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What My Self-Judgment Was Trying to Tell Me

“Regret is a fair but tough teacher.” ~Brene Brown

A few weeks back, I found myself in the midst of a shame hangover and, like most people, when I’m in that unique internal cavern, self-judgments swoop into my consciousness like a colony of rabid bats in a four-foot tent.

I’ll paint the picture…

There are about two or three boys that have started visiting the houses on my block recently. They hold a rag and a windex bottle, come into every yard, knock on the door, and ask to wash the front doors (most of which are glass). Seems pretty harmless, huh? And, full, vulnerable disclosure here, they were also another ethnicity than I (and I consider myself a woke liberal).

The first time I saw them approaching the houses, I felt mildly perturbed. I didn’t have cash on me. I didn’t want to deal with them. I just wanted to be left alone. I didn’t want to have to tell them “no.” I had just washed that door.

They were around twelve years old, maybe younger, and I could tell they were working up the confidence to come into the yard and ask. It wasn’t easy for them. It was a little painful to watch.

I struggled with being irritated and simultaneously feeling empathy for them. Both uncomfortable. As they made their way into my yard, I told them I had just washed the door, but I noticed the edge in my voice. Something in me felt triggered and I wasn’t quite sure why. I felt a hot beat of shame flush in my cheeks. 

A few days later they returned, and as I answered the door, a boy with big brown eyes tried to get the words out but before he could even finish his sentence, I could feel anger rising in my body.

I was watching it happen, confused. Maybe it was all the years living in a big city and feeling bombarded constantly by people asking for money, asking for help, asking for compassion. Some self-protective part of me was kicking in for absolutely no reason.

I told them no, that I didn’t have cash, and I could hear my voice getting sharper and sharper. I wondered what they saw in that moment—a woman with a sign in her yard professing #lovewins, with a sharp tongue and narrowed eyes, skeptical and cold. I could feel myself tearing inside.

To make up for it, I said,”Maybe next time. Come back later?”

Three days later, they came back. I could see them making their way from down the street and the stories started spinning in my head. Do their parents know they’re doing this? Just making their way down the block multiple times a week? This is ridiculous. How much are they even charging for this? What a rip off! They are trying to scam us.

My body responded in kind, seamlessly. I could feel my cortisol levels rising. I wondered if this was a clue that I actually might be racist on some level. I’m realizing now, yes, of course I am.

“Excuse me ma’am,” one of them asked again.

Before he could finish, I noticed I was yelling across the yard and transforming into someone I hated. In a second, I was shrill, nasty, and reactive.

“If you want to get business, you probably shouldn’t come back every day,” I heard myself hiss as I jumped up and stomped over to the fence. “Do your parents even know where you are?”

It felt like an out-of-body experience. One self was feeling for these boys watching this lumbering, angry white woman approaching them. One was observing, was sad for what they were seeing, and one part was jumping head first into blame. I have never seen love and fear so clearly demonstrated in my dual personalities I felt so much separation of self.

“Well, you said to come back,” he replied honestly, “at another time.”

Oh crap. He was right, I had told them to come back (to get them to go away), to be left alone. They took me literally.

I realized how much I was shaping in that moment. I was teaching these boys how the world worked, how skeptical people are of other’s motivations (particularly people of their ethnicity), how nasty people can become for no apparent reason.

I was professing love on my yard signs and teaching them about fear. They saw me in my yard, lovingly interacting in my toddler and then treating them like their hearts were disposable.

I watched them walk away, wondering what they were muttering, as the shame cloak washed over me. For the next hour, I sat with my toddler son watching Horton Hears a Who. I was feeling so down I couldn’t even be present except to the message.

“A person is a person no matter how small.”

The self-judgments were getting darker and darker.  

You are a fraud.

You fool. You are a racist.

You are deep down a rotting mess.

You are a nasty b*tch. That is who you are really are.

And with each word, I sunk lower and lower in the cavern.

Until I took a moment to remember something important about self-judgments.

They can actually be a good thing, as long as you don’t take them literally. They are a sign of regret.

Regret is a fair but tough teacher.” ~Brene Brown

I regretted that situation because my fear-based actions were so out of alignment with what my deeper self desired. I wanted to take care of those boys. I wanted them to feel seen and valued, but fear stepped in and I created the opposite effect.

