By Vivian Coutinho
Get off your high horse and discover why you find criticizing, judging and putting others down so irresistible
Life is wonderful, though not all may agree. That is because its beauty lies at a level just a little beneath what we are normally aware of. Life is really a divinely orchestrated learning experience, and in our brief stints here on earth, we have been given an excellent mechanism for learning, growing and spiritually evolving, namely – relationships. Metaphorically speaking, Earth is our learning school, and relationships provide the curriculum! Success in this school is indicated when your closest, long-term relationships are good. The tragedy of human existence is that the majority of us fail in this school because we have not been able to maintain good relationships with individuals closest to us, and, on a larger scale, with tribes and nations. And so, instead of living in harmony, we live in conflict.
A major source of conflict in relationships is the tendency to criticize, judge, condemn and gossip. We are largely unaware when we indulge in this behavior, deeply ingrained in us. Criticism can range from something innocuous like someone’s habit of ‘talking too loudly’, to something more serious like the other’s ‘failure in bringing up her children properly.’
If you think you do not fall into this category, observe yourself. You must be alert, to catch yourself in the act. Otherwise, you will be unaware of the things you say in the numerous interactions you have with others all the time, because we tend to observe others, but fail to observe ourselves.
Why do we look at the speck of sawdust in our brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in our own? We look for flaws in others because everyone of us is possessed of an ego. Ego is our false sense of self as opposed to our true Self that we have yet to realize. Our main purpose on earth is to overcome this ego by freeing ourselves from identification with it and learning to identify with our Divine Self. Being unaware of the ego, we all, to some degree, succumb to its temptation to feel superior and indulge in negative behavior – like judging, blaming and criticizing. However, the focus of this piece is the category of judgmental individuals who have consistently bad relationships with their nearest ones, because they seriously lack a sense of self-worth.
“The need to judge is a product of an inner imbalance,” says Gary Zukav, in The Heart of the Soul. He also says: “The impulse to judge is generated by internal pain, and judging is like taking a pill to dull that pain…Until you acknowledge that you possess the same characteristics that you judge in others, you will become enraged and contemptuous when you see them in others.”
The last is a truth, called mirroring, that is hard to see and harder to swallow. When you dislike something in yourself, you condemn it in others so that you can feel good by running others down for those same shortcomings.To live in harmony, we need to develop an adequate sense of self-worth, inner peace and security.
What is its importance? Why is adequate self-worth so crucial to one’s behavior? As the term suggests, self-worth is an inner conviction that one is worthy, whole and deserving of love, having a sense that life is perfect rather than unjust and unfair. A strong sense of self-worth can only come from within. You can gauge if you have sufficient self-worth by simply observing your closest relationships. Are you able to accept those you live with without being judgmental and critical of them? If you have good relationships – and are at peace – with those nearest and dearest to you, then this is an indication of a healthy amount of self-worth. In such a case you are at peace with others and, very importantly, with yourself. You can live your life joyfully and creatively.
We look for flaws in others because every one of us is possessed of an ego. Ego is our false sense of self as opposed to our true Self.
By the same token, a lack of self-worth has the opposite effect and deprives you of a sense of peace. Since you feel a lack within, you try to fill it from without. You fear that you are unworthy, imperfect and inadequate. This sense of lack feeds the ego – the seat of fear – and allows it to take control of your life. Your ego now perceives itself as lacking and therefore flawed. In order to rectify this situation and counter the lack within, it seeks to find flaws in others and their behavior. It prompts you to run others down, and to highlight what you perceive as their faults and failings, in an attempt to prove that you are better than them. Thus you try to derive your feeling of worthiness externally, by convincing yourself – and then setting out to convince others – that you are right, better, smarter, more sensible than those around you.
Many have their self-worth eroded in their childhoods. Perhaps they were humiliated, blamed, found fault with or beaten at home. Perhaps they were traumatized by the family fights and conflicts that they witnessed. Or perhaps they experienced a combination of these.
An unhappy, traumatic childhood results in your need for love remaining unmet, and the creation of an unhappy ‘inner child’, seeking to be loved, affirmed, acknowledged and praised. As an adult, you are still, emotionally, that inner child. This emotional lack creates the feeling of inadequacy in the adult you. You constantly seek praise and affirmation from others. You need to repeatedly hear others tell you that you are right. In situations of conflict in your adult life, your unmet need for love will invariably surface, and you react in a way influenced by your programming, which may be to withdraw and become aloof, or to criticize and shout and show you are right! Shouting only highlights your inner unhappiness. A person who shouts, or criticizes, is simply saying, “Look how unhappy I am!”
