When we are engaged in disliking, judging or becoming extremely negative about something or someone, we experience a desire to put distance between us and the other. We are often unaware that we are being too critical. Instead, what we notice is how inadequate other people are, we feel hopeless about finding the right match, or the right group of friends. In those moments, nobody seems to pass our increasingly stringent criteria for admission into our life. The price we pay is isolation and loneliness.
Excessive judgment and criticism are forms of devaluation. When we devalue whoever is on the other side of the conversation, we create distance and separateness, we lose our ability to be curious about the other, and thus lose an opportunity for connection.
On the other hand, when we devalue ourselves, we become afraid that the other will see our flaws and as a result, we shut down and hide. Very often, we are not aware of that we ourselves are engaging in self-criticism or self-judgment and instead fear that the other is having a negative thought about us. As a result, we protect ourselves by retreating, and in some cases we might even feel a great deal of anger about being mistreated, misjudged, and excluded.
When we have engaged for many years in forms of self-devaluation, we have a hard time differentiating between a judgment coming from inside or from outside. We become more sensitive to real criticism coming from others and may avoid any situation where we could be judged such as reaching out to others, personal and professional feedback, and engaging in creative endeavors, etc. A harsh internal critic is also associated with high levels of anxiety and symptoms of depression.
Whether the target is ourselves or others, a harsh internal critical is a powerful way in which we keep ourselves stuck in loneliness. The next time that you start noticing signs of anxiety about interpersonal connections, check how you are relating to yourself and others in your mind. I also find it that replacing judgment with curiosity works like a charm in opening our hearts and mind to the experience of connection.