I’ll admit it, a part of me does like to have a good moan. About the food that isn’t quite right in a restaurant, or the film that doesn’t live up to my expectations, or how someone else has done something that’s had an unfortunate impact on me.
And I know I’m not alone. Social interactions (whether online or in conversation) are littered with comments and opinions that are critical, judgemental or of a complaining nature. Our internal dialogue might have this flavour too, if we’ve learned to turn judgement against ourselves as self-criticism. We’re most likely conditioned into this habit, especially if we grew up with it. And I really think that’s what it is – a habit, and therefore something we can condition ourselves out of too.
I know that in my own experience, this tendency is a reactive, aversive energy. It arises when my needs aren’t met, or I don’t like something, or even just to fill an awkward silence. Sometimes it’s a defence mechanism, when I feel hurt or vulnerable. It can also get triggered when I’m seeking validation.
I can’t help wondering, if we all reduced this aversive energy, what would fill those spaces in conversation (or in our life) that the judging and complaining used to occupy? Maybe that’s why we find this habit so seductive, because it covers over a fear of just being with our naked experience, without having to paper it over with our preferences and reactions.
So I’ve set myself a challenge to notice when I’m moaning, criticising or complaining about someone or something. It’s probably more often than I think. Especially when I look at things from someone else’s point of view rather than my own.
I say noticing because I have no intention of transferring the judgement onto myself if (when) I fall into the same old trap. Awareness is the starting point for change, so I trust that it’s enough for now.
Maybe that noticing might plant the seeds of something else that could fill those spaces if I cut out criticism. Because alongside the part of me that likes to find what’s wrong, another part of me can see the world through kind eyes, and find what’s good to appreciate. I just need to get out of the way more often to let that part of me fill those spaces.
And if this post itself comes across in any way judgemental, please know that isn’t my intention. Life isn’t easy, and we all make judgements (it’s an important part of our survival equipment). We can grow our awareness without attacking ourselves for being human.
On that note, when I do find myself acting out an old habit and need to see that through kind eyes, I always find Portia Nelson’s poem reassuring.
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