As I mentioned in the earlier post “Self-Love: Stigma“, the complex subject of loving one’s self is not an easy one to address. However, I do believe it’s necessary in the hope that it may help someone unhappy and struggling to learn that loving yourself is absolutely vital to finding your own happiness. In this post, I wish to discuss how judgments pervade and hinder our lives, particularly with regard to loving one’s self.
Part 2: Judging Our Lives
Evaluating our existence and judging the best course of action begins in the cradle. We quickly learn to relate cause and action like a hungry cry gets me fed, lonely crying brings someone to pick me up, etc. We judge based on what we like or don’t like and make decisions accordingly. Maybe we don’t like eating mashed peas, but squishing it in our little fingers and “painting” with it instead is fun. Or, maybe we decide squishy isn’t something we like, but throwing it instead is fun. All assessments and subsequent judgments are very individual and, as such, every child learns (and judges) based on their own evaluation of their world. This is why things like a time-out works well as a deterrent for some kids while others act like time-out is a game.
As we get a little older, we continue to judge based on what we like or don’t like, but it begins to extend to what others will do or think. If we like something about a boy/girl, first we try to get their attention. Then we learn what they like and don’t like and try to get that boy/girl to like us by agreeing with their likes and dislikes, complimenting them and things they like, and giving gifts to earn favor. We will do or say what we judge another will like or not like to achieve the desired results.
Many of us never grow out of this mindset of doing and saying the right things to obtain the desired results. We judge everything, all the time, including ourselves. Everything from the things we say and do, to the foods we eat, the hairstyles we wear, the acquaintances we keep, the career path we choose, where we decide to live, and on and on…
Parents, well-meaning though they may be, judge their children within the frame of “wish you would” and “wish you wouldn’t”. From the parent’s perspective, they want the best for their kids, want to help them make the best possible choices in life. From the offspring’s perspective, it can be perceived as judgmental and controlling, especially once they’ve hit teenage years and on into adulthood.
We tend to judge our friends’ in much the same way. “She/He’s a great person, but – (insert whatever we think should be different).” We excuse such thoughts with the insistent belief that “if she/he would only XYZ, they would be so much better off!”
We judge based on our own experiences as well as how we think we may, or may not, respond to a similar situation. We judge from of a desire to help or criticize based on assumptions and/or what we don’t like in our own lives. It’s a common trap, and it’s so very easy to fall into. It’s much easier to judge another’s life as needing to be different in accordance to our views, but it’s not so easy to take an honest look at our own lives.
You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.
The common judgment here is that the horse is too stupid to drink, but consider this: Ever bother to ask the if horse is thirsty? Ever thought maybe the water smells funny, might be tainted? Could the horse be sick? No, we judge based on assumptions. We don’t have all of the information, can’t know the horse’s view, and judge based on the assumption everything is fine, horse and water, so the horse must be stupid.
In my early twenties, I was kind of coasting on through, not exactly happy with life, but still moving forward with college courses and a decent job. I figured marrying, settling down, and starting a family was next in line and may be what I needed to finally find the happiness I was missing. I met a man who seemed like decent guy, I liked him, and it wasn’t long before he was telling me we were soul mates, destined to meet and marry. I knew I didn’t love him the way he professed to love me, but I thought I would grow into it. My family liked him, his friends really seemed to like me, and this was my first time dating someone who seemed to have his life together – stable job, steady income, a house and car, ready to settle down and start a family. I thought having a life partner would help me find what I’d been missing in my life. It seemed to be the natural progression people were supposed to follow, based on assumptions and the views of others at the time, so I went with it.
By the time the wedding day came, it was as much about not disappointing all the family and friends turning out for the wedding as it was about getting married. He was big on not being embarrassed, and I was big on not being a disappointment.
Our relationship difficulties were like any marriage, I thought, we would just have to work at it. Things would get better, and the disappointments we had were just part and parcel of the whole deal. I had accepted this as the best I could expect, so I might as well make the best of it that I could. I thought I was content that at least things were “not all that bad.” I told myself I loved him, told anyone who would listen that we were great, and I tried hard to believe it.
When the day came that he suggested we separate “while we work things out so if it doesn’t work we can go ahead and get divorced”, I shouldn’t have been blindsided by this, but I was. I had effectively convinced myself that we loved each other even with our problems and despite all the signs to the contrary. It never occurred to me we wouldn’t work through our troubles. I was suddenly forced to re-evaluate my world.
The first thing I noticed was that I was not me any longer, I was “his wife”. In fact, I didn’t really know who I was at all. Outside of work, I didn’t have any friends of my own, they were all his friends. I’d even allowed our relationship to build a wedge between my family and me. I felt like I didn’t really have anyone, so for months I talked to no one about any of it. “It’s nobody’s business,” I told myself, but really I was avoiding the embarrassment. After all the praise and insisting we’d had such a great marriage all this time, I just didn’t want to admit it was a failure and didn’t know what I was going to do about it.
