Judging & Criticizing Others
As someone who is committed to compassionate work in the world, you know the damage that harsh judgement of others can do. You have also noticed that judgements arise consistently in your thoughts and words despite your best intentions. There are some good reasons that judging others is a hard habit to break.
Judging and criticizing others is a way to express your own pain and unmet needs indirectly while not feeling the difficult feelings underneath. Judging directs your attention away from yourself. As long as you are focused on what others are doing wrong, you will feel much less of your own discomfort, fear, disappointment, and unmet needs.
Judging and criticizing others can also give the illusion of control. That is, if you are able to tell someone what's wrong with them, you not only think you see more than they do, you might also imagine that your criticism will cause them to change their ways.
Even knowing these things about judging and criticizing, you can't always catch yourself doing it. Sometimes criticism is sneaky. It comes in the form of philosophical stances and complex psychological analyses. This can be hard for you to catch regardless of whether you are on the speaking or receiving end.
For example, I was recently working with a couple who was offering an event together. As they entered the marketing stage, Jon began by stating his philosophy, "The right people will come. We should just let people find out organically. We are offering something important and people will either see it or they won't. This isn't about making money. We just offer with no strings." Jon's partner had worked hard on preparing to market their offering, and heard criticism in Jon's words.
Looking underneath Jon's philosophy we found that he was feeling nervous around his needs for authenticity in the context of offering something from his heart and receiving money for it. Identifying this, Jon was able to express this and make requests to keep him and his partner in dialogue around staying in integrity with their offerings and being able to support themselves financially.
In working with another couple, a woman offered her partner criticism through analysis, "I think you have a low self-concept in our relationship. You seem to have an okay self-concept professionally, but with us you don't."
If she were to offer what's underneath her analysis, it might sound like this, "When I hear you ask me if I am going to leave you, I feel sad and deflated, because I am longing for trust and acknowledgement. Would you be willing to tell me three things you see me doing that lets you know I am committed to this relationship?"
You might be saying, "But what if she's right about her partner? What if he really does have low self-concept in relation to her?" There's a couple of things to consider as you ask this question. First, if her intention is to connect with her partner so that they can both grow in ways that make the relationship more enjoyable, offering even a correct analysis, will not likely get them there. Most people don't experience analysis and criticism as an inspiration to change.
Second, your partner's inner workings is sacred territory. When you enter this territory without permission you are violating important psychological boundries. This kind of violation doesn't meet needs for honor, trust, and emotional safety, and so the result will be fear and resentment.
As you cultivate your own practice of compassion, the first thing to remember is to turn compassion inwards. In the moment you wake up to your own judging and criticizing mind, turn towards yourself with compassion. This might feel like breathing love through your heart as your body softens. It might look like envisioning warm water washing away the judgments. Or it might sound like comforting words and empathy, for example, "Oh, I'm judging, that's okay, it's just a habit of mind. There must be something I'm feeling and needing underneath, let me take a moment to connect with my feelings and needs."
This week set the intention to notice when you are directing your thoughts or words towards criticizing others. Take a moment to reflect on what's in your heart in that moment. What feelings are there? Is there a value you want to protect? What are you longing for?