Within each of our minds sits a judge, watching the things we do, how well we perform and the quality of our conduct. This judge provides a verdict for each and every one of our actions, and it’s often pretty harsh.
It tells us that we aren’t good enough to receive a promotion. That our hair looks bad. That our voice sounds weird. It passes a verdict on just about everything we do, say or are.
Resist them as we may, these judgments are so powerful that they usually shape the perceptions we have of ourselves regardless of what we consciously think. We grant the word of our inner-critic absolute authority, holding it to be true regardless of our objections.
Whether positive or negative, this internal judge tells us how worthy we are of respect, success or admiration. All of us wish to love ourselves, or at least like ourselves — yet so few of us really know how.
Figuring out how to improve the relationship we have with ourselves is tricky, but essential, and it all starts with the voice inside our head.
Same Actions, Different Judgments
Consider two twin brothers, Alex and Adam. Both achieve good grades in high school, move on to study at college and find themselves in well-paid jobs by the age of thirty. Regardless of their outward similarities, Alex is incredibly confident and self-assured, and Adam is miserable.
Although both brothers followed the same path, their beliefs about their achievements have been entirely different. Their inner-critics are delivering two opposing narratives.
No matter how much Adam achieves, he still feels inadequate. No matter how many people reassure him that he’s intelligent, attractive and successful, he just doesn’t feel it. Sure, a little outward encouragement helps him to feel good about himself from time-to-time, but before long his inner voice starts putting him down again.
Alex, on the other hand, has a great relationship with himself. He feels good about the person he is and doesn’t need to wait for anybody to tell him he’s worthy and capable — his inner judge is already doing that for him.
To quote Buddha,
“The mind is everything. What you think, you become.”
Our self-judgments and internal criticisms dictate the nature of our actions. If we think we’ll fail, and expect to fail, we usually will. And so, it follows, that our happiness, success, and peace of mind all come down to one thing: what we think.
Why Do We Judge Ourselves So Harshly?
My dad was always pretty hard on me as a kid, largely because his father was on him, too. As a result, we were both really critical of ourselves and our actions during adulthood. Most of our inner-critics form in a similar way to this. Our mental judicator is an internalization of the voices that were once outside of us.
Perhaps you can’t pinpoint an exact situation, but at some point in your younger years somebody probably criticized you or put you down in some way. As a result, your subconscious mind decided that that person was right and that you don’t deserve praise, but condemnation.
Of course, it isn’t always as simple as this — but that’s usually how these things start. As children, we absorb all of the remarks of contempt and scorn that we hear and those hurtful tones color the dialogue of our internal judge as adults.
Sometimes these voices are positive. In fact, if they’ve always been positive, we’ll probably have a pretty good relationship with ourselves — like Alex in the above example.
More often than not, however, we internalize the negative and hurtful voices that we hear. It might be the angry reprimands from a disappointed parent or poisonous remarks of a school bully.
At the time, our mind sees these opinions seem truthful and compelling and so it uses them as a yardstick with which to judge our actions as adults.
Reprogramming Our Inner-Critic
In some ways, we may deem the habit of judging ourselves harshly to be quite useful. We would expect that it should motivate us to achieve more and work harder in order to meet our high standards.
And while this is sometimes the case, the tradeoff for productivity usually comes in the form of self-hatred and misery. Even if it spurs us on to get things done, waking up every day and beating ourselves up over every little thing is no way to live.
It’s easy for me to sit here and tell you to stop judging yourself and cut yourself some slack — but easy doesn’t always mean practical, and if it were that simple, you wouldn’t still be reading this article.
An internal judge is important. It’s crucial to keeping ourselves on track and letting us know if we need to make any adjustments. We’re not striving to silence our inner-critic entirely but instead to transform it into a friendly voice rather than one of condemnation.
So where do you start?
Removing External Critics
A crucial part of improving the ways in which we judge ourselves is to learn to speak to ourselves in a new and positive way. This is difficult to do when we’re still surrounded by negative influences — particularly those that caused us to feel badly about ourselves in the first place.
If it’s practical for you to do so, the first step towards creating a positive internal judge is to surround yourself by positive external voices, as well as removing negative ones.
Toxic friendships, unhealthy relationships, condemnatory bosses — none of these are going to help when it comes to learning to love yourself.
Mimicking Healthy Voices
Naturally, when we mess up, our internal voices will start mimicking those of the people that have put us down in the past. It can help, therefore, to replace such voices with other, more helpful ones.
Perhaps it was a loving aunt that offered you an understanding smile and told you not to worry about spilling your juice on the carpet. We all make mistakes, she tells you, and you’re only human like the rest of us.
The next time you do something wrong, allow that voice to populate your mind. Replace your initial condemnation with the loving reassurance of those that were less critical of you about making past mistakes. Imagine that person speaking to you in soothing tones, reminding you that you’re doing okay.
Becoming Your Own Best Friend
Picture sitting down with your best friend, listening to them tell you about their unhealthy relationship. Even if you don’t necessarily agree with their side of the story, you’re still likely to reassure them and offer your understanding instead of telling them that they’re wrong and an idiot.
It’s exactly this kind of approach that we’re trying to make a habit when it comes to our inner-judge. We’re learning how to become our own best friend —and a good one.
A good friend likes you as you are, regardless of what you achieve or how much money you have. When you’re considering a new path or difficult decision, they take a position of co-operation rather than opposition, teaming up with you to help you see things objectively and positively.
Like the loving aunt or encouraging grandfather, a good friend is open to offering praise where it's due. They like you regardless of the mistakes you make, understanding that humans, by nature, screw up from time-to-time and that you’re not a terrible person for doing so.
Through reminding ourselves of our successes and accepting our shortcomings, we can slowly but surely move our conscious mind from being an inner-critic to an encouraging companion.
To do so, it’s crucial that we begin to pinpoint the internal voice we strive to adopt in those we meet. It may be that of our encouraging friends, loving family members or even the voices of writers and singers.
We must continue to ask ourselves — what would that person say to me right now? Would they be kinder and more understanding than I’m being at this moment? And if so, then perhaps we should cut ourselves a little slack.