March 14

Judgment—By What Standard?

March 14, 2012

Personal Growth

Judgment, Guilt, and Self-Criticism

Not a day goes by without my hearing people expressing pain about what they've done with their lives, what they're doing now, and who they are. At every turn, guilt and self-criticism seem to reign.

Although the individual expressions vary, they tend to dance around just a few themes:

1. "I should . . ."
2. "I should have . . ."
3. "Compared to XX (another person), I . . ."

Let's look at how we judge ourselves—which has a great deal to do with how we feel—and assess whether the criteria are valid.

1. "I should . . ."

We say this in many ways:
"There's so much that needs to be done, and I'm just not doing it."
"I need to be a better parent."
"I should be doing more with my life."
"I feel so overwhelmed by all that I'm supposed to do."

Somewhere—usually at the hands of our parents—most of us were taught that if a thing needed to be done, we had the responsibility to do it. In other words, we were taught that need = should. This made sense under many circumstances: If our room needed to be cleaned, it was our job to do it; if our homework needed to be completed, it was our duty to attend to that task. But this correlation between need and obligation ("should") often breaks down.

In many cases, even though a need exists, we have neither the ability nor the responsibility to fill the need. The world needs better health care, fair administration of justice, greater availability of clean water, and much more, but the existence of these needs does not confer upon me the ability or the responsibility to attend to all of them. Closer to home, I may need to be a better spouse, but if I was raised in an environment without Real Love, and without any instruction about how to be a healthy spouse, how could I possibly expect suddenly to be such a partner?

In short, the needs of people and circumstances are often not a reasonable criterion by which to judge the "rightness" of what we are doing, what we have done, or who we should be. So, we need to stop beating ourselves up with what "needs to be done." Need does not define what we should do.

2. "I should have . . ."

How do we say this?
"I should have known better."
"I shouldn't have made that mistake."
"I should have chosen A instead of B."

With rare exceptions, we act according to the best knowledge we have. In the process of learning, it is utterly unavoidable that we will be required—not just asked—to make decisions and to take action based on information and preparation that is far less than what we will have in the future. In other words, we're almost always acting on flawed or incomplete information, experience, and ability.

Under those circumstances, mistakes aren't an occasional and unfortunate occurrence. We make mistakes all the time. It's inevitable. We must make mistakes, but then we say, "I should have . . ." What we're really saying is, "When I was younger—whether by decades, years, or even days—I should have been able to make decisions and act according to the information and experience I have now." Or, more simply, "When I was sixteen I should have been able to act with the maturity I have now at age forty." It's a ridiculous thing to say, and yet we continue to judge ourselves badly for what we "should" have done.

3. "Compared to XX (another person), I . . ."

We say this when we say:
"I'm just no good at this." (The implication is always that we can't do it as well as others, not that we can't do it at all.)
"I've done so little with my life." (compared to others)
"I wish I were as smart/beautiful/talented/wealthy as XX."

We think we know other people. We don't. We don't know their genetic composition, the effects of toxins and diet on their bodies, how their parents and others treated them in childhood, what secret traumas have affected them, what talents they were born with and which they developed, whether they are truly happy, or anything else. And yet we compare ourselves to these people we do not know.

Ironically, we know almost as little about ourselves as we do about everyone else. We don't know how much our genes affect our choices. We don't remember—certainly don't understand—all the "little" events of childhood that have continued to effect us in ways that often nearly control us completely. And yet we compare ourselves to others.

Dropping the Judgment

So, we don't know ourselves or others. We couldn't possibly have done in the past what we're capable of now, and just because something needs to be done doesn't give us the ability or responsibility to do it. In our vast ignorance, we might consider dropping the accusatory and demeaning judgments of ourselves, which cause us to feel so guilty and unhappy. Instead we might consider being satisfied with doing our best to learn and to love in the moment—this one.

How do you stop judging yourself and move forward with the happy life you deserve? Listen to these inspiring stories of a cop, a convict, a lawyer, a mother, a teacher, and many other real people whose lives were transformed by The Power of Real Love.

Real Love book

Replace your judgment & confusion with peace and happiness.

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