We keep reading in self-help books that “feelings are natural” and “judgments are dangerous.” Wait, what’s the difference between a feeling and a judgment? Can you have one without the other? We had to have it explained to us repeatedly, and we think we understand!
If our boss says in front of coworkers, “I received your application for a hardship withdrawal from your 401(k). I’ll let you know once HR gets back to me,” we could understand if we felt violated. We would have preferred if our boss discussed this with us privately.
We stray from feelings to judgment when we think She is singling us out again or She sucks at managing people. Judgments ascribe intention to an action. (Without asking her, can we really know why she disclosed our private information in front of others?) Feelings are about the emotion stirred in us as a result of circumstances.
Here’s the thing about judgments: they intensify unpleasant emotions–making them even more unpleasant–because they allow us to personalize something that may have nothing to do with us (she may have disclosed private information because she is an open person who shares about herself willingly or because she kept forgetting to tell us she received our application and, in haste, told us in front of others).
Avoiding the judgment (blame, accusation, etc.) allows us to avoid adding an additional “Layer” of secondary emotions: anger, shame, more fear.
“The Layer” can be especially toxic when applied against ourselves. How many times have we been the one to accidentally disclose private information in front of others and then think I’m such an idiot! Why do I do such stupid things?
Adding this layer of self-judgment intensifies our regret and The Layer itself becomes the point of fixation. We might even forget what our supposed transgression was (social gaffe, traffic ticket, raising our voice at a loved one) and the self-judgment layer takes on a life of its own. We can get into spirals: shame spiral, anger spiral, fear spiral. We can become physically ill from our emotions and the physical manifestation becomes the result and focus of The Layer.
We have found that if we intervene at the point of judgment–and back away from judgment–our feelings instantly become…survivable. Without The Layer, we suddenly have options. We can take action to remedy the situation, we can get in touch with (and meet) our needs underlying the feeling, or we can ride it out like a brief rainstorm. Even hurricanes end.
In life, how many times will we succeed simply by doing nothing? Avoiding adding The Layer is a stop sign for spirals. By not making the situation worse, we automatically make the situation better. We get in touch with our feelings and learn that feelings are natural and survivable. Avoiding judgment helps us forgive others and ourselves more readily.
In short, avoiding The Layer is like avoiding pouring lemon juice on our wounds. The wounds heal much faster and with much less pain.
When we catch ourselves judging, stopping is the same as peeling back The Layer. It can be undone.
Like any other skill, avoiding The Layer will take practice. If you’re like us, you’re practicing a lot of new skills. Maybe do yourself a favor and Bookmark this page. Come back to it. Practice.