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What Are Judgments? How Do They Relate to Addiction?

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judgements and self condemnation

One of the most painful ways that we hurt ourselves is actually through our judgments. What are judgments and how can you turn them your way? 

What are Judgments?

Judgments are beliefs that we hold against ourselves, against others, against the world and the nature of reality.

They are labels created by our mind to put things into categories, so they tend to be pretty binary. Here are some example judgments:

  • This is right, this is wrong.
  • This is good, this is bad.
  • This is what I want, this is what I don't want.

A way to spot judgments in your own mind or in the world around you is to listen for the conditional tense. Words like should, would, and could indicate a conditional. Anything that's in that conditional tense tends to be judgment.

“She should have been here on time.”

“He shouldn't have done that.”

“If only...” is another good indicator of wishful thinking and judgments.

“If only the clown had not shown up late for the birthday party, the kids wouldn't have melted down.”

Look for those words as you're speaking, as you're thinking, and pay attention to the judgments that are coming up in your life.

In this video we talk more about judgments against ourselves.



Judgments are Subjective

The really important thing to remember about judgments is that they are subjective, by which we mean that they're not absolute truth. They're filtered through your perception of reality.

To give you an example of how this works, you can have the same event taking place in the physical world and different people will have very different perceptions of it and different judgments about it.

An extreme example would be something like 9/11.

This was a tragedy and morally wrong. We saw the towers fall, and there was grief, there was horror, there was devastation.

But for a very small group of people who were responsible for the attack, it was a cause for celebration. They had achieved their goal.

We often use this example not to imply any moral equivalency of perceptions, but it goes to show how the same event can elicit very different reactions.

Perception is reality, as they say.

Judgments and Addiction

Why do we talk about this in the context of addiction and recovery?

Judgments are not only subjective, they are powerful.

Negative, false, or shaming judgments can cause us a great deal of mental and emotional pain, and that can lead to addiction, especially as that pain piles up over years and years and years.

When we go around thinking things like, “I would have been nicer if they hadn’t hurt me first”, or "That boyfriend of mine wouldn’t have left me if I was more attractive," or "They shouldn't have fired me," or "I should be able to achieve all of these things and I'm not achieving them, so I failed," we are allowing judgments into our psyche, and if we pay attention to how they affect our body, they really hurt.

They're heavy, they're painful, they bring us down.

When we're in a lot of mental and emotional pain, we're extremely likely to turn to alcohol, drugs or other addictive substance in order to just cope and to try and relieve some of that pain. 

Take Control of Your Judgments

So, how do we let go of our judgments?

How do we work with them?

This may be a simple process, but that doesn't mean it's necessarily easy.

Especially when you're first starting, it can be so important and helpful to have a trained professional, a counselor, a therapist work with you on this. But you can also do this work and start by yourself because we believe that everyone has the resources that they need to heal within themselves. It's just sometimes we need other people's help to access those resources.

Step 1: Identify Your Judgments Explicitly 

The first step to healing from judgments is to identify them.

You might be blanking and not know where to start. One good place to start is the next time you feel really irritated or really annoyed, grab your journal or a piece of paper and do a "freeform write."

For 10 minutes, just write anything you want to, no censoring yourself, just completely let it all out and vent and vent.

Notice the times where you say things like should, would, and could. When you use the language of judgments, notice it.

Later, you can even burn or shred what you wrote so you don't feel like you have to censor yourself. But it's a helpful way to get in touch with the part of you inside that is judging.

Self Forgiveness Exercises

Step 2: Preparing to Work with a Self-Judgment

Once you've identified a self-judgment, then you're ready to start working with it.

When you're doing this emotional work it's really important to center yourself, to go to a place inside yourself that is as peaceful as you possibly can.

That means taking several deep breaths, picturing someone that you love unconditionally. Picture a child, picture a pet, and just go to a place of love within yourself. Then revisit that judgment and say it to yourself.

Step 3: Dealing With Judgments

Then you can think about questioning it.

There are a lot of great techniques for that. Byron Katie's The Work is one of them. A fundamental skill that we teach in our addiction recovery program is self-forgiveness and forgiving ourselves for the judgments that we hold.

One of my judgements is, “I should really be better at math.”

The way I would work with that judgment is to put it into this framework of self-forgiveness. I would say, "I forgive myself for judging myself as bad at math. The truth is that I was doing the best that I could."

So, the very simple framework is:

  1. State the judgment
  2. Write, “I forgive myself for judging myself as _________ “
  3. Then you fill in the blank with the judgment.
  4. Write, “And the truth is _________”
  5. Fill in the blank with a statement of unconditional love

Quick semantic note. Don't include words that break it up. Don't say, "I forgive myself for judging myself as being bad at math."

Use the unfiltered, "I forgive myself for judging myself as bad at math."

We want the harshest judgment that you've got against yourself, not softened. We want to get the real thing here. Then, "and the truth is," the second blank goes to the voice of unconditional love.

You tap into what would someone say if they loved you unreservedly. What would your best friend say, if you have a best friend that treats you that way?

Living Free from Self-Condemnation

For me, what I hear when I work with that judgment against myself that I'm bad at math, I should have been better, all of that, I can look back over my school career and see that I tried so hard. I did, I tried so, so hard. I had a tutor. I had spent hours and hours on my math homework. I really gave it my very best shot.

So how can I have this judgment against myself that I should have been better when the truth is I was doing the best that I could at the time? That's what I come to see when I do this exercise.

In the moment, you might not feel that much of anything different, but as you go through your days and as you sit down the next time and work with some other judgments, you might notice that, wow, that judgment doesn't come up as much or that doesn't bother me as much, or I really feel oddly peaceful about that.

To quote one of the principles of Spiritual Psychology, "judgment is self-condemnation and self-forgiveness is freedom."

Let’s live in self-forgiveness starting today.


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Caroline McGraw

This post was written by Caroline McGraw

In addition to her work as "the voice of The Clearing", Caroline Garnet McGraw writes about trading perfectionism for possibility at A Wish Come Clear. Visit and receive your free Perfectionist Recovery Toolkit today!

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