I remember it well, the first time the word judgmental was used in reference to me. It was a boyfriend who uttered it as we sat in a booth at Denny’s, eating post-hangover scrambles. He shattered my self-perception while I choked down a hash brown, and so began an unraveling akin to the slow picking at the edge of a band-aid, with an awareness that pain will ensue if you go any further. It would take years for me to press forward, but in that moment, part of me awoke.
I didn’t accept his classification, arguing that I was instead analytical, intrigued by human nature. But it was too late, his words grabbed hold and the label of “judgmental” was mentally filed away, causing me to question my motivations thereafter. It was a subtle pondering. I wasn’t ready to wholly own such a lofty and derogatory quality but at the ripe old age of 21, who is?
And, it is true that I’m intrigued by human nature, so I had that to hide behind. But, I’ve used judgment as a means of self-protection for as long as I can recall, and it’s more than possible that it birthed my interest in others. When you’re nitpicking the actions of those around you, curiosity surrounding intention builds.
I rationalized through other means as well. “How was I supposed to connect with friends if we didn’t talk about other friends?” “ We’re just expressing our love and concern through discussion.” “What else are we going to talk about, if not each other???” “I’ll be so lonely if I rise above judgment.” I really didn’t know how to differentiate between discussion and judgment, connection and gossip.
My girlfriend suggested I read “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz. Yeesh. Can you say game changer? My brain exploded when I associated that what I said about others was a reflection of how I felt about myself. It was a liberating notion, while simultaneously rendering me overwhelmed at my perceived shortcomings. The first stab at taking responsibility for your emotions often leaves you feeling somewhat stymied instead of empowered. It’s so much easier to pass that power off to those we judge... those who judge us, a learned habit most of us form early on. Introspection, after all, isn’t always pleasant, and we’re a society notorious for avoidance of all that breeds discomfort.
One of the agreements is to “Be Impeccable With Your Word.” I finished the book with excellent intentions on this front. Then said girlfriend and I met up for drinks, and while walking to the bar with our red Solo cups full of pre-cocktail cocktails, struggled to find anything to talk about that wasn’t infringing upon our ode to impeccability. We decided that we’d instead focus on the other Three Agreements because this one was a lost cause, completely unrealistic unless you’re Buddhist Monk status.
For the next decade or so, I continued to ignore that Agreement, using all manners of justification that had previously proven effective. After all, I was a hairstylist, and there’s nothing women like to talk to their hair girl about more than other women. Still a losing battle. And, I was growing increasingly more uncomfortable with my deficiency, feeling robbed of precious energy and joy. My introspection, willingness to accept personal responsibility, and therefore my emotional intellect, had grown significantly, and I was now acutely aware of the judgment being imparted with each word I spoke.
How to clean up this seemingly innate behavior? I knew with certainty that I used it to leverage myself into a false sense of superiority when feeling insecure, to feign connection, or when my self-defined identity seemed threatened. It kinda worked, for like a sec. And then I felt like shit. You know, that mild sense of ick accompanying behaviors that aren’t in line with your highest self. If you pay attention, it’s there. When you shoot your husband a snippy jab for not helping around the house enough… ick. When you don’t pay attention to your son’s extremely detailed and pride filled story about his Minecraft creation because you wanna lose yourself in your phone … ick. When you talk to one friend about another friend’s lack of parenting effort (right after ignoring the Minecraft story)... ick.
That ick is the Universe nudging you back to center, a reminder that you’re better than that. If aligned with your highest self, you should feel love and joy during and after an interaction. The ick was overtaking me, on so many levels. I was angry at myself for succumbing to judgment, even in the presence of this less than gratifying sensation.
Something had to give. All of my judgment, my venting, my complaining, my shit talking, wasn’t accomplishing anything except the magnification of negative emotion and the multiplication of those perceived infractions. The more I judged the people and situations in my life, the more those things compounded. Like attracts like, and I was putting out some serious muck. The only way out of this was to renounce judgment completely.
