Holidays with the fam have this special ability to cause immeasurable angst within people. Perhaps it’s rooted in your Aunt Cheryl’s creepy casserole. Or maybe it’s your Grampy laid out on the couch, sounding like a wet-vac left on past its tour of duty with only spittle left to suck. Well, on second thought, he sounds like a highlight.
Probably, actually, definitely, it’s a look in the eyes you get when you’re sharing all the happenings about life, whilst catching up from the year before. And what you see isn’t love, acceptance, and admiration like you were hoping. Instead, it’s the one that crumbles your back bone just a bit. The glaring evidence of disagreement. Maybe even disappointment. A half smile but with no eyes to support it. Regret sets in.
You stumble through your words questioning their expression and wondering their thoughts. All the while, your sympathetic nervous system steps up armed and at attention for its many variations of engage or retreat. Why do they disagree? What did you say wrong? You wish you hadn’t said anything. Spiraling fast as it feels like a challenge to the very fiber of your being and the reality that you call true. You feel attacked. Are we not family? On the same team? You’re doing everything you can not to tell her that her casserole looks and smells like 18-hour road kill.
Simply put you feel incredibly vulnerable. Man, it’s the absolute worst.
It is. But what if I also say I’m striking glares of disagreement on that very scenario I just spelled out, but actually on the party who’s feeling attacked. That it chaps my ass so much that sometimes it hurts to sit.
Well if I were you, I’d offer ointment and ask why this evokes such strong feelings in me and you’d have a valid point.
But also, I have a point.
That scenario grates on me because it’s at the root of so much dysfunction in our lives and yet it’s almost universally accepted as correct. I see it as a massive societal misstep and it adds to the fragility that hinders modern folks. It comes mostly in the form of this:
“I feel like I’m being judged!”
As I scramble in my brain for the right way to describe this phrase, all I can think about is a meme I saw recently that broke down the different varieties of shit (ie: batshit = illogical, dogshit = poor quality, apeshit = frighteningly aggressive, bullshit = lies…)
Well “judgey,” with its usual negative connotation?
Note that even as I typed the words of “judgement”, the corners of my mouth turn down while my lips snarl and my eyes roll utterly unimpressed. Much like Auntie Cheryl’s, probably.
Because here’s the thing: you ARE being judged
Plain and simple, there it is. We all judge. You judge me. I judge you. You judge me for judging you. We judge everybody and everything.
Our brains are masterful at scanning every situation at warp speed to throw red and green flags to let us know that we should proceed or beware.
This doesn’t look like the right path. Ick, that’s got some funk to it! Mother of Pearl, that’s hot! Ooh yummy! Um, did you hear that??…
It’s literally in everyyyythinggg that we see, do, feel, touch, hear, taste, experience. Good, bad. Yes, no.
In our head, in our bones, or voiced out loud. And! It’s exactly right.
If that’s not enough, we as the human species live in community. As such, there are requisite accountabilities that allow that to work. Just as we worry about how safe the fruit is or how big the fire is, I’d venture to say we worry even more about how we perceive the people around us.
Gah, doesn’t she just give you the warm and fuzzies? Uh… what is he doing? Dayum, did you see that salty chunk-o-hunk?
Translate those to:
She’ll take good care of us- safety! That fool is dangerous, watch out! Hey, eligible breeding candidate!
For humans, living and thriving requires support of others. And with that comes reading into every little thing that people around us do. We need to know if they’re stable, if they’re selfish, if they like what WE’re bringing to the table, if they’re going to carry their own weight, not to mention contribute, if they’re healthy, if they’re competent… On and on.
And so when I heard “I feel judged” what I actually hear is “I don’t take full ownership of where I’m at and I’m putting it on you.”
This sort of response can come from many places, like not having the confidence to hold firm with what one believes, not being ready to own up and change course, or maybe just simply being embarrassed.
Whatever it is, something is out of alignment and out of alignment feels like a lie in our body. As the say, truth does not mind being questioned, a lie hates being challenged. Point is, it’s most certainly not the other person’s work to do.
You might be thinking hold up! People misperceive and judge unfairly. They judge without knowing the full scoop. They’re lacking empathy, that can’t be my burden to carry! Cheryl’s like a damn dinosaur, her perspectives are trash, why are you taking her side?? Sure, absolutely!
AND, maybe(!) Aunt Cheryl is on to something, and she loves you and is concerned that something it amiss. It’s possible, even in the dinosaur kingdom.
But even still, the “I feel judged” part comes back to YOU.
Responsibility does not require fault.
True story from my world:
Recently I was in the wondrous land of HEB picking up my weekly meal makings when I was walking over to the eggs and heard a man and a woman ranting about what a crock “Cage Free” eggs are and that you’re just as well off getting the cheapies. Well, me being me, I spend more than double to get the “Pasture Raised” eggs that have pictures of the happiest of hens with names like Dorothy, all with some elaborate marketing to defend their legitimacy. I’m a Capricorn so there I went, understanding the risk, yet proceeding to reach my arm directly in front of the impassioned man to pull out my carton of bullshit eggs. All six of our eyes met, mine wide open, caught-in-the act, theirs laser beamed with ideology. “I’ve heard these are the real-deal,” I squeaked, “unlike cage-free. And anyways,” I giggle, ” it makes me feel better to at least try.” Welp, that’s all they needed to bust open the spigot to educate me on their view. Did we agree? Not quite. Were either of us right? No clue. Did I judge them? Yup. And they judged me. So loudly and extensively in fact (making vast assumption about my lawn care, and financial support by Daddy among other things), I had several people check in with me as I finished my grocery shopping to make sure I was ok. But not for once did I drop into the victim state of “I feel judged.” I listened uncomfortably, thanked them, and smirked while walking away with $8 eggs, contemplating my possible naïveté and the logistics of raising my own hens.
Rather than feeling judged, I saw it as we disagreed. Maybe that’s just a matter of semantics but my point is that the energy behind the response is important. If instead I had stepped into the victim state, I’d have literally tied my hands, cut off my feet, and spit my happiness into their winds. Not to mention, gone home with pale-yolked eggs.
Here’s the deal. Having a great and wondrous life requires accepting accountability by way of judgement. Having the courage to listen to disagreement, check yourself for potential shortcomings, and take the great leap of making changes. Terrifying! So hard!!
But we owe it ourselves!!!
We’ll end with some wisdom from my middle school orchestra teacher. She’d say “If you don’t know what you’re doing, play louder! That way we can fix it.” Of course nobody wants to play loud and get called out on it. But sure as shit (in all its varieties), it’s the path to a better life.
Note: Some people are bullies and downright abusive. I am NOT condoning that.