Most people have multiple ways of judging themselves, and often that involves comparing themselves to others. Maybe you have a role-model in mind, a person you think has it all together. Maybe you choose the best of several other people to compare yourself to–the role model for your professional life is different than the person you look up to in your personal life, and the person you admire for her mothering skills may not be the same person you want to look like in a swimsuit.
Most people don’t consider themselves good enough. We’re not good enough at work, as a parent, or as a spouse. Our bodies don’t look good enough at a pool party and we aren’t pretty enough or successful enough at the high school reunion. We don’t have enough friends and we don’t have the right car.
Emotionally sensitive people are more likely to judge themselves harshly. We live life as if it were a competition.
Self-acceptance is difficult. Instead of accepting ourselves and others as we are, we search for criteria as to who is the best and who is better than average and who is not, as if there are rules in the universe about how to be valuable. In fact, most of the so-called criteria we use to judge ourselves are invalid, and in some cases, harmful.
The Purpose of Judging
Judging may be about figuring out how well we fit in. We all want to belong. Eons ago being a part of the tribe or clan was critical to survival and perhaps competition played a role in being valued by the group. But what we judge ourselves on now is likely not to be what really helps us belong.
Belonging is more about offering acceptance and caring to others than being the fastest runner or the skinniest or the smartest or the most successful. While many years ago we needed physical strength and speed to survive, in today’s world we often need emotional support and comfort.
While judging may come from the need to assure survival by fitting in, some people judge themselves so harshly it gets in the way of living their life. How does this happen? When you grow up being judged, you may internalize the judgements made of you. Linehan (1993) calls this the internalizing the invalidating environment.
When you live in an invalidating environment, you are told the way you feel is not right. Less desirable emotions such as sadness and anger are often not acceptable. You “shouldn’t” feel angry or sad and the reasons you believe led to those feelings are not accurate.
You might be told that you aren’t sad because you lost the election to student council, you’re just feeling sorry for yourself because you didn’t get what you wanted. Usually the reason for any difficult emotion or any problem is blamed on a character flaw. That flaw might be that you are selfish, lazy, crazy, bossy, or stupid. Or maybe that you are just like your no-good father who left the family years ago.
In addition, problems are seen as easy to solve. You should just get over whatever happened or move on or try harder. Grieving for losses is often not allowed. You don’t learn problem-solving skills or perhaps even the concept that issues can be resolved.
As an adult, you may internalize the judgments you heard as a child. You may believe that you have character flaws that cause the problems you experience and call yourself names when you are upset. You may believe that problem-solving is easy for everyone else and something is wrong with you that you can’t just be different than you are.
You may not even try to solve problems because you believe that you cannot or you haven’t learned the skills.
Perhaps you may make every effort to cut off your feelings because you see them as unacceptable. You may also cut off your feelings because you fear they will never go away. You may judge yourself for having feelings and may be afraid of your feelings as well.
When you judge yourself, you add to the difficult emotions you are experiencing and likely build thoughts of hopelessness and helplessness. Judgments often increase anxiety and depression.
In a future post, I’ll discuss letting go of judgments.
Note to Readers: I’ll be closing our second survey soon. Thanks to more than 1000 people who have responded.
Linehan, M. Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder. New York: The Guilford Press, 1993.
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Last reviewed: 7 Jul 2012