Judgy McJudgerson

24 June, 2016

How big a role does imagining how other people are judging you play out in your life?  How does it serve you?  How does it stop you?

It may or may not surprise you that I do a lot of work with people helping them manage the dirty ‘J’ word:  Judgement.

Now, there’s something quite special about the kind of judgement I help people come to terms with and deal with.  Sometimes, it is very harsh judgement that happened in the real world:  someone, of significant in your life, actually TOLD you that you were wrong, doing a bad job, a despicable person, that you’ve epically failed in some way.  And not necessarily in anger, but sincerely.  This, of course, can be very hard to bear and hard to overcome.  This is Real Judgement.  Let’s call this RJ.

However, that kind of judgement is rather rare, mercifully.  The other kind, however is rife and often more powerful and damaging to a person.  And that is - Imagined Judgement.  Let’s call it IJ for short shall we?

I’ve seen IJ debilitate people.  It stops them for doing things that are good for them, like going to the gym or an exercise class,  because there is so much IJ about what other people are going to think of them (they’ll think i’m stupid, fat, inept.  Or:  they’ll think I’m arrogant, too confident, they’ll think who does she think she is?”).  I’ve seen people be crippled in shame from a past memory, like giving a speech, when all they can think about is what other people “must’ve been thinking”  about how bad it was, how inept they were etc. etc. (I could go on giving examples of IJ, but I think you’re getting the gist).  You can see how these kinds of thoughts can set us back and stop us getting out there and doing stuff, and how this becomes a cycle.  For example not going out and exercising because of IJ - then we feel overweight, we punish ourselves for not being “motivated enough” and the negative cycle continues.  I’ve seen people suffering from PTSD like symptoms (anxiety, sleeplessness, flashbacks) from linking IJ to a past event: the event itself wasn’t even traumatic, but looking back on it with that kind of shame codes it as traumatic in their brain.  It’s so amazing what the brain is capable of.

OK. So what do we do about this IJ?  Here are my thoughts:
  1. Firstly, recognise your IJ from your RJ. This means, it is just MADE UP BY YOU.  You’re projecting it.  You’re imagining it.  It’s no more real than anything else you can make up in there.  It’s IJ, not RJ (RJ would be someone coming up to you in your yoga class and saying “hey, you’re way too arrogant to do that pose!  Who do you think you are?”  I’ve thankfully never come across such a thing!  (Social protocol does mostly work.)).
  2. Secondly, coming off the back of #1, you’re never (truly) going to know what people think / thought of you unless you ASK THEM.  Please, as a social experiment, feel free to try this, and let me know what the outcome is.  I’d love someone to go up to the finance team at work and say “hey, you know I gave that presentation last week?  Well, I was thinking that you were thinking I was a total idiot, and that made a right twat of myself!  Did you think that at all?”.
  3. Now, here’s the goodie.  People DO and WILL judge you.  Just in the same way that you DO and WILL judge others.  I think of myself as a very non-judgemental person and certainly get that feedback all the time from my friends and people who work with me, and I know it to be absolutely true.  And, I still catch myself judging people in certain contexts.  I had a new yoga teacher the other week and all I could think was that he was a long-haired hippy and I thought “oh no, here we go….” (for the irrelevant record, he’s a fantastic yoga teacher - I’m addicted!).  The point is, is it’s not ME doing the judging, it’s just a part of my cerebral cortex in my brain.  I can recognise them when they come and let them go, not taking it seriously at all.  And I know that other also judge, because they also have verbal dialogue and a cerebral cortex.  And here’s the thing…
  4. IT HAS ABSOLUTELY NO IMPACT ON YOU WHATSOEVER.  Other people’s passing judgements DO NOT AFFECT YOU. I mean think about it, say if someone did think you were fat in a yoga class.  So what?  How does that actually, in reality, IMPACT you?  It doesn't, in reality.  It only does so far as your imagination lets it.  Because unless you ask, it’s just IJ.
  5. And finally, #5.  To reassure you: most people are more worried about what you’re thinking of them to be actively thinking about you.  Trust me on this one!
Now, let me add a disclaimer:  obviously, if you had been doing an important presentation at work, and something happened like you completely seized up and couldn’t complete the presentation, that will need a good robust conversation with your manager or someone else you respect, who could give you feedback and you can discuss the impacts and possible solutions.  That’s useful, and necessary.  Going into a never ending spiral of IJ that people must think you’re an idiot = not useful.  (From research we know most people have empathy for the speaker in a situation like this rather than harsh judgement).

So there you have it.  I task you to be aware of your IJ and catch it out.  Imagine going up to the person/people you’re IJing about, and asking them what they actually think.  Once you realise how ludicrous this is you can then let it go.

As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.  

Love Charlotte.

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