A simple affirmation to avoid self-righteousness
Updated: Jul 25
I don't know if you, like me, have those little moments where you just "can't help" judging others. Even if you make excuses for their behaviour eg: "She's always so flaky...I mean I know she's got a lot going on but haven't we all...!?"
Yes, indeed, haven't we all!?
...and that special affirmation that I'm learning to use is "...I know she's got a lot going on...JUST LIKE ME." (...and that helps me move on and focus on something that's actually going to improve my situation.)
JUST LIKE ME - people can have a hard time
JUST LIKE ME - others might let you down, even when they don't want to
JUST LIKE ME - people have a life which can sometimes get in the way of what they wanted to do
JUST LIKE ME - they feel pretty bad about it (and judgment adds to that guilt!)
Other people's behaviour is NOT about YOU!
Let's break that down for a moment. Have you never let someone down at the last minute? Have you never agreed to something and then changed plans? Have you never just simply not shown up because you genuinely forgot/lost track of time/really didn't know which day it was!? And what was your reason? Oh, it's OK, it's so-and-so, they're used to me being like/doing that?! No, of course not, there were a number of external events contributing to that moment, and it is highly unlikely that any of them were personal relative to the person being let down.
It's very easy to take things personally
As a bit of an emotional hangover from our preference to being within a "collective", we do have a tendency to seek a sense of validation from others. We look to those around us to inform our behaviour and sometimes our thinking - to varying degrees of success for us. However, when we are let down, or put out in some way, an automatic negative thought may well be "Is it (because of) me?!" This may then make us angry, which sets of the cycle of criticism at the start of the article...and solves little.
The words in the brackets are important because the mind-set shift I will suggest is minimal, and "Is it me?" doesn't capture what I believe is going on in most of our heads. If we are taking something personally, the question we are asking is "In what way might I have caused this?"
Reframe your thinking
Try instead to ask "Is it (just like) me?" This puts a whole new perspective on the incident. It is one where we can acknowledge and accept, that we are all quite similar...just at different points in time.
Note however, this does not mean (whether personal or not) you have to accept a repeat of the behaviour, even if you are to forgive it (or at least not waste energy judging it)...if you need greater reliability - ask yourself what you can do to achieve that...and go do it!
The point I am making here is more about the act of judgment.
Why is being "judgmental" a waste of energy?
Professionally - as a coach - it would stop me from fulfilling the fundamental rule of coaching, holding a belief that the client is able to solve his or her own issues (even if it takes time). If you have no faith in your client, your ethical move is to refer them to someone else. This would impede my practice and my success.
For you too, in the professional context, a belief that someone is not capable, or will "behave a certain way" can lead to the "self-fulfilling prophesy" which needn't have happened, OR result in not trusting someone who deserves an opportunity, or conversely trusting someone who turns out to be a bad bet. Past behaviour is perhaps an indicator of the future, but it is not the whole picture.
Personally, being judgmental can lead to unfair expectations being placed, or a lack of forgiveness following being let down.
...and of course, if we wind ourselves up enough by expressing our self-righteousness or critique of others, how much energy do we have left for doing the things that serve our higher good...or in psychological terms...help us reach our goals?
How to "move on" instead of judge
ASK don't assume. If something has upset you - take a moment to ask (nicely) why it happened? Follow that up by asking, what can you (both) do to avoid it happening in future...if there is to be a future.
Recognise if you are making "sweeping statement" and call your self out on them. Notice if you are saying things like "All men/women/children..." or "No-one..." or "Everyone..." and ask yourself if you really mean that or are you actually just referring to one particular person or situation.
Choose to recognise (and verbalise!) something nice instead of the critique. Instead of thinking "He's showing off again..." try "I'm really glad I got to see him so happy." (This has the bonus of enabling you to springboard off that positivity and go and focus on developing yourself, rather than instead being consumed with envy or anxiety.)
Don't take it personally If my explanation above wasn't enough, try this little thought experiment adapted from Theibaut Meurisse:
Think about the person who let you down
Ask yourself - what do you think s/he is doing now?
Ask yourself - do you think s/he is thinking about you now...or is actually concerned with aspects of his/her own life?
Apart from THIS task - how much do YOU think about that person on a daily basis!?
This exercise puts things in perspective - we are unlikely to feature high enough on anyone's radar to have been prey to a "deliberate snub". When you can accept that, it is likely any anger you feel may disperse with it, and we return to the original affirmation that will help you move on:
It happened...there will have been a reason...Just like me.
We're not so different - and perhaps not so bad - after all.
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience.