“DON’T TELL ME YOU ARE ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE!!”
Recently, I was speaking with a friend and she shared a story with me. She told me of a recent event where she witnessed a family member unwrap a small chocolate with the intention of giving it to my friend’s one-year-old child. My friend saw this happening and said “No. please don’t give that to him”. Her family member turned and said “don’t tell me you are one of those mums”….
This got me thinking, so I have decided to share my thoughts with you. Many times in life, we are quick to pass judgment and hold negative opinions about someone else, what they are doing, how they are doing it, their parenting choices, their dieting choice, their choice of partner, their occupation or lack thereof, their hair, their clothing choice and so on.
But why? Why do we have such strong thoughts and feelings about what someone else chooses to do? Why do we feel the need to tell them so, or make passing comments like “don’t tell me your one of those people”?
Often, we are quick to pass judgement because what that person is doing makes us FEEL something. If we take a closer look, that feeling may be a negative, unpleasant feeling that we do not want to feel. When we experience a negative emotion we understandably want to shift it, get rid of it and avoid it. In an attempt to get rid of our own unpleasant emotions, we unconsciously try to displace it and perhaps inadvertently make someone else feel bad or question their own choice and decisions.
Let’s look at the example of my friend, perhaps you can even relate, maybe you can recollect a time you experienced a similar thought about a friend or family member in their choice of parenting. For some people, when we notice someone making a choice in the way they parent and it is different to what we do or did. We can automatically make a comparison with ourselves. This comparison may result in negative unwanted emotions. Perhaps, guilt possibly born from thoughts of self-criticism in our own parenting choices i.e. “I gave my child chocolate before the age of one…..therefore I must be a bad parent”. Of course, there is no evidence to suggest that this is the case. However, this is how it makes us feel. We don’t like that feeling and automatically want to get rid of it. How? Shift it, judge, criticise and make someone else feel bad about their parenting choice. In other cases, the unpleasant experience is discomfort. Discomfort that we have different values, ideas, goals and behaviours. Again the automatic reaction is to shift it, judge, criticise and make someone else feel something uncomfortable.
This scenario can play out in many possible ways with many possible triggers. For example, your friend just told you they are “going Paleo” and you’ve just finished a huge burger, chips and milkshake followed by a packet of chocolate biscuits. Some of us might find this evokes judgment and negative opinions about this person. We might even say “don’t tell me you’re one of those people”. Why? Really why? Dig deep, is it because you feel guilty, uncomfortable, not good enough, angry, frustrated, stressed, sad, or scared?
In those moments when you find yourself passing judgment or making critical remarks to a friend, I encourage you to ask yourself “where is this coming from”, “how does this make me feel”, “what is underneath this?” Dive deeper into your emotions, don’t run from them, resist trying to hide them or get rid of them by displacing them onto your friend. Try identifying what this is for you, what is beneath that criticism. Name the emotions, acknowledge it, and observe it. Where does this unpleasant emotion sit for you? Is it in your stomach, shoulders, neck, or head? If you drew a line around it what would it look like? Next, take a slow deep breath and another deep breath and another. Keep breathing until you feel you have made space for that unpleasant emotion. Keep breathing slowly, deeply until you feel that emotion “soften”. You do not need to try to change it or get rid of it, just acknowledge and breathe into it.
And then what? Well, don’t judge yourself or be critical of yourself for having that thought, feeling or behaviour in the first place. Judging yourself for judging others is just a vicious trap. Instead, try some self-compassion and some compassion for the other person. It is ok that you have different values, behaviours and goals. It is ok that you have different parenting choices, different dieting choices and so forth. And it is ok for your friend and family to have different values and choices. It does not make either of you wrong or right.
Back to self-compassion… start by taking a deep breath and think of a person who you truly love, admire, and respect. A person who embodies love, empathy, strength, determination, and care. They can be alive or have passed; they can be real or fictional. Now, really take time to visualise them, visualise what they look like, imagine them with you, sitting next to you, slightly touching your fingertips. Imagine their presence, warmth and love. Now, imagine every time you take a breath in they fill you with their love, strength, compassion, care, and empathy. With each inhale they pass strength, light, compassion and love to you. Filling you up, strengthening you, breath by breath. Filling you with self-compassion, love and strength.
So often, we can experience unpleasant emotions, thoughts or behaviour and want to run… run for the hills. I encourage you to take a look at them, dive into them, observe them, acknowledge them and then show yourself some compassion. Try it next time. And who knows, that friend who doesn’t give their child chocolate or who is going paleo might just teach you something about yourself.
Principal Psychologist/ Director
Thriving Minds Psychology Clinic