For Lent I decided to give up judging myself. When a friend suggested that this was a common and harmful pattern for me, I was shocked—not by the “common” but by that other adjective. I knew I delivered harsh self-critiques to myself at times but somehow it felt appropriate—in moderation, of course. How else to motivate yourself to improve if you didn’t occasionally confess the litany of hard truths of where you’ve gone wrong? It seemed so practical, sensible and wise—admirable, even—a type of tough (self) love, as it were. The idea that the judging was itself a “where you’ve gone wrong” was unraveling for me. But a moment after the surprise, I knew he was right. In fact, in that moment I also realized that the judging, ironically, was an insidious obstacle to improvement; a distraction to righting the wrongs. The irony! Imagine the stamina I had diverted over the years! I mourned the wasted energy (alas, more judgment) and cursed the judging for tricking me into believing him (her?) all these years. My insight was merely this: while you are judging yourself—an inherently backward-looking endeavor—you spend no time in the present trying to fix your future.
The judging feels bad but, as the unblemished example of sadism that it is, it is so common because it’s surprisingly easy to do. For as Nietzsche’s unnamed “some one” put so dolefully well: “I have been prejudiced against myself from my earliest childhood: hence I find some truth in all blame and some stupidity in all praise. I generally estimate praise too poorly and blame too highly.” On this 7th day of Lent I can testify to the difficulty in giving it up. My hypothesis is therefore this: spend a small amount of time trying to minimize those life situations that cause you to judge yourself and see if somehow that is not a good thing. This is not a very scientific hypothesis, but I try not to judge.
Yet how proud we are,
In daring to look down upon ourselves! – Elizabeth Barrett Browning