, practice and dedication, this type of relationship can be achieved, and we can learn to allow unsolicited, harsh, ill-intentioned projections to fall at our feet, un-sniffed and un-absorbed.