Recognizing that what we judge in someone else is most often something we have disowned in our selves; using such times as opportunities to acknowledge/embrace those disowned parts of our self.
Judging Someone Else
When you find your self judging someone,
look for what in your self you are not yet willing to accept…
Hold that part of you more gently!
It was early spring 1984, some nine months into my challenging year of moving back and forth as I continued the work of separating out of a very fraught seven-year relationship. (See Others' Views for more about this.) I'd gone to the Santa Barbara airport to meet my step-sister-in-law who was arriving from the East Coast for some graduate seminars at the Fielding Institute.
Usually, when I'm out and about in the world, I move around inside my own sheltering psychic bubble at some energetic distance from the people-world around me. My bubble works quite well as insulation. (So well that my friend's teenage/early twenties children love to tell hysterical tales of their frantic antics trying unsuccessfully to get my attention when they drive by me in town.)
On this particular day, just as I walked through the door to the outside waiting-for-arriving-passengers area, the woman walking next to me began to talk to me. Oddly enough, I heard her and actually responded to her conversational opening. Neither of us can remember how she started that interchange. Still, in the ten minutes before her mother and daughter and my sister-in-law arrived (on the same flight), we had discovered some remarkable parallels in our lives.
We were both Jewish psychologists who had had practices on the East Coast. We had both, ten years earlier, dropped out of our established personal and professional lives in order to come out West. We had both made those moves in order to do some deep inner exploration and healing that we'd felt was not possible in the middle of our former lives. We had both lived in Santa Barbara and were both now living in Ojai. The level of synchronicity astounded us. As our passengers arrived, we exchanged phone numbers with some vague idea of catching up with each other sometime in the future.
Within the month, however, I'd reconciled yet again with my almost-former partner. I left the ranch on which I'd been living rent-free while caretaking a menagerie of handicapped or ailing animals. Sharing a new rental we'd found in the East End of Ojai, the two of us began what shortly and clearly became an abortive attempt to construct a healthier partnership.
It was a devastating time in my life. I couldn't believe that I'd risked living together again after the enormous struggle I'd had trying to move out the first time, just ten months before. I was depressed and frozen, unable for the next few months to find my way to physically leave again.
During those awful months, the only peace I had (except for when I was working and focused on my clients' lives) came in the very early mornings. For the few short hours that I'd have to my self, before the full weight of my depression descended again, I'd do yoga, meditate and then walk a half-mile up the road to a forest trail. The trail led another mile up a chaparral covered canyon to a creek. Once at the creek, I'd melt into a boulder in the middle of the flowing water, awash in the natural sounds. For that small space of each day I'd feel held by Spirit, at one with the wonder of the natural world.
Living our separate lives – in and out of frustration and tension with each other – my estranged partner and I continued to share the rental house for just over four months. While doing errands in town during those months, numbers of shopkeepers and people I'd run into would ask me if I'd ever met Cynthia Rossman (not her real name). They'd each tell me, in almost the exact same words, how much I reminded them of her; how similar our energies were; how similar our ways of being in the world seemed to them. I recognized the name. It was that woman who'd engaged me at the airport. It all seemed odd and fascinating. Still, I was too completely immersed in my despair to think of trying to make contact and explore the possibility of a friendship with anyone new.
Then one morning, as I wandered up toward the trail, I picked up a scrap of paper lying in the brush alongside the road. (I often policed the roadside, picking up bits of trash to dispose of when I got back home.) I glanced at the scrap before stuffing it in my pocket. It was a very old Visa statement for several florist purchases made back East by one Cynthia Rossman. I burst out laughing. Spirit was certainly into nudging me, trying to get me to pay attention. I finally surrendered and picked up the phone once I got home.
It took several rounds of phone tag for us to get to talk with each other in real time that mid-July. As we tried to make a plan to get together, we discovered that she'd been living just across the road, up a few properties from where I was still living with my ex-partner. She was at that point in the process of packing up the last of her things in preparation for a move from Ojai back to Santa Barbara, with plans to visit her oldest friend in Santa Fe in between.