Self-judgments can tell us where we are out of alignment with deeper self and our intuitive responses.

I think of all the times love has told me what to do, has urged me toward compassionate action, toward mercy, toward lifting others up, and how often my fear steps in and death chokes it to the ground by reasoning it away. Each time, self-judgment promptly followed. Each of those instances is teaching me more and more how to listen to that intuitive voice before listening to the screams of fear.

Our deeper self whispers, and our fear screams, so it makes sense that it wins a lot of the time. If we continue to ignore those whispers, however, our deeper self will try to get our attention through the channels of self-judgment.

Yes, I have parts of me that are certainly nasty and rotten, and I am realizing, also racist. I also know these do not define who I am capable of becoming. They are expressions of fear and, just like every other human, I am capable of using them to defend myself when I am triggered. The more I recognize that impulse, the more choice I have to act in love.

The deeper self will scream (and use your own past wounds against you) if that is the only way to get you to pay attention. The mistake I initially made was that I was taking the self-judgments literally, and as truth, instead of decoding their messages.

“If the self-judgments aren’t literal, what might my deeper self be trying to say?” I asked myself.

When I looked underneath all of the judgments, I could see that I was afraid if I kept acting that way toward people that I would be a part of everything I hated about the world right now.

Underneath that fear was a request from my deeper self to start to choose loving and compassionate responses as much as I could, to be brave, to take responsibility for what is happening in this world right now, to get better.

I am sick and tired of betraying myself all the time. I am so sick of letting fear run the game of my life, keeping me separated from other people. I am committed to love winning inside of me more and more.

I can’t promise perfection. I can’t promise I won’t be triggered by a whole bunch of past conditioning and crap, but I can promise to try to get better each time, and to create a plan for what I am going to do get better, to create the world I want to live in.

For now, I’m keeping cash in my drawer, hoping those boys come back. If they do, I’m inviting them into the yard, introducing them to my son, asking their names, and thanking them for their help. I’m going to show them that people can love them without knowing them yet.

About Beth Clayton

Beth Clayton is a TedX speaker, lifestyle coach and owner of Soul Body Life. She helps people cut the mind chatter to release from outdated belief systems and past pain so they can connect with their intuition and accelerate momentum in their lives. You can check her out at www.soulbodylife.com and get her free e-book, "The Secrets in Your Sabotage" at http://bit.ly/2rnJkWf.

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  • Sheryle Verkley

    Thank you so much for having the courage to share your inner struggle. I applaud your willingness to dig deeper and by doing so, help others, like me, who struggle with harsh self judgement when I’m not at my best. You offered great insight into the less glorious parts of ourselves while providing balance and perspective. Great article!

  • I commend you for looking deeper and acknowledging that part of you that you don’t like. Perhaps you could go even further than to just keep cash in your drawer and wait to get up the courage to come back. Can you watch for those boys and go out to them the next time they pass by? When you do see them, could you apologize for being snippy the first 3 times?

  • Beth Wittig Clayton

    Absolutely. Those are great ways to take more responsibility. Their faces are burned into my mind so I think I would remember them anywhere:)

  • Beth Wittig Clayton

    Thank you for your kind words and support!

  • Misha Shipman

    I applaud you for sharing this often times unspoken, yet palpable experience that manifests and touches us all in one way or another. Your candor and honesty is illuminating the hearts and minds of soo many. I hope that you can meet those boys again, but maybe they were angels in disguise, sent to encourage you to be the loving, courageous person you always were. This world often times bends and warps us to be fearful and cruel to what is different- I honor your courage to listen to your heart and honor that link of love that connects us all. Bravo to you and thank you!

  • Randall McKay

    Beautiful

  • Kara Earl

    Your words ‘The mistake I initially made was that I was taking the self-judgments literally, and as truth, instead of decoding their messages.’ have helped me start make sense of a particular area of self doubt I have been trying to work on, so thank you as it has opened up a door that was invisible to me.

  • Beth Wittig Clayton

    Oh, I’m so so so glad! I always find it helpful to stop making any part of ourselves our enemy and instead looking for the gold we can mine. Our internal selves are always leaving us clues for further understanding of ourselves.

