You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection”
― Gautama Buddha
Do you remember the story about the little boy who killed his grandmother’s pet duck? He accidentally hit the duck with a rock from his slingshot. The boy didn’t think anybody saw the foul deed, so he buried the duck in the backyard and didn’t tell a soul.
Later, the boy found out that his sister had seen it all. Not only that, she now had the leverage of his secret and used it. Whenever it was the sister’s turn to wash the dishes, take out the garbage or wash the car, she would whisper in his ear, “Remember the duck.” And then the little boy would do what his sister should have done.
There is always a limit to that sort of thing. Finally, he couldn’t take it anymore-he’d had it! The boy went to his grandmother and, with great fear, confessed what he had done. To his surprise, she hugged him and thanked him. She said, “I was standing at the kitchen sink and saw the whole thing. I forgave you then. I was just wondering when you were going to get tired of your sister’s blackmail and come to me.” (excerpt from The Verdict is In)
Fear drives us to do some very strange things. When we fear the judgment of others more than we respect ourselves, we may compromise our values, beliefs and indeed, our sense of self in order to win the approval of others, or just as often, to avoid the criticism of others. WGT Tchividjian says, “The deepest fear we have, “the fear beneath all fears”, is the fear of not measuring up, the fear of judgment.”
But, as always, we are paradoxical, quixotic creatures, we humans. We are only susceptible to criticism and judgement in the areas in which we secretly judge ourselves as wanting. Not meeting our own expectations, we cringe away from the idea that others have sensed our flaw(s) and are pointing out that we don’t measure up to some expected standard.
Think about it. I know personally the areas in which I feel myself to be lacking, and I am sensitive to others ‘discovering’ these bits of flaw in me. But in areas where I am confident ~ I “know my stuff” so to speak, I am mostly immune to the criticism of others, and can often hear what others have to say much more objectively. I am able to consider what’s been said and either learn from it, or discard it. But when my self-criticism and others’ judgements are congruent, I experience a sense of shame, and am very aware of my inner squirming. Sometimes, the solutions my psyche throws up to deal with this emotional crisis are funny. Sometimes they’re distressing, and often, they’re painful; old, worn-out tapes of critical, harsh words I’ve said to myself for years.
As a psychologist, I’ve learned in working with clients that the expression of this shame can be quite unique but when distilled to its essence, will take one of two forms. Internalizing (destruction of Self) or externalizing (destruction of Other). But make no mistake – action is initiated in response to the convergence of self-criticism and the judgement of others. Very rarely does any good come from action initiated in this way. Quite the opposite, usually.
So how does one become immune to the judgement of others?
Short answer? Learn to love and accept yourself. And you can begin by divorcing yourself from public opinion.
This is not the Spizz-Me-Up kind of self-love that actually looks to others like infantile egocentrism. This is real love – a realistic, accepting, gracious understanding of self that is able to acknowledge weaknesses and flaws as well as acknowledging strengths and abilities. A balanced perspective which allows for growth while permitting one to bask in the happiness of being alive. This love is a perspective that embraces self-acceptance ~ as an imperfect, gloriously unique individual. The unshakeable belief that insists I am one-of-a-kind, not subject to the measuring stick of any other individual. A self-love that says, “Normal is as normal does” and then sets out to model a personal version of normal that is not dependent on the approval of nor fearing criticism from other normal-challenged individuals.
Ah. But how to get there? There are all sorts of resources available on the self-help shelves in nearly any bookstore in the world. Find one that feels congruent to you and read it. Do the exercises, choose to take the time needed to meditate on the suggestions and ideas the book might make with regard to your thinking. Be brave. Try out some new behaviours with friends and family and keep track of the outcome. If you want some specific suggestions, I like, and have used some helpful sources. (I don’t make any money from Amazon, they just make it easy to ensure I’m sourcing the right book. Get the books you want from anywhere you want. In fact, I encourage you to support an independent bookshop near you.)
Brene Brown The Gift of Imperfection
Debbie Ford The Dark Side of the Light Chasers
The Organic Sister Digging Deep (This one’s for women)
And for anyone at all looking to learn to love/accept Self, I recommend Good Therapy’s Self-Acceptance Training.