We decided that I'd come by right then, that we would visit while she packed. By now, I was quite curious about what exactly was up for me with this woman, wondering why Spirit seemed so determined to bring us together. I gathered some cheese, crackers and fruit, and went across the road. I was feeling some excitement about this meeting, about the possible adventure of discovering a new friend.
I was sucked right into a whirlwind. The woman actually seemed a bit of a lunatic. She talked and packed at warp speed. She kept pulling out and handing me photos of her "exquisite former house on the river," her fancy former sailboat, her former self in many upscale settings. She was intent on telling me stories that she obviously thought would help me understand that she had been "a somebody" before she chose to drop out of her former life.
I was a little dazed by it all. I couldn't have cared less about how much of a mover and shaker she had been before. In fact, for several years after my own dropping out, I'd consciously chosen to obscure my personal history. I'd been committed to meeting people simply as the person I was right then, diligent in not letting anyone know about all the pirouettes, accomplishments and degrees I'd used in my former life to create some sense of worthiness for my self.
I was just interested in who she was right now and who she seemed to be was one very insecure, frenetic woman trying to impress me by telling me things that she had no idea would have so little meaning to me. I was disappointed. I was dumbfounded as I tried to figure out what people could possibly have seen in this frantic, insecure woman that reminded them of my (as I saw it) very slowed down, calm self. (I didn't yet know that, out in the world, she was not this self I was seeing.) I couldn't understand what the point was of all of Spirit's nudging me in her direction.
Yet, after a while, she settled down and we talked more meaningfully. I could feel her warmth, her juiciness and the intensity of her genuine interest in getting to see/know me. The similarities people spoke of made more sense to me then. Still, she was off the next day for several weeks away and then on to Santa Barbara. I, on the other hand, had much to deal with in finding a new home and once again getting my self free of my enmeshment. So, that was that for then.
Five months later, after I'd finally extricated my self from the excruciating living-together situation with my former partner, found a beautiful new home and moved on to a further layer of healing my broken self, Cynthia turned back up in my life. I was at a fairly new friend's house for a small, intimate Christmas Eve gathering of five empowered and fascinating women who were (except for our hostess) all new to each other. The evening started with Lois telling us that we were missing one other woman that she had wanted to bring into this circle. The woman had an old friend visiting and the friend insisted on going to see Amadeus rather than coming to this dinner. The missing woman was none other than Cynthia Rossman, who had asked that we give her a call at some point in the course of the evening.
When we called, she told me that the old friend – her best friend since kindergarten, the friend that she had been going off to visit in Santa Fe that past Summer – was none other than the second of the only two close friends I'd had at college. It was peculiar, more than a little eerie. Once again, it felt like Spirit had a hand in it. So, we made a plan to get together after the New Year.
When she arrived at my cottage in mid-January, Cynthia dazzled me by reading, with awesome emotional accuracy, each of the many fiber masks (my Spirit-Mother Totem series) lining my walls. She read the masks to me in the same way that I had been able to translate into words the feelings evoked by the work of many of my own artist friends. It was yet another striking parallel between us.
That January 1985 meeting was the start of a powerful, complex, freewheeling, sometimes challenging, sometimes delightful, sometimes delightfully challenging, sometimes (mostly past now) crazy-making but always growth-provoking 28-year friendship. We came to the friendship each having done considerable personal work. We were both ferociously dedicated to our own healing. And though we each had our own wobbly places, we were both, for the most part, empowered and grounded in our selves.
At times, calling it a more-than-a-friendship has seemed an accurate description since it continually served each of us as a cauldron in which we were forced toward our fullest, most authentic and most transparent selves. Over the years it became clear to both of us that it's been for this work – and for the wisdom that comes with it – that Spirit has brought us into each other's lives.
Strangely enough, much of this growing and forcing has been a consequence both of how hotly we have judged each other and how unswerving we've each been about owning and learning from that judgmentalness in our selves and in the field of our sharing.
Though neither of us is particularly judgmental of others, we have each been furiously, aggressively, both secretly and outspokenly judgmental of each other, often in exaggerated and extreme ways. Typically, these judgments (mostly in the past now) came up in moments that were very particular for each of us.
