The Paradox of Self-Judgment


One of the things that holds us back from stepping into our power and living in the flow is self-judgment. Most of the insecurity and anxiety we experience which blocks our authenticity, our creativity, our ability to embrace life with joy can be traced back to the beliefs we have concerning ourselves, our lack of self-worth and confidence, a sense that we’re somehow bad or simply just not good enough.

But what is the criteria by which we make such judgments? What qualification do we have to judge and condemn ourselves?

Suppose there’s a court case in which all the evidence proves without a doubt that the defendant is guilty of theft. But it so happens that the judge and jury are also guilty of theft. By what right do they have to condemn the defendant? Only someone who is faultless can rightfully judge another.

You’ve probably heard someone caution that before you judge someone make sure your perfect. Well, the same advice can be applied to oneself.

When we judge ourselves, we act as judge and defendent. But there’s only one of us. And we’re either qualified to pass judgment or we’re not. If it’s a fact that we’re guilty of something, anything at all, then we have no right to pass judgment concerning the matter. And yet, we do judge ourselves, and often quite harshly.

What makes this whole thing difficult is that we have trouble discerning the difference between guilt and shame. In fact we often use these terms interchangeably. And though they do often occur in conjunction with one another, they don’t always go hand in hand.

Guilt simply refers to the awareness of having done something wrong, or made a mistake. But there’s no judgment in that. Awareness just means a recognition, an observation. Shame, on the other hand, is the sense of negative judgment that we often associate with the observation. It’s how we interpret it. But you can be guilty and not be ashamed of it, and you can feel ashamed without necessarily being guilty of anything.

Self-judgment is all about shame. And one example of shame without guilt is when someone accuses you of being unworthy and you agree, even though there may be no evidence to support their judgment. In fact, what we’ll often find is that the judgments we have about ourselves are not really our judgments at all, but the judgments of others that we’ve subconsciously accumulated over a life-time. But the same rule applies. Only someone who is faultless is worthy to judge others. And so, if the people who judge us are full of faults then we have no basis upon which to accept their judgments as valid.

What we have to understand is that people often judge others simply because it seems to make them feel better about themselves. Actually it doesn’t make them feel better, but rather is distracts them from their own shame and self-judgment. If I have a negative opinion of myself, then all I have to do to decrease my sense of shame is to convince myself that I’m better than someone else. So I find a flaw in someone and I magnify it. I focus all of my attention on it, and it distracts me from seeing my own flaws. It doesn’t actually do anything to address my own personal issues. It only serves to distract from them, which is a whole other issue added onto the pile.

When others judge us their judgments are invalid, because, firstly they’re not faultless, and therefore they’re not qualified to pass judgment. And secondly, they’re judgment isn’t really about us. It’s really about them and their need to judge in order to maintain a false sense of superiority. So with that, we can dismiss whatever judgments others try to place on us.

Judgment, of course is not the same as criticism. Although criticism may come with judgment, criticism alone is not a judgment in and of itself, but rather an objective assessment. For instance if someone points out that you’re driving without your headlights on at night, that isn’t necessarily a judgment about your character. The observation is offered simply in order to encourage you to turn on your lights. And so, if we’re wise, we listen to their criticism, we consider it, and if necessary we adjust our behavior. But we don’t have to feel bad about it. That’s a judgment.

But often we take criticism very personally. We might be easily offended by it, and we might become defensive and offer some judgment about the other person in order to deflect their criticism. We do this because we feel that the other person is making a judgment about us, even if they’re not. But whether or not they are indeed making a judgment, the judgment that we’re defending against is really our own being projected onto the other person.

If we had no judgment about ourselves in regard to their criticism, we wouldn’t feel offended by it. And even if they were making a judgment about our character, it wouldn’t bother us unless somewhere deep down we agreed with it. To give an example, if someone said that you were a purple rabbit, it wouldn’t affect you because you know it isn’t true. So you only get offended when you believe that there’s some truth in the statement, and when you make a judgment about it.

So, once again, it all comes back to the judgments we have about ourselves. And as I tried to point out earlier, who is it that’s making the judgment, and who is the one being judged? It’s the same person. The reality is that there aren’t two of you. There’s only one. And you can’t be the judge and the defendant unless you’re two separate people. And since there is only one of you, you can’t really be either. You can’t be the judge because you’re not perfect. You’re not spotless enough to sit in the judgment seat. And you can’t be the defendant, unless there’s a judge. So what does that leave you with?

There’s only you with your thoughts and behaviors. And you can judge your thoughts and behaviors, but you can’t judge yourself. And the only reason you think you’re judging yourself is because you identify with the thoughts and behaviors. But thoughts and behaviors aren’t who you are. They’re something which occur in you and through you, but they’re transient. They come and go. They arise and recede. They are constantly changing. But the awareness that observes them is always the same. You are always the same. You are that awareness. And there really is no judgment in awareness. The judgment is really just another thought drifting through that space.

And so, when we’re able to step back as the awareness, there is no self-judgment. In awareness there is no judgment at all.

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