Of all the worries that clients bring with them into the therapy room, fear of judgment is one of the greatest. Judgment is defined as; “an opinion or conclusion.” It sounds like such a harmless, simple word, yet the act of judging holds enormous sway over our hearts and minds.
In the Greek myth, The Judgment of Paris, Zeus gives Paris, a mortal man, the task of deciding which of three goddesses (Hera, Athena, Aphrodite) is the fairest. Hera promises him wealth and power if he chooses her. Athena offers victory in battle, glory and wisdom. Aphrodite promises him true love from a beautiful woman. Blinded by his passion, Paris chooses Aphrodite’s offer and awards her the title of fairest. An angry Hera then tricks Paris by giving to him a “clone” of the real woman he is to marry, but Paris, still blind with his desire, does not even notice.
The myth makes a point of telling the reader that Paris is “blinded” by the light and radiance of the goddesses before he judges them. It is obvious that Paris’ judgment is solely about his own profit. Objectively, there was not a correct answer for who was most beautiful, but subjectively there was a “right” answer for Paris himself. In that moment, he made the conclusion that true love was better to have than wisdom, victory, wealth or power. Paris is so blinded by his own opinion and conclusion (his judgment), that he does not even realize that his new wife is a figment of his imagination.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) teaches that judgment is a type of “labeling” events, others and ourselves that restricts our freedom and creates distress. Labeling something as “good,” “bad,” “ugly,” “pretty,” “worthy,” and “unworthy” creates rigidity and stuck-ness. Judgment creates distress because it puts us into boxes that are very difficult to get out of and it limits the possibilities in our lives.
Within the major religion’s doctrines, there can be found numerous passages warning about the act of judging. The Holy Bible reads; “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you (Matthew 7:12).”
Similarly, the Buddha said that humans make judgments in four ways, (1) according to outward appearance, (2) according to the opinion of others, (3) according to economic status and (4) according to reality. He too said, “Do not be a judge of others, do not judge others. Whoever judges others digs a pit for themselves (A. III, 351).
And finally, the Quran espouses that man is not fit to judge; “I am no bringer of new fangled doctrine among the apostles, nor do I know what will be done with me or with you. God is the ONLY one who can judge humans (46:9).
Yet, what does it mean not to judge? How can we live in a world without opinions and conclusions? Aren’t we forming opinions and conclusions all of the time?
DBT teaches that one way out of judgment is to observe the facts that we can see, hear, taste, touch and smell. You may notice that someone has arched eyebrows, curly brown hair and high cheekbones. All facts. It is when you label that person as “pretty” that you slip into the arena of judgment. Judgment creates distress because we begin to mistake it as truth. The phrase, “I feel sad” is very different from saying “I AM sad.” One is a fact (the feeling) and one is a judgment about our very character. It is much easier to move through feelings than it is to get unstuck from things we believe are true about ourselves.
Judgments only belong to the individual who has them. Remember, they are simply “opinions” not facts. Yet, I know of countless people who are distressed about other people’s judgments of them. When you allow others’ opinions to distress you, you are taking them on as you own. It is important to let go of your own judgments and also the judgments of others.
The first step is to notice your judgments. This week, observe your tendency to judge. Look for words and labels like, “fair,” “unfair,” “should,” “should not,” “right,” and “wrong.” Notice what events, people and attributes of yourself you tend to judge the most. Notice how attached you are to your judgments. Then ask yourself what it would be like to let go of some of those judgments. Practice observing and describing with facts instead of with judgments. Let your conclusions be open ended.
The Emerald Cockroach Wasp, featured on an episode of Radio Lab, is able to essentially turn a cockroach into a zombie by stinging it in the brain with her venom. Once stung, the cockroach is under the wasp’s control. It is no longer master of itself, no longer what it once was. The cockroach is at the mercy of the parasite.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Perfectionism and Anxiety can feel like parasites. Stress has shown again and again to be a leading cause of heart disease and other unpleasant physical ailments. There is no denying that these “disorders” and “problems” afflict many people and cause much damage. I see this every week in my counseling office. People worn down by worry, stress, and anxiety. I have even been that person. Feeling tired, scattered, confused and “not myself.”
What lies hidden behind these pervasive symptoms is sometimes difficult to uncover. Like a garden weed, stress has a sneaky way of winding itself around the flowers in our lives, the things that truly matter to us. Our thoughts, expectations and values become compromised. It is only by unraveling the weed from the flower that you can ensure a bed full of beautiful, life-giving growth.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) helps us identify the thoughts and expectations that lie at the heart of our responses. We must slow ourselves down to catch these racing revelations. They speed through our heads day in and day out, leaving ideas implanted in our beings, swaying our actions, causing emotions to well up and make us feel out of control. I call them the “speed demons.” How crafty are our thoughts. Silently and stealthily informing our world when we don’t even consciously grasp that they are there.