My husband and I made a pact. With the assumption that our thoughts are creative, we vowed to keep our combined energies pristine. If we caught the other muddying things up, we were swift to remind of the transgression and literally breathe off the negativity that had been initiated.
It was a wild success. We both felt as though we were walking on air… in control, inspired, purpose-driven, as if we’d rejected our egos in favor of joy.
We lived on cloud nine for approximately two weeks. Then little things started going awry, like sick kids and/or a lack of sleep, and judgment, as it often does, slyly crept in. The vibe in the house became noticeably heavier, we weren’t as accomplished, even our relationship felt more distant.
Grateful for the reminder given to us by the disparity in our moods from one week to the next, we made the choice to again mentally tidy. Judgment has been part of my life for so long. I use it as one would cigarettes or sugar. It’s my go-to fix when I’m feeling inadequate. It’s always going to be a choice for me to mentally tidy, to reject the ick. The struggle is real Y'all.
So, how do you know the difference between judgment and discussion, connection and gossip. Check in with yourself, take note of the emotional sensations surrounding what you're doing or saying, find the highest version of you and choose to connect on that level. Make that decision over and over again. That is your inner guidance communicating with you. Talking with a friend about another friend (technical name: gossip) accomplishes absolutely nothing. The best thing we can do for others is silently wish them well and believe in their powers to progress. Pray for them, send loving energy. Know that they have spiritual guidance available to them and will work through discord in their own way and time. For some, that process may test the patience of everyone around them, but it is not our journey to judge.
We don't live in a cocoon, negativity will inevitably find us, but we can surround ourselves with people that fill us up and grow us. While not always possible, it’s still conceivable to do your damndest to hover above less than stellar conversations, not engaging in gossip. This is equally, if not more important, in the realm of thoughts. Just because you didn’t go so far as to give judgment voice, a thought is still transformative. It’s your job to protect your energies because they dictate the state of your life. This necessitates mindfulness and conscious effort. Your band-aid may be covering up an entirely different wound. The methodology remains the same. Have grace with the pace at which you heal but choose to peel back that corner and begin. The best version of you is waiting on the other side of pain.
A little insight from The Four Agreements, by Don MIguel Ruiz:
“Go inside and listen to your body, because your body will never lie to you. Your mind will play tricks, but the way you feel in your heart, in your guts, is the truth.”
“We judge others according to our image of
perfection as well, and naturally they fall short of our expectations.”
“Imagine living your life without judging others. You can easily forgive others and let go of any judgments that you have. You don’t have the need to be right, and you don’t need to make anyone else wrong. You respect yourself and everyone else, and they respect you in return.”
"Gossiping has become the main form of communication in human society. It has become the way we feel close to each other, because it makes us feel better to see someone else feel as badly as we do.”
“THE FIRST AGREEMENT Be Impeccable with Your Word THE FIRST AGREEMENT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT ONE and also the most difficult one to honor. It is so important that with just this first agreement you will be able to transcend to the level of existence I call heaven on earth. The first agreement is to be impeccable with your word. It sounds very simple, but it is very, very powerful. Why your word? Your word is the power that you have to create. Your word is the gift that comes directly from God. The Gospel of John in the Bible, speaking of the creation of the universe, says, “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word is God.” Through the word you express your creative power. It is through the word that you manifest everything. Regardless of what language you speak, your intent manifests through the word. What you dream, what you feel, and what you really are, will all be manifested through the word.”
“Being impeccable with your word is the correct use of your energy; it means to use your energy in the direction of truth and love for yourself.”
“There is a huge amount of freedom that comes to you when you take nothing personally.”
“Even when a situation seems so personal, even if others insult you directly, it has nothing to do with you. What they say, what they do, and the opinions they give are according to the agreements they have in their own minds. Their point of view comes from all the programming they received during domestication.”