  • Beth Wittig Clayton

    Thank you Misha! I love that idea of angels:)

  • Beth Wittig Clayton

    Thank you Randall!

  • Misha Shipman

    Beth, Thank you for sharing This! And good luck with everything you do! Keep loving yourself and others <3 <3

  • Gina

    I know it took a lot of courage to share that story. Thank you.

  • Babette Bensoussan

    Love the differentiation between regret and self judgements! Thank you for sharing and the gift. I am often doing a lot of self judging and releasing it to regret is a wonderful kind relief.

  • Dana

    Thank you for sharing! What came to my mind is that even with zero cash, I can still take an interest in the life of anyone who comes to my door selling this or that. I live with a man who is kind to every single person who shows up, without feeling the need to buy anything, or in the case of religious people, accept their beliefs, although he’s very happy to listen to them and ask them questions. He shows an interest in all solicitors as fellow humans who are on their own journey and accepts them where they’re at. This was definitely not my first response! I’ve learned a lot from my sweet husband of 25 years! Thanks again for sharing your authentic and vulnerable experience. I’ve learned something helpful from you now, too.

  • Lynne Taggart

    I love this article!!! So many truths here, thank you for sharing 🙂 xx

  • Beth Wittig Clayton

    Thank you for your kind words!

  • Beth Wittig Clayton

    Yes! Because then it becomes less about our inherent brokenness or worth and more about or actions. Our actions doesn’t define our worth and we can start to change them at any moment. Ultimately, it is who we choose to be that counts! Thanks for sharing!

  • Beth Wittig Clayton

    That is beautiful! He sounds like he really tries to give people the sacred space to be seen and expressed. That is so huge and something I want to try to work on too (even at times where it feels inconvenient or when fear comes in).

  • Mara R

    I agree with Marsha. I want to applaud you as well but also encourage you to seek them out and apologize. Children are just that and to discriminate against them so harshly for doing what they can to help themselves in this harsh world is the best one can do these days. I have to say I could maybe relate if they were clearly adults and on drugs but dissapointed that not once but three times you could not bear to behave and set an example for children. I think many times I feel ashamed of the color of my skin because those who share it behave in such unempathetic ways. I think in some cases self judgement is yes regret, but also a giant sign that we need to think before we act. Always act from a point of empathy and never from our own fear. Glad you were able to share and I don’t want to shame you since you seem to definitely feel regret for your actions. Just work hard to rectify the situation and apologize for your behavior. And know in the future before you act think about how your actions will affect others before you act.

  • Eternal Presence

    Firstly, thank you Beth for sharing so openly. The inner-self can become a very confusing space, especially when trying to balance it in terms of the realities we have to face on a daily bases….but you right…we have to open ourselves up to listen to the “whispers” from within as we struggle for them to be heard over the drowning “screams” of fear we created through our interactions in the world.

    Dana, thank you for sharing the story about your wonderful husband’s approach to interacting with others. He seems to be an open caring soul who doesn’t let his fears and judgements influence how he responds to others.

    Thank you, I am taking away a bit from both these experiences today:

    – listen to you inner-voice…it speaks truth to power
    – don’t let your fears determine who you are or how you respond to others
    – don’t stop showing an interest in the world and others because their journey is not the same as yours
    – be who you instinctively are (easier said than done some times)

    …things I believe but almost “forget” to practice.

    THANK YOU

  • Beth Wittig Clayton

    Than you for sharing your take-aways from the article and this thread! I so agree that this is a practice–love is a practice–and I stumble and fall over myself and my conditioning daily, sometimes, multiple times an hour. I have awareness now about the pain it causes me (and others) so I can see it more clearly each time it happens and choose to adjust my course. Some days the fear wins, some days love trumps, but I am hopeful the more I pay attention, the easier and easier it will be to choose presence and consciousness.

  • Nzeh ifeanyi

    Thanks for sharing Beth. I love the concluding path. You can either let your fear run you or use your fears to better yourself. Just like self judgment points out loop holes on our lifes, our fears do too. Here is an article on “how your fears can make you stronger”.

  • Mel

    Reading through this made me cry – you, as an adult, shamed children. Twice. And you’ve used it as fodder for a blog. Yes, we’re all imperfect human beings but the self-focused tone of this article was nauseating.