There is no more powerful limiting mechanism in our lives than the voice of the judge. I don’t mean that other person – parent, spouse, child, teacher, boss, friend, co-worker, random stranger on the street or in the shopping mall. It’s the internal voice of judgment or internal critic that often runs rampant inside of us that we barely notice, if at all, because it is so clever and really good at disguising itself – for self preservation really.
I first became intimately acquainted with my inner judge in 2008-09 during coaching work with Sarita Chawla. She recommended I read Soul Without Shame by Byron Brown in addition to the work we were doing together. I will forever recognize this as a pivotal point in the shifting shape of my openhearted journey. I wrote about the voice of the judge back then in an article. I am reviving that article here now in an updated version . When I first wrote this post, my inner critic was activated – obvious to me because of how I felt – and I am reminding myself of strategies I already know that help to deactivate it and release its grip on me.
When I first became aware of the force of the internal judge, I had been working with the concepts of self-leadership and hosting oneself for almost as long as I could remember – still do, of course. I worked with coaches, read books, did courses, took part in and led deep group work. I am generally a positive, optimistic person holding deep appreciation and gratitude for much of what transpires in my life and who shows up. I have transformed the negative self talk of my “itty-bitty-shitty committee” into more appreciative forms of self talk and into periods of quiet in my mind. I meditate and practice other forms of reflection and mindfulness.
So, imagine my surprise when I discovered a voice of self judgment and self criticism that was booming loud and clear in my unconsciousness, stronger than any external voice of judgment or criticism could possibly be. This voice constantly set the bar for my performance at the best that I had ever achieved. The bar moved if I did better. When I didn’t match my most excellent performance, even when I did extremely good work, this voice told me that I had failed, that I did not measure up and that I never would on a consistent basis. Strong performance was interpreted as mediocre. Criticisms from others, whether justified or not, was reinforced by this inner critic.
When I felt most down on myself or just down in general, this voice played a significant role – and still can in moments I feel most overwhelmed or vulnerable – until I expose it. I didn’t actually hear it as a voice until I began to listen for it but I felt it strongly in many forms: sadness, unhappiness, melancholy, anger, listlessness, lack of motivation and many other emotional manifestations.
While I had been aware of this voice (or at least the emotions it manifested in) to some extent, I also prided myself on my journey of self-transformation and change. Been there, got that medal, surely I must be done now, can I just get on with my life and success? I realize now it was the voice of self judgment that said, “You’ve been doing this long enough, how come you’re not done?”
Part of the reason I had been pretty oblivious to this voice was because, in my quest to be calm and serene and professional, I skirted over my own emotional reactions. I barely recognized I had them except in the odd instances where they overtook me. Oh, was that an emotion that wasn’t calm and serene? Oops. Nope. Couldn’t have been. It must have been something else.
Then, a friend told me I deal with my emotions intellectually. So, I thought about that. And I thought my friend just might be right. Emotions don’t reside in our intellect. They reside in our bodies. We feel them and sense them. We use metaphors to describe them. We say things like, “That packed a punch!” If we stop to notice, we will notice where it feels like we got punched. And if we stay with that, we will begin to notice the impact. And if we stay with it longer, we will notice the uncomfortableness and want to move onto something else. This is where I am learning to stop. I have learned to stay with it longer, until I can begin to discern the wisdom that is held there and that can only emerge when we give it an escape hatch to surface to the light.
It is in these moments that my voice of self judgment has come booming out at me in all of its voraciousness. With all good intentions, all it wants to do is protect me – from failure, from being unlovable. But its methods only serve to reinforce for me my failures, even to the extent of turning successes into failures, thus creating in my mind my own unlovability and unwantability.
I learned to journal in this voice. I am astounded by the punch it does pack. Periodically I sit and check inside of me to sense into what I’m experiencing and feeling and what the impact is. I journal what I am sensing until I feel done. Then I check in again to see what I am experiencing, sensing and feeling, and then journal again. And then again, if that seems required. I am committed to going the next layer deep and the next until I feel the light flood back into my soul and I feel a lightness of spirit and of body. This is what I want to amplify in my life now.
Exposing my voice of self-judgment transmutes it into a gift of understanding and insight after which joy can once again arise and take more of the space that is its, and my own, rightful due. Now, instead of seeing my journey as one that should be concluded and being hard on myself because it is not, I see my journey and myself with a gentleness I could not access before as it was hidden underneath the protective layer of the voice of judgment. I have always known, intellectually, that learning and growth is a life long journey. Now I know it and accept it with a graciousness that only comes from the light.
(This post was first published at Shape Shift Strategies on December 20, 2011)