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we call it the inner critic, superego, or just plain nag, most of us have a
"judge within" who's constantly on our case. A comprehensive guide to
understanding how the inner critic works, this book offers practical, positive
suggestions for breaking free of it. Using straightforward language and
examples from everyday life, Byron Brown shows:
chapter begins with an episode of the "Frank and Sue story," dramatically
illustrating how the inner critic works; each chapter ends with a simple
exercise designed to help the reader move along the path of self-discovery.
is a way of
part of the terrain of your inner world. If you pictured the world inside your
mind as a landscape, different kinds of mental activity would appear as
different kinds of terrain. For instance, there might be the lush jungles of
fantasy, the geometrical cities of financial calculation, the flowing rivers of
dreams, and the silent, expansive deserts of simple awareness. In this inner
world, judgment would appear in various forms, such as the old, familiar
neighborhood of your childhood, unchanged and lifeless. Or the surrealistic
freeways that move you quickly from one place to another but never let you get
off except for gas and food, because all exits are permanently under
construction. Or the set of a Hollywood movie where the surroundings appear
impressive and desirable but have no substance or reality.
is a central element of your inner dialogue, the way you talk to yourself. From
that point of view, it is second nature to you, so close to you that it is hard
even to become aware of its existence. "So I talk to myself—I
rationalize, explain, justify, question, doubt, evaluate, scold, gossip,
confess—all kinds of things. Why should I make a big deal about
judgment?" It seems natural, and even when someone else judges you, if it
is in the familiar terms you use with yourself, you assume that it is part of
life, to be expected.
there is good reason to isolate this part of your inner process. Self-judgment
is perhaps the greatest source of inner suffering and discontent. More than
that—or because of that—it is one of the major barriers to change, growth,
expansion, and transformation. In particular, it prevents you from simply
resting in yourself from moment to moment. Presumably, you have picked up this
book because you have recognized that judgment has a negative impact on you. We
will see much more about what this means as we go along. This chapter will
focus on recognizing the activity of judgment and seeing how it works in your
a preliminary definition:
judgment is a statement of evaluation that implies an assessment of one's value
or worth and is felt as a rejection of one's present state.
refer to an emotion or feeling, a particular behavior, a bodily experience, a
self-image, or an idea about yourself—whatever the central elements are of
your immediate experience.
work begins with learning to recognize when you are experiencing a judgment.
This may seem simple, but it is not. Certain judgments you are aware of and can
describe. Most of your experiences of judgment, however, are unconscious. Your
judgments of yourself are generally more visible to those close to you than
they are to you. Generally, you don't want to see your self-criticisms; you
feel your badness will be exposed. That fear is natural and to be respected. As
you learn about yourself, you will become more compassionate and grounded and
thus able to see more of what creates this fear. The process of self-acceptance
takes time. Just be aware that any feelings or reactions you have now are part
of the first steps in that process.
the first task is to learn to recognize what a judgment is. A judgment may be
felt as any of the following: criticism, condemnation, guideline, motivator,
accusation, advice, rejection, suggestion, question, or praise. It may come
from another person or from inside your own mind. However you interpret its
intention and whatever its source, you are affected by it in a particular way
that makes it fall under the heading "judgment." To see this more
clearly, it helps to reduce the implied content of the statement or question to
a single declarative sentence.
one of recognition is: Identify the judgmental statement. If it wasn't
explicit, you need to make it explicit. Sometimes, someone will talk to you for
five minutes and only if you boil it all down to one statement will you realize
that you felt judged by her words. Similarly, you can tell yourself all kinds
of stories in your head, but if the net result is that you feel bad about
yourself, then you have been engaged in self-judgment. So if someone says to
you when you are ten minutes late for an appointment, "Look what time it
is! My four-year-old could have ridden his tricycle here by now. I hope you
feel good about making me miss morning coffee," you can boil that down to
"You are a jerk for being late." You begin to confront the judge by
making it visible or, in this case, audible.
recommend the following practice for verbalizing judgments: Put the judgment
statement in the second person. Word the statement as if you were the judge
talking to someone else. In other words, make "you" statements rather
than "I" statements. This helps distinguish the judge from the one
being judged, even if both parts are inside you. So instead of saying "I
really screwed up" the judgment is "You really screwed up."
On the surface, this seems to go against the current recommendation for
self-expression, which is to make "I" statements. However, the
purpose here is not to have you take responsibility for your own feelings, as
it is when "I" statements are encouraged in interpersonal
communication. The purpose is to clarify the fact that there are two different
parts inside of you in dialogue. When you say, "I really screwed up,"
you are taking responsibility for something as if it were a fact, without
acknowledging that there is a judgment involved and critical energy is being
directed at you.
look at some examples of judge statements. Notice that the judgmental quality
derives from how they make you feel and is unrelated to whether or not the
statements are true. Let's begin with obvious ones:
You shouldn't have done that.