One such victim, Meena (name changed), a middle-aged housewife, describes her childhood as traumatic. She says, “I was constantly criticized by my elders at home” (which included a close relative besides her parents). “I was terrorized by the constant, almost daily, fights between them, which involved loud condemning and blaming. I lost my self-worth, developed a strong sense of guilt and felt useless and good for nothing. Although many have said I’m talented, I didn’t believe so myself, as I had such a poor opinion of myself. I couldn’t apply myself to anything. Worse, I was plagued by poor health since childhood, as a result of the trauma”. Fortunately for Meena, she has a happy, successful marriage. With counseling, EFT and a deeper self-knowledge, she has slowly grown spiritually and emotionally, learning to overcome negativity and develop inner peace.
The should’s and shouldn’ts
Another sure sign of low self-worth is expectations, which take the garb of shoulds and shouldn’ts. Do our lives centre on expectations? Do we have a history of conflict with others, shunning and rejecting them because they did not live up to our expectations? Of criticizing them because they did not do what we think they should have done? Of condemning them for doing what we think they should not have done? When we are controlled by these should’s and shouldn’ts we have thrown away the key to happiness. The connection is very close – a person with this mindset is extremely unhappy, although he may try hard to prove the contrary.
Expectations cause conflict,” asserts Vivek, a sales and marketing executive. He says, “I experienced this with a person who was always criticizing and condemning those in his family circle for not having gratitude towards him for what he was doing for them. The result: he was always in conflict with those he lived with. His expectations attracted exactly what he feared. He thus created a miserable reality, constantly living in the past, but never in the moment.”
Conditioning or Programming
How does this happen? In your childhood, if you constantly see an elder, such as your father, losing his temper, shouting and yelling to show he is the head of the family, then you get conditioned with the belief that that is the way a man must be. As you grow into adulthood, this belief system becomes the guiding force behind your responses to events in your environment. Since your closest relationships comprise the greater part of this environment, you are always in a state of conflict with your near-and-dear ones.
Increasing your sense of self-worth is of the highest importance. This is not easy, but possible. It only happens when you recognize that deep inside, at the level of soul, you are whole, perfect and complete. This Divine Self is not to be confused with your outer self, your false ego-ridden self – or the flawed person you show up as – which is nothing but a product of conditioning.
Secondly, recognize that the relationships that don’t work are there for a reason – to teach you the truths of life. The Universe always gives you exactly what you need for your growth. And what you need is determined by how you think, and act. Quite contrary to what we have been taught, our reality, or the set of circumstances we find ourselves in, is not something that some external entity has determined for us. It is caused by thoughts from our minds interacting with Universal Mind, producing the circumstances that we experience. For example, a lack of trust towards others will create situations in which others will doubt you. Rejecting others will bring about rejection of you by others. In other words, as you do unto others, so will it be done unto you. As you sow, so shall you reap. So remember the golden rule that you are creating your own reality through your thinking, and are responsible for it.
Are you powerless in your situation? No, you have all the power you need to change it, once you understand these truths. In order to bring harmony and happiness into your relationships, you must develop the awareness to recognize the hidden dynamics of relationships. If you are prone to, say, resentment, then that is what you need to overcome, and your relationships will produce situations that can bring out resentment in you. You can then choose not to be resentful. If you stay present, and become aware of your feelings, you will discover the lessons being taught, and can choose to learn them. That is why you have free will and choice, and every situation provides you with choices.
The reason why we make negative choices is because of the beliefs we have inherited over time. Beliefs are subconscious. We act in the way we do because we are not aware of our beliefs and the feelings that these beliefs generate. You may say, “she was the cause of my anger” or “he made me bitter by doing that”. The truth is, nobody ‘makes’ you angry, bitter or resentful. You choose to be so. But this truth is hard to accept, so you prefer to blame others, rather than to look within!
Subconscious beliefs cannot be eliminated at the level of the conscious mind. Use your conscious mind to understand the process and to go down to the level of the subconscious where the programme was written, in order to eliminate it. Seek therapy or counseling. Meditate, use affirmations and creative visualization to rewrite the programme that is at the root of your unhappiness. Learn to forgive and love yourself unconditionally.
Give up gossip – the scourge of relationships. Remember the words of Eleanor Roosevelt: Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people. Let’s all make the transition from small to great minds!
With increasing awareness, acceptance and effort on your part, there is no reason why you should not break out of this negative cycle and get into a positive one. The result is lasting peace, happiness and deeply satisfying, intimate relationships.
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