“Butterflies can’t see their wings. They can’t see how truly beautiful they are, but everyone else can. People are like that as well.”
― Naya Rivera
Our brain is a very interesting organ. At times of distress, it is our savior, a guide when we have to make decisions, and our go-to place for reminiscing our past and exploring the possibilities of our future. However, at times, the same brain can bring us much un-needed chaos and can bring us dismay to a point where there is only darkness and no clear path forward.
Last night, I had a dream that was a bit stressful to witness. In the dream, I was surrounded by people I love. We had entered a huge bungalow to seek shelter in the darkness of night but from the very beginning, I had a bad feeling about the place. While everyone enjoyed the new place and soon got accustomed to this place, I kept struggling with how people had started to forget about the outside world. When I asked others to leave the house and tried to remind them of the bigger world outside of the bungalow, everyone declared that they didn’t want to leave. They started to tell me how much they enjoyed the house and that the bungalow was too beautiful to leave. Their response did not sit well with me and I kept asking them to come with me even if for a few minutes. A guy, who looked like no one I know in real life, came toward me and told me that even if people tried to leave the house they couldn’t because something was keeping them inside and “controlling” them. He told me that I could do an experiment with him and force him outside of the house but to be cautious because even though he loved me, he won’t be in control once I try to force him out. I did as he suggested and as soon as we got closer to the door, he got so angry that he tried to break my hand. Fortunately, he could stop himself from going any further but only when I told him that he was hurting me. He stopped and, then, I woke up.
Needless to say, I woke up terrified after the dream. It was too detailed and seemed too real. Unlike in the past, when I would have succumbed to the fear that the dream induced, I took a couple of deep breaths and decided to try and decipher the psychological meaning of this dream and what my subconscious was trying to tell me without attaching a meaning to the dream. I thought of all the “characters” in the dream as various parts of my personality, psyche, aspirations, and dreams. I thought of the house as a box in which these parts of me were trapped and had found solace. A part of me wanted us to step out of this box, a box that I had created for myself, and recognize that there was a bigger world outside where all parts of me could be free to be themselves. That part of me could see the plethora of opportunities available to me outside of this box and wanted the whole of me to take a step. However, whenever a part of me tried to step out of this box, my “fear” kept stopping it and it kept succumbing to the “limitations” that I had placed on myself. The “something” that was stopping me from going outside was not an outside force but the fear of stepping out of my comfort zone and the fear of losing control.
My takeaway from the dream was simple – I am only limited by my beliefs. If I believe that I don’t have a way out of my current predicament, I will continue to find solace wherever I am stuck and find reasons to continue to be stuck there. However, moving out of this place into the unknown requires courage to go beyond fear and determination to keep moving. Even the guy in my dream who wanted to hurt me for forcing him out of this box eventually stopped as soon as I told him that he was hurting me. All I needed to do was make him aware of how his succumbing to the fear was hurting someone he loves. In other words, all I had to do was tell myself how I was hurting myself by limiting myself and by surrendering to my fear.
Judgments about self and limitations of our capabilities come from various sources within and outside of ourselves. The way we talk to ourselves day in and day out determines our sense of self-esteem and invariably affects our chance to expand psychologically, mentally, and spiritually. These judgments become so intrinsic to our way of life and sense of self that we start to overlook the different ways that we’re hurting ourselves. We start to look at ourselves and our experiences from the lens of all these judgments and become prisoners to our own minds.
