When Others Judge You Harshly
Misunderstood? How to Let Go of the Need to Explain Yourself is one of the most popular articles on this site. The message resonated with a lot of readers.
We’re often faced with situations that put us in judgment’s way. Someone doesn’t like how we look, what we say or do, and it usually results in a directly expressed negative opinion or body language, or indirectly through gossip and whispers.
The more our views are made public (especially online), the higher the risk of negative judgments.
I’ve been fortunate to receive mostly positive feedback or respectful disagreement with my point of view. Every now and then though I get an angry or negative email (with adjectives like naive, misguided or ignorant). I’d love to say that I don’t feel anything when I get those messages, but I do.
The first impulse is to want to explain or defend my position. Upon reflection, I calm down and realize that it it would be a losing battle. Whatever I say is not going to change someone’s perspective when they have already formed an opinion and are defending it.
The only thing I can do is to focus on my emotional reaction and how I can channel it in a way that supports me.
Our basic reactionary feelings are programmed emotional responses. We all have them. Some of us are more skilled at noticing the emotions and not jumping to the ego’s defense when they arise.
Today I’d like to focus on our emotional responses to harsh judgments and how we can feel the judgment but not allow it to diminish our sense of worth or cause us to doubt our convictions.
How to view and handle feeling judged
The negative judgment usually triggers a strong emotional response. We feel threatened, angry, misunderstood, unappreciated, and so on. I’ll start with the most important and hardest step.
Allowing the feeling to be
Feelings are like thoughts; they come and go. The more we fight them the more we empower them to stick around. One of the hardest things to do is to open up to unpleasant feelings. It’s something that I continue to work with on a daily basis.
When the emotion arises, the best way is to feel it through the physical body.
The body’s response is mostly primal. To argue with the body is to argue with our most basic instincts. Fighting one emotion (e.g. anger) using another (resistance) will add more fuel to the fire of suffering. When we allow the feelings to be, we can attend to the body.
For example, when I receive a negative email, I typically feel a mix of anxiety and anger. My body’s response is usually a wave of light nausea (anxiety) combined with pressure in my temples (anger). Both feelings are not pleasant. But they’re not permanent either.
The best way for me is to take a few breaths and focus on the body. Sometimes I place a hand on my solar plexus and breathe. Other times I just mentally narrate what I’m feeling. This way I become the observer of my body and describe how it’s responding.
The feelings may not go right away—especially when the reactive impulses run deep. But they will lessen. If they’re still there, I’ve learned not to start arguing with why they’re still here. I take a breath and do something else. If the feelings intensify again, I’ll breathe or observe the body some more.
Eventually we will get busy with something else and the physical reaction will fade on its own.
Not judging ourselves
One thing I catch myself doing repeatedly is judging myself for how I feel.
Growth can be a trap when I start comparing how I’m reacting in real life situations to an abstract expectation based on what I read and think I should be feeling.
I tend to ignore the subtle changes in my awareness or the intensity of my reaction. I expect that I should be Zen and not allow anything to bother me. Maybe that will be the case in the future, but it’s not how I’m responding right now.
When we judge ourselves, we’re in effect arguing with emotions. This will only add to the pain, not alleviate it.
Not judging ourselves goes hand in hand with allowing the feeling to be. In effect we’re giving ourselves permission to feel how we do in this moment.
How to not judge ourselves for feeling the way we feel? By simply focusing on the body and refocusing the mind on physical sensations, instead of mental resistance.
We always can choose to look at something from the other person’s perspective. We can meet the judgment with understanding (or at least try), even if we completely disagree. We don’t know what the other person is going through or how they are filtering our views and actions.
Empathy doesn’t mean we turn into a doormat. It’s the opposite. We take control of our own reaction, regardless of what the other person is saying or thinking. We don’t allow others to hijack our mental and emotional state. Their opinion is just an opinion.
The big picture
Focusing on one person’s point of view or criticism narrows our perspective and keeps us locked into a useless emotional state.
It takes courage to share with others, in any way or form. We open ourselves up and become vulnerable to other people’s perceptions and opinions.
The most abusive opinions won’t stand a chance against making a courageous choice to pursue our passions and live our truth.
There will always be someone who says no, rejects, disrespects, or attempts to ridicule. The journey of growth continues, making the exposure all the more worth it.
When I get a negative email, I remind myself of why I write and what it means to me. My desire to share ideas and learn is much more important and stronger than my bruised ego.
The habit of letting go
Every single day something happens that reminds of me of how important it is to let go and move on. Holding on to negativity is added emotional weight that eventually wears us down.
Just like we choose to hold on to something (an opinion, a judgment, or an unpleasant experience) we can choose to let go of wanting to relive it over and over by setting it free.
By allowing ourselves to feel our emotions, without judgment and letting go, we free ourselves to be with the people we love and do the things that matter to us most.
We have within us a limitless capacity for empathy and compassion. When we choose to empathize instead of reciprocating the judgment, we turn the game around. We embrace life more and lighten up on the collective negativity.
And who doesn’t want a lighter and freer life?