Your dreaded inner Judge. Everyone has one (save for the sociopaths). It’s that internal voice of criticism, demand, disapproval. Seldom, if ever, will your Judge lavish you with praise. That’s not its job. The Judge exists for the sole purpose of controlling you. It sets the standards, declares the shoulds and shouldn’ts, watches you like a hawk, and castigates you when expectations are not met.
Our inner Judges use the power of judgement to induce fear, guilt, shame and self-loathing in order to control us. Sure, we need to control ourselves, but why must this be done in such hurtful ways? And why, even when our behavior is well controlled, must the Judge continue to express disapproval no matter how well we’re doing in life?
Every day, psychotherapists help undo the harms that their clients’ Judges wreak on their minds, hearts and self-esteem. Undoing this harm is necessary, but so is preventing the Judge from continuing its abuse. The conventional treatment for this toxic self-talk is cognitive therapy, which teaches how to examine rationally the Judge’s messages, halt its diatribes, and counter its criticisms with positive self-talk—in other words, how to protect yourself from the Judge as you would from any bully. Essentially, these strategies are aimed at opposing the Judge, which does help. But there’s a better way, and that is to partnerwithandretrainyour Judge. This is how a Judge can be tamed. If your own Judge is making your life miserable, you can retrain it by taking the following six steps:
Step one: UnderstandyourJudge’struepurposeandvalue. Contrary to how it may feel, your Judge is not your enemy. Your Judge is actually one of your most important inner servants. Its job is to make sure you follow the rules, act responsibly, don’t sin, and stay out of jail. Without your Judge you would fail to conform to society’s standards of behavior and thereby suffer
its rejection and punishment. Freud’s term for the Judge was superego,and the superego’s job is to control the primitive instincts of the aggressive and sexual id.
But if your Judge is a well-meaning servant, why does it have to be so mean? It doesn’t. Your Judge is using the only methods it knows to get the job done.
Step two: HavesympathyandrespectforyourJudge. As powerful as it is, your Judge is actually fueled by fear. It is keenly aware of the stakes of failure and, therefore, must remain vigilant to prevent the consequences of failure. The more frightened a Judge is for your welfare, the harsher it becomes. A harsh Judge can be an effective motivator to promote success and avoid punishment, but it’s a stressful job.
Step three: RealizethatyourJudgedoesn’tknowanybetter. It’s ironic that the most powerful authority in your mind also happens to be a simpleton. The Judge doesn’t reflect; it lacks insight and is often completely unreasonable. In fact, your Judge can be just as immature and impulsive as your id. Both operate by unenlightened instinct. You can’t blame a dog for barking whenever the mail is delivered if you haven’t taught the dog not to be afraid of the mail carrier.
Step four: Talk with your Judge. When I prepare clients to dialogue with their Judge, they often feel a moment of alarm, girding themselves for an angry confrontation. But a successful conversation with your Judge must begin with your conveying your appreciation for the many ways it has helped you to behave safely and successfully. It may feel awkward expressing this gratitude, but it’s an important truth for your Judge to hear. If you want your Judge to understand your concerns, then it must feel respected, not challenged.
Once you’ve respectfully broken the ice with your Judge, it’s time to introduce your concerns. This means talking about the feelings of your heart. What you’re asking your Judge to understand is that, even though it is helpful, its methods are causing distress to your heart at the same time. Your Judge will be able to understand this, but it will not understand how to help you without also hurting your feelings. To learn that, your Judge will need your help.
Step five: Become partners with your Judge in learning. Your Judge will always want the best for you, which means it will always be motivating you to improve. What you want is for the Judge to learn kinder ways of motivating you. You can help your Judge figure this out because two heads are better than one, and dialogues always work better than monologues.
Step six: Practice praise, appreciation, and reward. Whether with a child, student, employee or spouse, the healthiest ways to change behavior is with the liberal use of praise, appreciation, and reward. Ask your Judge to offer words of praise and appreciation whenever you meet or exceed expectations. Make deals with your Judge, asking it to reward you for meeting goals. And each time your Judge uses these methods, express your appreciation in kind. On those occasions when you make poor judgements, ask your Judge to express concern and to use the mistake as a teaching moment instead of scolding you. Sometimes it helps to think of a parent, teacher, or coach you admire (for his or her effectiveness and kindness) and ask your Judge to emulate that person. These dialogues will not only help both you and your Judge grow, but they will also greatly improve your relationship with one another.
All right, now that you have these six steps for taming your Judge, perhaps you’re wondering how it’s actually possible to dialogue with it. Different therapists have different techniques for doing so, but the one I’ve found to be unsurpassed over the past 27 years is two-handed writing. Two-handed writing is very easy and effective. Give your Judge a pen to use with your
non-dominant hand, then take a second pen with your dominant hand. With your dominant hand, start your dialogue by simply asking your Judge “Can we talk?” Then just listen and allow your Judge to respond using your non-dominant hand. Enter your dialogue following the steps above, each time giving your Judge the time it needs to respond to your questions and requests. It may be slow and messy, but stay focused on the goal of building a mutually respectful relationship with your Judge. Continue your dialogue just as you would with any new partner with whom you have shared goals.
This is how to tame your Judge–with understanding, respect, communication, and partnership in growth. This is one of the most important ways to change your mind in order to enjoy a more harmonious and rewarding life.