Relationships are the source of our biggest joy and most distress.
Relationships are in Everything
Central themes that repeatedly show up in my work with clients are about relationships. I work with clients to both build self-confidence and step into their own truths, while also improving relationships and building a sense of belonging with others.
Many of my clients frequently express distress and preoccupation with feared judgments from others. They spend a great deal of energy on “impression management” to try to appear perfect in order to avoid judgment and rejection.
When we diminish our humanity under a facade of “perfection,” we may indeed, avoid rejection, but we also can’t step into authenticity, which is necessary for true belonging. Being “perfect” may lead others to admire us. But admiration is not the same as connection.
However, lowering our guard and allowing ourselves to show up with our imperfections, does increase our sense of vulnerability and risk.
One way I tackle this dilemma with clients is to challenge how much they think others really think about them. The reality is, we grossly overestimate how much others think about us. Most often, we are all just worried about ourselves!
And yet, it is ALSO true, that sometimes we are the targets of judgment, hostility, and rejection. So what do we do then, if not retreat back into our protective shells of impression management?
I believe part of the answer lies in our awareness that people’s judgments speak to their own work. That is, the judgments they heap are more about THEM than they are about US. When I find myself to be judgmental, if I’m willing to be introspective, I become aware that my judgment reveals a personal insecurity, bias, and growth curve for ME. It really has very little to do with the other personal at all.
When we are on the receiving end of judgment, we do ourselves a favor by not owning someone else’s work for them. We do this by not giving energy to those judgments. I know judgments are hurtful and it’s hard not to dwell on them. I’m not saying we shouldn’t allow ourselves to feel hurt. But I am saying, we can limit how much energy we give that hurt. We can decide to not perseverate and let it go. I do this by asking myself, “Where do I want to spend my energy?” As I answer that question, I shift my focus and attention away from the hurt and onto what really matters in my life.
Remember, judgments are designed to hurt. They are designed to drag us down, to make us feel insecure. For that reason alone, they are not worth our time and energy.
What is worth our time and energy is feedback. Feedback is different from judgment because it comes from a place of good intention. It comes from a source who has our best interests at heart and the feedback is designed to help us grow and change for the better.
However, because we are all human, we need to be aware that feedback comes from a source who has their own “stuff” that they are also working through. In that way, feedback is revealing of that person’s work too. But because feedback comes from love and good intention, it can be worthy of our time and energy. Try on the feedback. In what ways does it fit? Are there ways in which it doesn’t fit? Does this feedback reveal something about the person offering feedback? What does it reveal about me?
How do we know the difference between judgment and feedback?
- The source: Is this someone I love and trust and who loves me?
- The message: judgment involves making broad sweeping, derisive statements like, “You always…” or “you are so..” whereas feedback includes compassion, specificity, and curiosity about us and our experience.
Feedback is so incredibly valuable because it targets both our need for personal growth and development AND belonging.
I often share with clients a pivotal moment of feedback in my life. Several years ago, I was at a conference in an experiential group workshop. I had been with this same group of fellow therapists for two days where we practiced reacting “here and now” to each other. One thing that came up for me as part of group process were my insecurities about being “taken seriously.” As the youngest in my family, I had a long history of being dismissed and not feeling seen. This bled into my adult life as well. I asked the group for feedback about how I showed up in the room. Most group members reassured me that I came across as confident and competent. But the feedback I will always remember came from the group member who said, “Anna, I’d like to tell you the ways in which you speak and act that allow me to dismiss you.” He then proceeded to share examples of how I behave and speak that serve to minimize my message and voice. While that feedback wasn’t easy to hear, it was priceless. To this day I feel grateful for the information I received because it gave me the insight I needed to make some small, but crucial changes both personally and professionally.
I invite feedback from trusted friends in my life to help me continue to grow. Those are the relationships and the evaluations that warrant my energy. While I am far from immune to the fear and pain of judgment, I try to be mindful when confronted with it. I try to also check my own judgments and ask what work is showing up for me in those moments? What do my judgments reveal about me?
Navigating living authentically, while also seeking connection and belonging, is messy. We humans are very messy. There is beauty, growth and connection inside of all that mess and I have learned to appreciate it. Life is too messy and short to dwell on the judgments of those undeserving of my journey and story. I encourage us to focus our psychological and physical energy on the relationships that truly matter, and those who we know have our best interests at heart.