Outside of the media, the internet, and potentially some early peer interactions, our greatest fears about being judged are actually strengthened by our own actions. In judging or criticizing others, we normalize judgment or criticism, amplify the frequency with which we imagine it is doled out, and thus expect it to happen more often.
What does this mean? It means the more often you criticize others, the more likely you are to fear criticism from all people. This builds paranoia, which in turn affects the nervous system negatively, as you live more often in fight or flight, and the adrenal glands emits considerably more cortisol (the stress hormone).
It is not just our own criticism of others. It is also our participation in the criticism of others directly (accompanying friends in real life or on the internet in their criticism of others) or watching and sharing videos in which others are exposed to criticism or judgment.
Of course we all behave badly at times, and we would love to come away completely unscathed, but let’s look at how the mind works quickly. For thousands of years before this current existence the mind became an expert assessor of threat, so that you and your kin would not be killed by a warring tribe or eaten by some enormous animal.
Today, there is less threat, but the threat analysis system works the same. So, if we engage or support criticism of others, the mind objectively notes this threat. The more we do it, the higher this threat reaches with respect to priority in the mind. And voila, the mind assesses for this threat often, a state better known as paranoia.
Self-compassion is not about moral judgment, as in how dare you judge somebody else. It functions by assessing situations with respect to the wellness of your experience and others, and makes a plan calibrated towards increasing your well being and the well being of others.
If you notice yourself judging others, supporting others who judge others, watching or sharing media in which others are judged, just notice the behavior, name it (without creating a story), and bring kindness to your experience. Judgment is the most natural response to feeling threatened or afraid, so we might say, “I am noticing judgment. I wonder what might be making me feel uncomfortable or afraid. Whatever it is, I come by this feeling naturally. Because I suffer, may I be kind to myself. May I accept myself just as I am.” Then, find another behavior that brings you more well being, like comfort or making a plan that will yield greater safety or success.
When something is trending, it is really difficult to not want to join in. We are only human, right? However, nothing will ever be paramount to your well being and the well being of others, so it is always ok to step back and notice if an action is harming you and others. Noticing this behavior and turning to self-compassion to remediate it is not about apologizing for your feelings (which is unnecessary), it is about believing that you and others around you are worthy of a good life.
If you struggle to believe that you are worthy of a good life, think of someone that you find worthy who you love and who loves you. Then, think about what they would say to you about your worthiness.
Whatever comes of your experience, be kind to yourself. We need to make mistakes to grow, and we need growth to be helpful to those with less experience than us. We also need growth for humility and greater awareness of others: key ingredients in being a good friend, family member, and significant other.
Notice your experience. If it is harming you, bring kindness to your experience. Then, plan a behavioral change that will bring you greater well being. You are worthy of a happy life with an abundance of well being.
365 Days of Kindness. Self Compassion. Day 18. In the Books.