You are such a weakling.
I can't believe you made such a stupid comment.
You'd better not let that happen again.
If you don't get started now, you'll never amount to
Now you really blew it.
You are so fat no one will ever be interested in you.
You will never be a success, so forget it.
I told you you didn't have a chance.
It's about time you got that right.
What makes you think anyone cares about you at all?
No one will ever take you seriously.
You think you're so smart, don't you?
less obvious but no less devastating ones:
If only you weren't so slow, you could probably
amount to something.
How come you don't really care about me?
You should be making more money at your age.
I knew you could do better if you really tried.
You have such incredible potential.
Only really lazy people sleep in until 9:00 AM.
How come you can't understand that I'm just trying
to help you?
You shouldn't be so hard on yourself.
You really have a hard time accepting criticism,
that many of these statements could be distilled even further to get a clearer
judgment out of them. For instance, "How come you can't understand that
I'm just trying to help you?" is more simply stated as "You are an
ungrateful slob." Or "How come you don't really care about me?"
boils down to "You are uncaring and selfish."
you add the tone of voice of the one making the statement and your own history
around being judged, all kinds of other seemingly innocuous statements can be
felt as judgments. Ones like:
You look tired. (Heard as: What's wrong with you?)
I hate it when you talk like that. (Heard as:
There's something wrong with you.)
How old are you? (Heard as: You are over the hill.)
You made a mistake. (Heard as: You're useless!)
question often arises at this point: What about positive judgments? Should you
only be concerned about statements with a negative content? This is a good
question. The statements that cause the most difficulty are clearly the
negative ones; in fact, if your own self-judgments were always positive, you
would be unlikely to care about challenging the judge. Perhaps you are actually
seeking a way to turn your negative judgmental statements into positive ones.
That would undoubtedly make you feel better, but it would not change the
underlying dynamic of engaging in self-judgment in the first place.
had worked hard on his dance piece for two months, and in the days before he
was to perform, he became very anxious. However, when the night of the
performance arrived, he was surprised to find himself calm and confident.
Spurred on by the lights and the energy of the audience, he danced better than
he ever had. As he left the stage, his judge was there to provide comment:
"You showed them; man, you are great. I bet they were secretly hoping
you'd fail, but you are the number one top dog! Now don't say anything, though,
because you don't want anyone thinking you got a swelled head."
the reception, he grinned when his girlfriend, Carla, came up to congratulate
him. "You were so beautiful up there. I couldn't believe how perfectly you
danced. You are so inspiring to me. Oh, I wish I could dance like that. I
didn't see one mistake. And what was that wild music you used?" Michael
just kept smiling, but his judge was talking again: "What did she mean she
didn't see one mistake? This could be trouble. What if you blow it next time?
After all, dude, you may have been good, but you weren't perfect. Who does she
think you are anyway, Baryshnikov?"
positive or negative judgment is different from a positive or negative feeling.
A feeling is an emotional state arising in response to something. In contrast,
a judgment is an evaluation of yourself as good or bad, right or wrong.
Judgments and feelings are closely associated, as we shall see. However, you
can like or dislike something without having a judgment about it.
you say something like "I like the job I did, and I feel really good that
I completed it," it might seem that the first part is a statement of
feeling and the second is a positive self-judgment. Let's look more closely. If
it is a self-judgment, you are saying: "I really am a good person because
I completed it." This is clearly a defense against a judgment that you are
not a good person. There is nothing wrong with this; recognizing you have value
that is reflected in functioning is an important element in building
self-esteem. However, it is not the same as knowing that your own value is
completely separate from the results of what you do. In the preceding example,
Michael's judge is clearly passing judgment on him, saying how great he is
because he did so well and countering an implicit evaluation of inferiority.
the other hand, "I feel really good that I completed it" might not be
judgmental but instead descriptive of how you feel in a nonspecific way. It
could then be restated as "Having completed the job, I feel happy
[satisfied, expansive, excited, appreciative]." No judgment of self is
judgments stimulate feelings of rejection, guilt, doubt, shame, and
self-hatred, while positive judgments tend to arouse feelings of self-esteem,
pride, excitement, self-righteousness, and superiority. Either way, these
results are conditional, and you are left dependent on the judge to reject or
approve of you. In this book, I am encouraging you to go beyond turning
rejection into approval and to question the very assumptions underlying
is no quick route to undoing this mental activity, which serves as glue for our
psychic structure. The process is gradual and requires patience and commitment.
Positive self-judgments are an important support and guide for life in the
world and cannot be put aside until you discover and integrate the self-knowing
for which they are a substitute. Negative self-judgments are generally less
functional, as well as more painful and debilitating, so we put our attention
on them first. For that reason, most of the examples used here are negative,
but the principles of self-judgment apply to positive content as well. Learning
to stop the effects of negative self-judgment will create a ground for
considering the limitations in giving and receiving positive self-judgment.