This weekend I got a question on an old post of mine that I thought deserved a longer response. The post is on the topic of the difficulties of being a free spirit, and the commenter asked: “”What do you do when you falter? How do you stay strong in the face of judgement?” Both excellent questions.
What do I do when I falter? And oh wow, do I falter. Most of us do. It’s hard to make unconventional choices, and it takes a fair amount of courage, and sometimes my supply of courage feels like it’s running short. What to do about this indeed?
One answer is to pay attention as much as we can, so at least we have a chance of noticing when we’re faltering. And once we’ve noticed, we can allow ourselves to be gentle about it. It’s fine to feel the fear, the discomfort, the wish that the choices that seem so much easier would be the right choices for us. But we also need to remember the why’s. Why do we like being free-spirited? Why do we prefer considering options instead of making the default choice? Why is this better?
When I falter, I remind myself of my experiences of doing what others expected or wanted rather than what I wanted, and how that usually turned out poorly. I give myself my own personalized pep talk. And because I’m a planner, I develop a plan for getting myself back on track, which might include getting additional support.
Far more difficult in my own experience is staying strong in the face of judgment. Being judged is such a creepy-crawly, uncomfortable experience. And even though it so often is all about the person doing the judging rather than the person being judged, it still feels very personal.
The first place to look is to ourselves. If we encourage our own minds to be judgmental and critical of ourselves, then we’ll feel that same sensation of judgment coming from the outside as well…even if it doesn’t actually exist outside at all. So we need to be kind to ourselves while developing our own sense of worth. The more we believe in ourselves, the more confident we become. And the more confident we become, the less it matters what other people think, and the easier it becomes to remember that their judgments are more about them than about us.
It’s harder when the judgments are coming from people whom we care about: our family and friends. Sometimes their voices become so loud that we internalize them and can hear them criticizing us even when they aren’t present. And because we value their opinions, it can be harder to tell the difference between genuine concern and viewpoints respectfully expressed and more manipulative and painful judgments.
For this, I am a big fan of setting boundaries. When we’re not used to having boundaries, it takes a lot of practice. Really a lot. And not only that, but people can become quite judgmental about the fact that you have boundaries in the first place. But it’s psychologically healthy to have boundaries, and over time they become super effective. You’re allowed to decide what you’re going to do with your life, and you’re allowed to take care of yourself. (I could write entire books about boundaries. In fact, people have, and here’s my favorite.)
So, in summary, here’s what I do when I falter and when I’m having trouble with the judgments of others:
1. Be mindful so I notice what’s going on.
2. Self pep talk, reminder of why what I’m doing is awesome.
3. Get support, make a plan if necessary.
4. Work on increasing self esteem and minimizing my own critical judgments.
5. Set boundaries with other people and take those boundaries really seriously.
What do you think? How do you stay strong in the face of judgment?