When Cynthia felt insecure or self-doubting she would do what looked to me like putting up a front, sort of puffing herself up and acting in ways that I experienced as inauthentic or phony. I would get irritated with and critical of her when I felt this was going on. I would tell her how stupid her behavior seemed, how easy to see through and how insulting it felt to have her think that I could be taken in by these machinations. I hated them. Of course, she would take my judgmental behavior as proof of how unsafe it was for her to consider being her insecure self around me. We'd go round and round with this as I tried to explain it wasn't her insecurity I was judging, but rather her ways of trying to hide that insecurity.
We'd argue, argue, argue: I'd call her behavior insulting and stupid, she'd call mine mean and crazy. Gradually, with this particular repeating dance, we came to agree we'd each try looking more directly into our own stuff instead of continuing to judge and berate each other. We chose to each focus both on what was being triggered in our selves and what was happening between us, using these tangled moments as opportunities to do research into what the interactions might teach us about our selves and the dynamics in our relationship.
When we'd met, I was recovering from super-achieving, from using what I did or what I'd accomplished in the world as a measure of my self-worth or as a cover for my insecurities. I was working at being in the middle of my self-doubts openly, revealing my vulnerability rather than obscuring it. It was an edgy practice but one that seemed to promise me a sense of safety no other path had provided.
Cynthia's behavior served as a dark mirror for me. In it I saw the ways I had, for so much of my past, tried to hide my own insecurities from others and from my self, projecting instead an image of my self as a person who had it all together, who rarely if ever had a fraught or anxious moment. That effort had been exhausting and it had usually left me coping with constant fear that some perceptive someone might, at any moment, unmask me, leaving me quaking and terrified of ridicule.
My new path involved me unmasking my self, revealing any deficiency or insecurity I might be feeling. I chose to do this as if I believed it was perfectly honorable, respectable and okay with me that I felt insecure. The more I practiced living my shortcomings boldly and out-loud, the more they actually became honorable and respectable to me. As I treated them this new way, others seem to have little choice but to do the same.
In these still early days of this practice, I was doing what so many of us are inclined to do when we make a major shift. I was judging and devaluing the old ways (now being left behind) that I had used to make my self safe. But, I was doing this indirectly by judging and demeaning what I saw as those behaviors in Cynthia. In doing this aggressively and out-loud on her, I was becoming, for her fearful-and-hiding self, the very menace that I had always feared would unmask me.
I encouraged my self to honor and embrace the me that I had been when I had tried to make my insecure self feel safe in the same ways I believed Cynthia was using. As I could be more compassionate and accepting of that earlier me, the one that had grown me into this new place I was now learning and practicing, I could also be more spacious and generous with Cynthia's process. I stopped taking her behaviors personally, stopped feeling insulted by them and stopped seeing them as stupid. This was a great relief to both of us.
There have been, over the 28 years of our friendship, many more such tales of our judging and being judged by each other (albeit about other issues). In each episode, we used to have to go through many rounds before we would begin together to look for the inside stories behind our judgments. Lately, we are more likely, one or the other of us, to catch onto the very earliest moments such a research opportunity appears in the field between us. We argue less and explore more.
I've repeatedly judged in Cynthia ways she acts that (less than consciously) remind me of ways that I used to act; past ways that I haven't yet fully accepted as having been honorable parts of my evolution. She, on the other hand, (it seems to me) has been more likely to get judgmental of ways that I act that reflect back to her secret parts of herself that she hasn't yet embraced as honorable parts of who she is in her current evolution. But, then, this is only my story about it all.
In any case, the lesson around our judgings has been powerful and empowering. Whenever we are judging someone else's behavior it's highly likely (maybe even a sure thing) that we are, in this process, disowning a part of our selves. By heaping our negating judgment upon that behavior or aspect of the other person, we are almost always really saying, "I certainly don't act in that unacceptable/disgraceful/repellent way."
If we stop whenever we find our selves judging someone and look instead for what in our selves (past or present) we may be trying to separate from, every judging-moment becomes a doorway into recognizing and embracing more of all of who we are. Once owned, even our ugly, wart-ridden, foul-smelling parts become significant contributors to the fullness of our rich, fertile, juicy selves.
Consider using your open or secret judgments of others as opportunities to lovingly reclaim and embrace previously disowned parts of your self.