How does this relate to self-love? Because I had no real sense of self at all at that time, let alone loving myself. I spent years as an extension of someone else’s life, as validation for him. The six years we were together, I was doing and being everything I thought was expected of me for him, instead of developing my own world that also included his. It didn’t make either of us happy.
I made a bad judgment call to try to be someone I was not for the expectations of others, and in the process I lost sight of my own identity. I decided I had to reinvent myself, learn who I was without the endorsement of “his wife”. This was the best decision I could’ve made and, honestly, I couldn’t have made it if I’d let anyone else’s opinions cloud my judgment.
While I was trying to learn what it meant to really be me, I met new people who accepted me as I wanted to be, made new friends who genuinely liked me for me, and one friend, in particular, taught me the meaning of “unconditional acceptance”. Put simply, this means “without judgment.”
Wow, what a mind-blowing concept! This, more than anything else, changed my outlook completely. What truly boggles the mind about it is that every decision we make is based on a judgment, often under the self-deception that we are deciding these things based on our own desires…
- What should I wear (is in style, looks good/acceptable to others)?
- I have to buy this expensive car (so they will think I’ve really made it, maybe even be jealous)!
- I can’t be friends/date that person (they aren’t pretty/handsome enough to be seen with me)!
- No, I could never do that (what will people think?)!
- Chasing dreams is for children (adults can’t afford to be happy)!
When you allow the completion of the full thought process, you begin to realise just how shallow and demeaning such thoughts really are – to ourselves! Limiting, judgmental thoughts don’t serve us or anyone else. Judgments on our own decisions based on how we expect others will respond is not only self-defeating and detrimental to our happiness, it’s plain ridiculous! We have no control over others, we have control over only ourselves. Expectations and manipulations of others is bound to lead to disappointment and unhappiness all around. It can sometimes be uncomfortable to feel we failed to live up to someone else’s ideals or standards for us, but the fact is – My life is mine to live, not yours. You have your life to live, not mine. Besides, people who are heavily critical of others are often every bit as unhappy with themselves.
The hardest thing for some of us to accept about this concept is it also means taking responsibility for ourselves and accepting the consequences. But, if we can learn to stop judging every little decision based on others’ views (at least honestly assess whether or not the judgment has any real value to our well being), we can begin to accept ourselves, even like ourselves, and eventually love ourselves. We can finally begin to question our own motivations and hopefully come up with some honest answers…
- What I’m wearing is perfect because I like it – I’m the one wearing it!
- As much as I may want that car, it really is impractical for my budget. It’s my decision I have to live with and afford!
- A person’s physical appearance has so very little to do with who they are on the inside – that’s who I want to get to know!
- I can do what I want to if I want to – it’s my life!
- I would rather choose happiness in whatever way I can than be miserable for what amounts to nothing but the sake of misery.
If it’s really my life, then it’s up to me to decide what to do with it. I can’t live by someone else’s judgments. So, I finally decided I would rather focus on something positive rather than worry over something I really can’t know for certain and have no control over anyway. I have to find my own happiness in my choices instead of assuming those choices will make others dislike me. If I judge my actions may make someone unhappy, I may try to consider their feelings or try to compensate, but ultimately I have to do what I judge to be the right thing for me and my life. Were I to decide to NOT do what’s right for me in order to save the feelings of another, it may make them feel better because they think this is what’s best for my life, but it’s not going to make them any happier with their own.
When I make a bad judgment call, I have to live with it. It’s up to me to learn from it so I don’t repeat the mistake. I have to take responsibility for my decisions and accept the consequences that come with them. It’s not up to me to decide how any other person’s situation should be handled. If sharing my experience with someone helps them come to some understanding in judging what is best for their life, great! If someone wants my opinion on how I might handle a similar situation, I can suggest possible courses of action. But I certainly can’t live their life for them, nor do I want to try. They are not me and I am not them.
The one judgment we must all make is this: I am not a bad person!
At our core, our self is not bad, just different from others (if you’ve just thought of someone you think is “rotten to the core”, you’re proving my point). From here at our core we can more appropriately decide what is best for each our own life. We may find that what is best for us does match another’s views, but it won’t always. We need to understand and accept that it is okay when what our self needs to be happy doesn’t coincide with another’s judgments, this doesn’t make us fundamentally wrong or bad.
We get to decide for ourselves whether something we think we want really will make us happier overall, or if it’s just a superficial want that could lead to some unhappy consequences. If we choose well, we can be doubly happy in the knowledge we made the right decision for our self and it was the right decision. If we choose poorly, we suffer the consequences and then have another choice to make: whether to learn from it or repeat it.
One thing is certain, if we live our lives based on the judgments of others, we will not know genuine happiness. Our selves will be lost amid others’ expectations, opinions, judgments.
To figure out how to find happiness in ourselves, we first have to figure out who and what we are, and what it is that makes us happy – with and regardless of others. In order to figure that out, we must first learn to accept our self.
To be continued…