There is a five-year-old named Kara in my life who makes incredibly astute observations about how the world judges people. She recently watched a G-rated reality family program on YouTube and decided to make her own version about building a Minecraft world. An entrepreneur at five, yes, she will clearly be building a tech empire in the future.
Her mother filmed Kara’s first attempt at a video posting. About halfway through filming, she looked back at the camera with a disgusted look and screamed, “DELETE!” When her mother inquired why, Kara said very matter-of-factly, “People will give that video a thumbs down, I messed up my words!”
Kara stumbled on one of the most important realizations in life, that we are afraid to be judged negatively. Everyone is afraid of this, no one is immune. There is always someone from whom we seek approval or from whom we would hate a negative review. Maybe it’s a mentor, teacher, boss, friend, relative, or spouse who we particularly want to see us in a good light, or maybe we fear judgement on a much grander scale.
In my office, I work with artists, comedians, and performers who comment about the difficult reviews they have received from critics and even fans of their work. One of them commented, “I can’t believe anyone would say something so mean! I doubt they would ever say what they wrote in their online review to my face.” She’s probably right. Being a bully on the internet is a lot easier than going up to someone after a show and tearing that person down verbally.
She further reflected, “I think about how miserable someone has to be to say such hurtful things. I imagine this sad 45-year-old guy down in his parents’ basement typing out his nasty comments while his mom brings him his afternoon snack. It’s the only way I can make it through sometimes, thinking, ‘Well, at least I’m not him. Not that miserable.’”
Putting ourselves out there through art, emotional vulnerability, intellectual works, or a new idea can leave us feeling extremely naked with no protection and nothing there to comfort or soothe us if we miss the mark or are misunderstood. Yet, if we do take the risk and reveal ourselves to others, we forget that positive judgement, new learning, and intimacy can also develop.
Let us remember that we have to judge ideas, people, and situations to remain safe, grow as a person, and learn. Judging is not inherently evil. In fact, it is a fully necessary part of life. As Radically Open DBT would suggest – judge a little, then let it go.
Harsh Judgements of Others
Sometimes though the judgements move from helpful to harsh quickly. The next time you make a harsh judgement, take a moment to reflect on what your body is feeling. You’ll probably experience tension, along with some other physical sensations like stomach issues, a headache, or chest pain, even at very low levels. Harsh judgements are like poison for the body and the mind, and they especially affect our ability to feel safe in the world.
Next you might consider checking in on your urges. What did judging someone or something harshly make you want to do? Hide away in guilt or shame, attack, or even flee the situation? Noticing our own harsh judgements allows us to detach during those moments when others judge us harshly and allows us to be humble knowing we’ve done some nasty judging ourselves.
This awareness practice is a first step in allowing ourselves to stop fearing judgement and to blossom personally and creatively. We don’t have to beat ourselves up when we judge, but maybe greater awareness will prevent us from doing harm to others when we judge them.
Putting ourselves out for the world to judge us can be frightening, but aren’t we all happy with the amazing creations that have come from those that do? Thank you to all those people who are willing to take the risk.