Let me share a personal example. I learned swimming when I was around 7 years old. I am a good swimmer and I love the feeling of being immersed in water, shutting out the outside noise, and staring at the sky for unlimited time. Swimming for me has always been a cathartic exercise that I have loved more than any other activity that I have ever participated in. Despite my love for this activity, I stopped swimming a few years back. The last time I entered a pool was some 6 years back. Since then, I’ve had numerous opportunities to indulge myself in a swim but have always figured out a way to not do it – weather is too cold/I don’t have the right swimsuit/no one else is doing it, etc. So, when I moved to an apartment complex that offers a huge swimming pool in a city with the perfect weather and I was still reluctant to take a step inside, a friend asked me why? I looked at her and confessed – “I don’t look good in my swimsuit. I am on a heavier side and I don’t want people to see me that way and make comments.” Before she could respond, I heard myself say, “But I don’t think that’s the real reason. Maybe it’s not about what other people say about my looks. I think it’s more about how much I criticize my looks. When someone else goes inside a pool, I see a person enjoying an activity that I hold close to my heart and it makes me feel happy for them. However, when I feel like doing the same thing, I tell myself I am too fat. I’ve been depriving myself of indulging in an activity that I love so much just because of all these judgments that I have about myself. No, it’s not what other people will say about me. It’s about how negatively I look at myself and my body”.
You see, a lot of our limitations for ourselves or others are nothing but judgments that were at some point in our lives passed on to us that we’ve started to believe to be true. We hold these judgments so close to our hearts that we start to identify with them. We judge others based on these superficial beliefs about what’s good and what’s bad, what’s right and what’s wrong, what’s pure and what’s impure, and what’s true and what’s untrue. Worse, we force these judgments on ourselves and deprive ourselves of things that bring us joy claiming that we’re scared of what society will think. The truth is that society will think whatever it will think. What matters more is what we think. If we see ourselves as bad, ugly, corrupt, wrong, or unworthy, even the changes in society’s way of thinking won’t be enough to influence our beliefs.
Self-judgement is worse than being judged by others because we can always disconnect from others but we can not quiet down that voice in our head that judges everything that we say, do, or feel. I have, at times, felt paralyzed by this voice of judgment that loves to tell me how fat I am, how ugly I look, how I don’t dress well, how I am not smart enough, or how I am not worthy enough. When I show my vulnerable side to someone I am close to, this voice tells me that I am weak. When I express my opinion, this voice tells me that I am dumb. When I express my beliefs, this voice tells me that they are invalid. When I share my concerns about a situation, this voice tells me that I am paranoid or that I am over-reacting. When I write a blog on this topic, this voice tells me that I am craving attention.
I spoke to a life coach and separately took some help from a therapist to try and understand what I could do to shut down this voice. With their help, I realized that shutting down this voice will be similar to shutting down a part of me. Instead, a better way would be to become aware of this voice, give it a personality, hear it and see how this voice affects other parts of me, thank it for its feedback, and talk to the other parts of me that feel demotivated and de-energized by the judgments passed on by a part of me.
So, I took a moment to focus on this voice and allowed it to pass judgments while trying to identify the sources of this voice – there were many. These were judgments passed on by my relatives, family, friends, acquaintances, media, passers-by, etc. Next, I gave this voice a name – Mr. and Mrs. Grumpy. I, then, attributed a few characteristics to this couple – they’re a couple who have always hidden in the shadows, have experienced several setbacks in life and have been hurt numerous times by their loved ones, and have never had anyone give them unconditional love. So, now, Mr. and Mrs. Grumpy, find solace in finding judgments in other people so that they can force others to feel the same pain that they’re experiencing. The other parts of me are parts of me who are trying to enjoy their lives and have no ill intention toward anyone else. They want to take a stab at life and want to create the life of their dreams. When Mr. and Mrs. Grumpy take out their frustration on these parts, they feel demotivated and hurt. My role as an observer of this relationship is to provide compassion to these parts of me and provide them the courage that they need to experience life. For Mr. and Mrs. Grumpy, it’s my role to hear them and recognize the hurt that has been caused over years to this couple, provide them the love that they have been deprived of and thank them for protecting me at times when I could have faced some humiliation from the outside world.
Self-judgement comes in various shapes and forms. It’s tough to love others and provide a space for others to be themselves if we can’t even provide a space for ourselves to be free. Love for community starts with the love for ourselves.
Mother Terresa once said, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them”. I say, “If you judge yourself, you have no time to love anyone.”