How to Let Go of Judging Yourself
Happiness is something we all strive for.
In the name of happiness, we seek relationships that bring out the best in us (or so we think) and look for experiences that will make us happier.
If and when it becomes obvious that part of our happiness has to do with us, not others or situations, we look into self-improvement.
We dig deeper into our own psyche, try to eliminate beliefs, follow our dreams, and get healthier.
And we feel good when we do well. We think that we’re growing and improving. But when we don’t live up to our own expectations, we judge ourselves.
Then we beat ourselves up some more for judging ourselves. In effect, we judge judgment with more judgment (say that out loud a few times and it’s as confusing as the feeling).
Self-judgment is the root of a lot (if not all) of our unhappiness. It’s the opposite of unconditional self-acceptance.
I wrote in the past about self-acceptance as the foundation of genuine happiness that’s not contingent upon our actions, the actions of others or the situations we’re dealing with.
I still judged myself, even when I tried to accept myself.
As I look into my own behavior, I realize that letting go of self-judgment is the best way to move towards self-acceptance.
Before the how, I’d like to share a few thoughts about judgment.
An opinion: It’s either positive (that’s good, I want more of it) or negative (that’s bad, I don’t ever want to deal with it again).
Resistance to reality: When we negatively judge what happened, we’re saying no to the reality of this moment.
An attempt to control life: We try to control our behavior and feelings through a set of rigid expectations. We chase a self-made ideal, and when we don’t live up to it, we judge ourselves.
If we truly dig into all of self-judgment we’ll find an adolescent dictator telling us how to behave—completely driven by emotion.
A few examples to illustrate the point:
- I should’ve aced the interview. I’m such an idiot. Hopeless.
- Why can’t I have fun like the rest of humanity? What’s wrong with me?
- He hasn’t called. Of course he won’t. I’m so boring.
- I shouldn’t have said that. I’m so cruel and evil.
- Why can’t I give myself a break? I’m so harsh (judging judgment).
These are just a few examples. Look into your life and see how often you judge yourself.
How many thoughts carry with them an opinion about what you should (or shouldn’t) be doing, feeling or saying?
Recognizing self-judgment is one thing, letting it go is a much harder task.
Why is it harder to let go of judging ourselves vs. judging others?
Think of letting go of judgment as preemptive forgiveness—of self and others.
Instead of suppressing negative emotions and letting them fester, then deciding to forgive and let go, we process the feelings as they arise and let them go without assigning meaning (or opinion).
And like forgiveness, letting go seems easier when it relates to others rather than ourselves.
Easier to look outside
When we judge others, we can see_ _how it affects them, whether it’s an emotional outburst, a change in mannerism and tone, or a defensive reaction.
It’s easier for us to become aware of what’s outside of us. Also it’s easier for us to give others a break than ourselves.
Deeply rooted and familiar
Self-judgment is an intimate act that takes place in the abyss of the subconscious. Not only we won’t be able to see it, it’s so deep that it forms part of our identity and story.
We’ve been judging ourselves for so long that it feels like second nature—almost innate. This makes it way harder to strip the layer upon layer of judgment to uncover the only truth: We were born free of judgment.
Letting go of self-judgment is very hard. But it’s not impossible. If you agree with me so far, let’s explore what can be done about it.
How can we let go of self-judgment?
This is by no means a definitive guide. It’s a simple 3-step process that I hope you can work with on a regular basis to gradually let go of judgment.
Most self-judgments is automated, it happens faster than the conscious mind can grasp what just happened.
So the first step is to try, as much as possible, to notice the feelings of judgment when they come up. It will slow down the process of judgment and reaction.
When it comes to emotions, most of the times we’re also on automatic.
Our emotional response is habitual. If it’s something we like, we want more. And if it’s unpleasant, we resist, suppress, and avoid.
In order to break the habit, instead of wanting more or less of an emotion, we can just allow it to be. We can feel it as it comes with all the accompanying thoughts and physical responses.
We can feel the anger, the sadness, or the fear as it shows in the mind and body. And if judgment of the feeling comes up, we can feel the judgment as well.
Feelings are like thoughts; they’re fleeting. As unpleasant as they can be, they’ll pass through, if we don’t keep pushing them down or rejecting them.
3- Actively choose to let go
This is where a conscious choice needs to be made: Either let go of the experience, judgment, and emotion or hold on to them.
It really boils down to a single choice. Anything we hold on to is by choice.
The memory or feeling may be triggered by different situations, when that happens we can let it go, or we can dwell and judge. It’s that simple.
We may have the same underlying feelings and judgments, but how we internalize them is quite personal. So no two people will let go of a feeling the same way.
There are no rules for letting go, just like there are no rules for holding on. Do what you feel is right for you at the moment.
If it helps, you can visualize letting go. For example imagine putting the judgment into a hot air balloon and letting it fly away until it disappears. Or place it on a boat and let it sail into the horizon.
More feelings and judgment
When you choose to let go, mental arguments and more feelings might come up again.
Repeat the process (notice, feel, let go) as many times as needed until you feel a calm stillness with hardly any emotion behind it.
The best test is to think of the situation again a bit later and see if it brings up any feelings. If it does, let go some more. If it doesn’t, you have cleared away some unhelpful feelings and judgments.
Depending on how deep the automated feelings are, some things we can let go of in a few minutes, others might require that we do the best we can at this time and choose to let go of wanting to completely dissolve the judgment.
And when the issue comes up again, we let go of it one more time. Then another time when it comes up again, and so on.
Let’s say I’ve been judging myself for years for all the things I want to do that I haven’t done yet.
The feelings can be triggered by anything that reminds me of what I should’ve been doing.
As I think about it, I start judging myself. Depending on my mood at that moment, the judgment can be a mild I’m lazy, to feelings of anger, emptiness, all the way to loathing.
When I recognize that I’m being judgmental, I start thinking about my inability to cope with emotions and argue with how I’m handling them.
When the above cycle goes unchecked, I end up feeling tired and depressed. Nothing helpful comes out of it. All I did was add one more layer of judgment and negativity.
So instead of the same habitual pattern, when the thought that I haven’t made progress comes up, I can stop right there. And do the following:
- Notice the thought and any feelings that come up.
- Open up and hear the thoughts that are buzzing in my head (and/or see the mental images). Feel how my body is reacting: a knot in my stomach, body temperature rising, a wave of anger rushing through my head and upper body. I stay with it and direct my attention to where the feeling is showing in the body.
- Once the feelings subside, I say to myself: I choose to let go of what I didn’t do. I allow myself to just be. Then I imagine all of my feelings and expectations clearing my body and flying out into outer space.
I’ll repeat the process as many times as I need to until no feelings come up.
A final word or two
No action: Up to this point there was no mention of taking action. Letting go of self-judgment is not dependent on what you do or don’t do.
The best action is not driven by judgment, guilt or by wanting to prove a point. It’s good enough on its own and for its own sake.
No reason: There was also no mention of trying to reason with (or dig into the why of) judgment.
Judgment is not based on logic, but on emotional and conditioned reactivity that does not care one iota about rationality or perspective.
To let go is to give yourself permission to feel and be okay with yourself as you are, without the complications of the intellect or the demands of action.
When we gradually let go of self-judgment, we’ll ease on our judgment of others. Over time, we will dissolve a lot of the emotional habits and beliefs that have weighed us down for so long, almost effortlessly.
Letting go of judging ourselves is one of the hardest things to do. But it’s truly a liberating and life transforming act.