This past week I attended a retreat called “Soul Without Shame: Liberating Yourself from the Judge Within”. It was a great retreat lead by Byron Brown who has written a book by the same name.
It was empowering to be able to put some space between myself and the judge in my head who harps at me to do this or to not do that; the one who constantly compares my life to others where one of us always comes out deficient; the voice that tells me I will never be able to change my bad habits and become the fully alive person I long to be.
We internalize this voice from the authority figures of our youth—parents, relatives, teachers, the community—all ready and willing to give us their opinion on how we should be and what we should do.
Some of this was necessary to help us learn to function in a complicated world when we were young. At best, the intention was to keep us safe, well liked and to guide us towards accomplishing all the desired goals the adults in our life had for us.
The more damaging result was that we learned that there were parts of ourselves that were unacceptable, so we shut those parts down, hid them in the shadows, in order to get the love, care, and acceptance we needed as a young child. This happened to each of us to varying degrees, according to how healthy the adults in our life were. It hurt us then and hurts us now, denying us the ability to experience ourselves as whole.
“The judge is the force in you that constantly evaluates and assesses your worth as a human being and thus limits your capacity to be fully alive in the present moment.” –Byron Brown
The judge/critic causes us to deny parts of ourselves; criticize and blame others; and reject our current experience, keeping us from being present in our lives. Through advertising and the media our culture completely supports this judge, telling us that if we just buy _____________, we will be happier and have perfect lives. If we aren’t careful, we buy into this illusion, acquiring more and more stuff, spending more and more money, and still feel bad about ourselves.
The really good news is that we are now adults and we don’t need this judge to tell us what to do anymore. We are fully capable of making good choices for ourselves, to know right from wrong, to follow our own wisdom for guidance.
You can distinguish your inner guidance from the voice of the judge by listening and being aware of how you feel. If you feel admonished, deficient, guilty, helpless, ashamed, worthless, depressed, righteous, superior, to name a few feelings, then have no doubt, you have been victim to this tyrant. If you feel expansive, at peace, clear and grounded, that is the connection with your inner wise self.
Maintaining our distance from this insidious character in order to be free to be who we are and who we want to be takes constant practice. The easiest step with the biggest impact is to be gentle and kind with ourselves. Give ourselves a break. We are all doing the best we can and deserve loving compassion from ourselves for our efforts.