Yet, there is hope! We all have the ability to recognize their presence. If we slow ourselves down enough to practice getting to know them, we will begin to recognize these thoughts. We will begin to catch them like butterflies in a net. Examine them. Decide which ones to act on and let the others go. This is where our control as human beings lies. In the catching, examining and letting go. Our power lies in the ability to decide whether or not to act on the thoughts, expectations, perceptions and values that we find hanging around in our minds.
OCD, Perfectionism and Anxiety “trick” us into having unrealistic and rigid expectations for ourselves, others and the world around us. They keep us stuck in ineffective ways of thinking, caught up in the “shoulds” and “should nots.” They numb us from acting on our true values and desires. Like the zombie cockroach, we become lost to our true selves, restricted and controlled by our minds.
This week, ask yourself what distressing thoughts, expectations and perceptions seem to have a hold on you. Try to catch these thoughts as they come to you during the day. Become familiar with their presence. And, perhaps, choose to let go of them in the moment.
Marsha Linehan, the founder of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) says that truly living is learning to live with your eyes wide open. Saying “yes” to life and to whatever life has brought you. Taking control by taking a good look at what is before you and inside of you.
Observing is one of the skills DBT helps people fine tune. It sounds easy, and in a way, it is a very simple skill. Yet, it can be difficult to practice. We are always observing. Some of us notice our outside world; colors of changing leaves, facial expressions, and birds in the trees. Some of us notice our inner world; thoughts, emotions and body sensations. Our attention is usually drawn to particular aspects of our experience. That leaves quite a bit to escape our notice.
We have a tendency to shy away from uncomfortable aspects of ourselves and our world. Someone who is good at observing her surroundings may be compensating for an unwillingness to observe her internal experience. On the other hand, there are those of us are who consumed with internal dialogue, to the extent that we hardly notice what happens around us.
The skill of observation requires us to slow down and take notice. External observation can help us escape the confines of our mind and our limited experience and allow us to enjoy the pleasures of our five senses. Internal observation can help us tune into ourselves to understand what we are truly feeling and thinking in a given moment. Observation has the power to help us become “unstuck” from distressing thoughts or worry, disengage from overpowering emotions, experience or notice other emotions and give us a different perspective on our situation.
1. Observe your surroundings. Use your five senses to truly see, hear, taste, smell and feel what is around you. Let go of thoughts so that the act of simply observing can take over. Feel the sun on your skin, watch the uncurling of the clouds, hear the quiet sounds of nature, smell the earth, taste the flavors of your food. You may find that basking in these simple things will allow you to release tension.
2. Observe your thoughts, feelings and body sensations without judgment. With curiosity, stand back and “catch” thoughts as you would butterflies. Notice the constant movement of thought, the waves of emotion and the way they affect your body. Begin to notice the relationship between these three aspects of yourself.
3. Observe yourself. Use your second attention to “watch” yourself go about your day. Be curious about your movements, reactions and behavior. Notice how you react to your environment or the things that happen during the week. Study yourself.
“Self-observation brings man to the realization of the necessity of self-change. And in observing himself a man notices that self-observation itself brings about certain changes in his inner processes. He begins to understand that self-observation is an instrument of self-change, a means of awakening.” - George Gurdjieff
Last week we spent our quiet moments surveying the contents of our minds; our thoughts. Without judgment, we noticed what thoughts continue to swing around in our awareness when we aren’t paying attention. Perhaps you were surprised with what you found, perhaps discouraged, perhaps overwhelmed. Whatever your reaction, accept this as your starting place.
Identifying our thoughts gives us leverage. If we know they are there, we can disengage from them. How, you may ask, can I disengage from a thought? Don’t thoughts come from “me?” Who am I without my thoughts?
Marsha Linehan, the founder of Dialectical Behavior Therapy, asserts that thoughts are not “facts.” They are experiences to be noticed, but not believed. If thoughts are not facts, then they certainly can’t define who we are. Yet, many of us spend our lives dominated and defined by the thoughts that arise within us. We respond and react to them as if they constitute the only reality.
Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “Men are not prisoners of fate, but prisoners of their own minds.” So, how do we find freedom from our endless thoughts, assumptions and perceptions? I propose three ways.
1 One way to find freedom from our thoughts is to give them our attention. Blow-ups, fights and conflicts are often subdued when people felt heard. The same can be true of our minds. If you notice yourself being bombarded with thoughts this week, consider setting aside a small amount of time to pay attention to them. Just listen and acknowledge or write them out. You’re likely to find that given some attention, they become less persistent.
