We spend way too much time judging ourselves. There’s no getting around it. In fact, it’s one of the things our brain is best at. Our brain learns by identifying things as nouns, categorizing them with adjectives, and knowing what to do with them based on a set of relevant verbs.
We Come by it Honestly
Our judging mind comes out of highly evolved threat-detection mechanisms in our brains which cause us to scan the environment continuously for anything that might be a danger or a cause for concern. And when we truly have life-threatening dangers around us, this scanning equipment is invaluable.
But most of us don’t deal with life-and-death situations on a daily basis. Unfortunately, our brains haven’t gotten the message that our environment is much safer than it was thousands of years ago. They’re still reacting to the world much the way brains did in millenia past when we were trying to survive the ravages of a much wilder world.
So now that there are fewer true threats to our survival, our threat scanning systems have honed in on ever-smaller comparisons and distinctions – not just between safety and fear, but between good and bad, pleasant and unpleasant, and so on. With less and less of our time occupied with the task of simply surviving each day, we have a lot more time to criticize and judge ourselves and others.
One of the biggest challenges to psychological and spiritual growth, is failing to recognize our judging mind for what it is and letting it continue to run amok with our thoughts and feelings. But it’s hard. We’ve been trained to think in terms of good and bad, and nearly everything in our world has to fit into one of those categories (or a permutation of it).
So we find it far too easy to think poorly of the driver in front of us when they don’t drive the way we wish they would; or to treat our partner with disdain because they can’t seem to remember a simple task like rinsing off a dish and putting in the dishwasher. Our kids are “ruining our day” because they’re fighting or unhappy. We call ourselves “stupid” for forgetting to complete a task at work on time. The list goes on.
It’s Not Your Fault
The truth is we bear little responsibility for all of this. None of us chooses our genetic makeup. We don’t choose the way our genes express themselves – most of that is a result of environmental factors present before we could even talk. We didn’t choose the parents we have, the place we were born, the economic advantages or disadvantages we experienced.
In many ways, each of us is what Alan Watts called “a happening of the universe.” One instance of life, expressed in a particular way, as a result of a particular set of circumstances. And one of the most important things we can do with our amazing emotional and mental capabilities is find the capacity to love ourselves in spite of all the things we wish were different about us and about others.
There’s plenty of criticism to go around. Plenty of opportunities to blame. But ultimately, you are a product of what came before you. Your genes are the result of a million choices made by people before you. Your mind is the result of parenting and training you weren’t even aware of when it happened.
What About Now?
And the thing is, what came before is no longer here. No matter what has led you to this point, there’s really only this moment. You have this time to be kind to yourself, to your children, to your spouse. You have this time to show yourself generosity and compassion – to recognize the limited part you play in the drama of the universe, and give yourself a break from being responsible for making it all right again.
This goes for your relationships, too. Many of the factors that make your relationship either feel like a success or a complete disaster are entirely beyond your control. You and your partner both have processes working in your brains and bodies that are outside the recognition of your conscious minds. And your “brain-bodies” are trying to interact and connect with one another in constructive ways day after day – two somewhat automatic nervous systems trying to feel their way to connectioon and commonality. You can, to one degree or another, become aware of these automated parts of yourself and take steps to adjust those processes, but you cannot be held responsible for their mere existence.
When a couple recognizes that their relationship problems often stem from a series of circumstances that are beyond their control, both partners can stop blaming each other for the way things are, and instead they can begin looking at the true nature of the challenges in their relationship: circumstantial interactions, fed by thousands of inputs over thousands of years, leading to this moment of conflict and suffering. When we can remove ourselves from presonal responsibility for everything that has happened, then we can begin to take responsibility for changing what is in our control – right now.
The next time you are angry at yourself, your children, or your partner, take a moment to stop and recognize that much of what is going on is happening in realms beyond any one person’s control. Let yourself experience compassion for the challenges that come with the human struggle, and give yourself and others a break from the judgment and condemnation your brain is so quick to start handing out. Responsibility begins when we recognize what we can actually be held responsible for.