I mean the term “judgement” in its broadest sense—judging things as good or bad, as right or wrong. Judgement is the opposite of Acceptance. Removing judgement from your life, regardless of whether it’s positive or negative judgement, will help you accept yourself and the world around you. A lot of my anxieties came from judging the world—believing some things are good, some are bad, this is right, that is wrong, etc. I judged the world and I judged myself. Somebody would do something I’d decided was wrong and that would upset me. That meant they were bad and bad things were happening. Or I would do something I’d decided was bad and that would make me angry at myself. Even when I was judging something as good, it was usually in opposition to something I’d judged as bad. All day, I was counting up negative experiences in my brain. That has understandably depressing results. Judging what’s “good” can actually be more dangerous than judging what’s “bad”. We’re naturally inclined to make “good” an ideal that’s always a little bit (or a lot ) in front of us. It keeps animals looking for more —you wouldn’t want a squirrel to grab one nut and decide, “that’s probably good enough for the winter.” But that means that if you’re into making judgments about things, if you’re validating your brain’s judging machinery, then it becomes very difficult to judge yourself as good. If you’re constantly practicing thoughts like: She did X so she is good, or he has X so he’s great, then your brain is going to apply the same IF X THEN Y thought process to yourself as well. BUT your brain is disinclined to let you think you can do X. Because if you do X, you’ll stop looking for nuts.
Judging commits your brain to an equation for evaluating the world that, when applied to yourself, always produces an answer that’s never good enough. There’s another reason why judgements become a barrier to Acceptance and that reason is best articulated in one of my favorite quotes from Ernest Hemingway: “If I believe my critics when they say I’m right, I have to believe them when they say I’m wrong.”
If you believe your brain when it judges others, how can you keep from believing it when it judges you? If you believe your brain when it says somebody else is bad, how can you keep from believing it when it turns that judgement on you and says you’re worthless, or fat, or ugly, stupid, or a failure? When you practice judgement anywhere in your life, you’re strengthening the judgement machinery in your brain. We strengthen thought processes like muscles.
Judging things can also trigger many of the situations that require us to practice Acceptance. For example, you might judge a particular action you took as being rude. So now you’ve saddled that action with an adjective: rude. With that, you might have all sorts of assumptions you’ve picked up over the years about what “rude” means: people hate you if you’re rude, you’re a bad person if you’re rude, you don’t deserve to succeed if you’re rude, etc. Once all of those thoughts bubble up, you have to practice Acceptance with all of them. BUT, the healthier and easier time to practice Acceptance would have been before you labeled the behavior as “rude”. Instead of judging that behavior as rude, you could accept it for what it was: a behavior. It doesn’t need a judgement attached to it. By not judging it, you cut off that second stream of thoughts before they start.
Judging causes difficulty with Acceptance because it triggers negative thoughts that require us to practice Acceptance constantly. If you’re just starting out with Acceptance, that can be exhausting, and can make you feel like it’s too much work. But the problem isn’t Acceptance, it’s judging things. If you keep throwing yourself into the deep end of the pool, you’ll get tired of swimming. That doesn’t mean that swimming is ineffective. Judging yourself and the world around you throws your brain into the deep end of the pool again, and again, and again. More than anything, when I see people struggling with Acceptance, it’s because they’ve built a world of judgements around and inside themselves, that they and everyone else are constantly contravening. But it’s nothing more than a self-constructed, self-reinforced cage of adjectives. Learning not to judge is going to help you tremendously in doing the exercises we talk about in the next section on how to practice Acceptance…
This was an excerpt from The Acceptance Field Guide: Navigating anxiety and depression in an uncertain world, which explores how to practically apply the concepts of Acceptance & Commitment Therapy to overcome anxiety and compulsive behaviors in your daily life.
The Acceptance Field Guide is available for $2.99 on Amazon: www.amazon.com/Acceptance-Field-Guide-Navigating-ebook/dp/B006W950CG/