2 Ultimately, we want to disengage from our thoughts; to stop identifying with them. Linehan teaches that a thought is “just a thought.” No more, no less. In DBT, participants are often encouraged to imagine a flowing river or a sky of moving clouds that they can “throw” their thoughts into over and over. In your quiet moments this week, practice noticing your thoughts, accepting their existence, and giving them up. Over and over and over.
3 Disengaging from our thoughts means we are back in control. As you learn to stop identifying with your thoughts, decide which ones you want to react to and which ones you don’t. A thought cannot cause you to react. You decide to react from a much deeper place. Freedom from thought arises with the realization that we can choose which thoughts to respond to, and which thoughts to simply notice and let go.
Rejuvenation is about discovery, not about a final destination. No matter what your experience is like this week, congratulate yourself for just noticing it.
Photo by Bet Mercer
In counseling, we talk about people being “stretched” by their willingness to engage in an exploration of themselves. The word “stretched” indicates that two opposite ends are being pulled in two opposite directions. So, what do we mean when we talk about being stretched?
One of the premises of yoga is being able to notice pairs of opposites – both in the body and in the mind. Yogis pay attention to polarities, noticing their relationship to one another. Dialectical Behavior Therapy also helps clients notice and accept opposites, and to strive to maintain a balance between them. We label things as “good” and “bad,” “right” and “wrong,” “happy” and “sad,” but there is a magnetic pole between those pairs of opposites, making them dependent on one another and not mutually exclusive. Opposites can both be true at the same time. Getting a new job can be both “good” and “bad” at the same time. What is important, is noticing the relationship between the opposites, not the labels.
Trees are an excellent metaphor. A tree roots itself deep in the ground. In fact, this is the first thing it does as a seedling; it begins to explore the deep underneath. As it grows, it continues to reach downward, seeking nourishment and finding stability. If a tree does not reach down into that depth, it will die. A tree also grows upward. It spreads itself high and wide and produces incredible beauty as well as nourishment and protection for others. This tree continues its growth in opposite directions for its entire lifespan because it needs both to survive.
We, too, need this opposite growth. If we focus only on grounding and settling, we may miss out on personal growth, mystery, discovery and giving to others. If we focus only on expanding, we may lack the stability of knowing who we are and making decisions.
Where do you tend to put your time, attention and energy? What would change for you if you sought to balance yourself, to stretch, to embody the wisdom of a tree?
Why do some people rise above suffering while others are destroyed by it? This was the question that led Dr. Marsha Linehan to create Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). Marsha discovered that those who did not suffer were able to accept the pain in their lives. Those who couldn’t accept the pain, suffered. Acceptance seems like an easy concept. It’s mandatory for us to accept situations in life that we can’t control, like the weather or someone else’s mood. Yet, acceptance is often mistaken for admittance. We may admit that we can’t make it stop raining, but unless we let go of our internal struggle with Mother Nature, we are not accepting.
The internal struggle is often more painful and damaging than the outward one. A relationship ending may feel like a threat to our existence, when in reality, it is a common occurrence. The threat is emotional, and emotions take us on a roller coaster ride that leaves us feeling miserable.
The Greek mythological story of Pandora highlights this concept. At her creation, Pandora was given gifts from the gods. Hermes gave her a golden box he told her never to open. Pandora was happy and provided for, but slowly she became restless with curiosity about the box. Her mind buzzed with guesses and reasons why she should open it. So preoccupied with these thoughts she became that one day she opened the box. Out flew the ills of mankind; disease, age, famine, insanity.
Acceptance cannot be won with the mind alone. Pandora’s thoughts only served to increase her restlessness and cause her to forget her contentedness with all else. In the end, Pandora’s inability to truly accept and be at peace with what she could not control, led to great suffering.
DBT utilizes Eastern Philosophical ideas urging people to “go toward” that which we must accept. Our thoughts, our feelings, our circumstances, our urges. To accept these, we must know them and know them well. Acceptance asks us to fully embrace what we want to avoid or discard. Only in embracing these unwanted pieces of ourselves or the world, will we find the ability to accept them and be at peace.
In The Tracker by Tom Brown Jr., the author writes about his acceptance of cold weather by embracing and inviting it. He would stand half clothed in the chilly air until his body and his mind no longer resisted. With time and practice, cold weather brought him joy, not pain.
What are you resisting in your life? Does your suffering come from the thing itself, or from your thoughts, feelings and perceptions about it? What would change if you stood in the midst of it all and just let go?
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