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.
Conflict is inevitable. Within ourselves, amongst ourselves and even in our environment. Conflict means to “be in opposition.” What could be more natural than pairs of opposites? Even as I sit on this chair, there are opposite forces at work. Gravity pulling me down and the chair holding me up. The “struggle” between opposites creates wondrous things such as; thunder, fire and even balsamic vinaigrette. Our reality is full of friction. It stands to reason, then, that conflict would also be inherent within relationship. After all, we are complex entities.
In my last post, I introduced Jung’s shadow concept; the idea that we suppress the qualities about ourselves that we do not like. This is a prime example of opposing forces at work within the individual. When these forces come into conscious opposition, there is conflict or crisis. We think we should behave one way, but act out something different. We secretly desire something, but do not accept the urge. Conflict.
If such conflict is almost perpetually being played out within each of us, it is no wonder that we project this conflict onto one another. Desires, expectations, behaviors and insecurities collide like a never ending game of bumper cars. Most people who come to my office for help with relationships state conflict as the culprit. We are uncomfortable with conflict. Even those people who seem to generate it are often worn down by it. Conflict gets the better of us.
Nothing that we see as good in our lives is created without opposing forces at work. It can’t be. Opposing force sets everything in motion. I often look back on my life and realize that times of intense conflict served to bring about something that I appreciate or enjoy. In Jungian psychology, paying attention to the conflict within ourselves is the key to unlocking freedom. In other words, addressing the monster may be the only way to obliterate it.
In the recent “fairy tale” stories of Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling, the evil wizard Lord Voldemort cannot be confronted by anyone other than Harry. He is Harry’s evil counterpart, the two joined in a way that makes it impossible for anyone else to intervene. They are opposite forces creating friction and Harry alone must contend with the conflict. Yet, in the end, it is really not Harry who destroys the evil wizard, it is Lord Voldemort himself. Harry’s willingness to confront the evil lord alone allows for his destruction. Harry was always going to win that battle as long as he chose to face it. And don’t forget, it was Lord Voldemort who began the process of making Harry into a hero.
We are all faced with the choice of how to handle conflict every day. Yet, most of us don’t realize that there is energy to harness from conflict. What would be different in your life if you began to take mastery over the energy that conflict creates? How would your perspective change if you began to see the benefit of conflict? This week, in the quiet space you have created for yourself, examine the conflict in your life. Ask yourself what it is trying to teach you.
A well-known psychotherapist and contemporary of Sigmund Freud, Carl Gustav Jung, spent his life delving into the overlapping waters of spirituality and psychotherapy. Jung was interested in the way human beings experience the ethereal and divine in every day life. He taught that symbols, whether in dreams or in the waking state, represent ideas and concepts that can’t be captured in words or pinned down indefinitely by any culture.
As a psychotherapist, Jung studied the psychological process of coming to terms with these existential and spiritual concepts. He sought to understand the relationship of spiritual symbols and archetypes to the human psyche or soul. In his commentary on, The Secret of the Golden Flower, Jung compares modern day psychological symptoms to our primitive reactions to the gods.
“…we imagine we have left such phantoms of gods far behind. But what we have outgrown are only the word – ghosts, not the psychic facts which were responsible for the birth of the gods. We are still as possessed by our autonomous psychic contents as if they were gods. Today they are called phobias, compulsions, and so forth, or in a word, neurotic symptoms. The gods have become diseases; Zeus no longer rules Olympus, but the solar plexus, and creates specimens for the physician’s consulting room, or disturbs the brain of the politicians and journalists who then unwittingly unleash mental epidemics.”
In therapy, clients often describe their behaviors as uncharacteristic of themselves and difficult to control, as if an outside force were propelling their actions. It’s not difficult to see how the Greeks could have believed that circumstances and reactions were influenced by unseen, powerful deities. Today, a similar relationship is found when people feel like slaves to their own mental health symptoms and, either willingly or not, submit to their influences.
In days past, the remedy was to appeal to the gods for help and pity; to respect them and attempt to understand their nature. Yet, this same remedy is not applied to neurosis. What is it that makes neurosis and symptoms so less approachable than powerful and unpredictable gods? Perhaps the idea of gods allowed people to explore depths within themselves from a safer vantage point; places that one would not willingly venture into. Perhaps resolution with the psyche today comes by approaching our phobias, compulsions and symptoms with the same respect, reverence, curiosity and acceptance that men and women used to make peace with the gods, and consequently, with themselves.
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?
The Spirit of Therapy
Where psychotherapy interacts with our mental, emotional, spiritual, physical and relational wellbeing.