Please Note: The ideas contained in this FAQ are the opinions of the writer and are communicated without reference to supporting documentation in most cases. Other inspiration and influence for the writing came through consultation with other mental health professionals but the writer “Peter Quintano” is also fully qualified in DBT making him qualified to talk about the things discussed in this article.
It is a sad thing, but the people I speak with in therapy often discover that they are their own worst enemies. After much discussion and the curtains of self-defence finally pulled back, it becomes apparent that a great deal of their emotional (and other) suffering has originated from within rather than without. Said another way, a person eventually comes to realize that he himself is the author of much of his own unnecessary emotional suffering! He discovers that his perceptual biases and unhealthy thought patterns not noticed prior to attending therapy have been more disabling than he could have ever imagined.
In most cases, the types of thoughts that induce unnecessary emotional suffering are self-judgmental in nature; meaning that a person tends to put himself down, label himself negatively, or otherwise take away or minimize any credit that might be forthcoming given his efforts. He perceives himself as functioning inadequately in nearly every living area and situation. The reasons this kind of maladaptive functioning takes root can be varied and complicated, depending on a person’s relationships and history. Nevertheless, much of my experience working with others has left me believing that people would prefer to judge themselves, rather than risk being judged by others, simply because it hurts less.
For instance, a person may conclude… “If I am hard enough on myself so as to make sure things are done “properly”, there won’t be any need for people to judge me, be upset with me, or reject me”; “plus if someone tries to put me down or criticize me, it won’t hurt very much as I am already down”. The self-judging person, therefore, believes that he has created a safety, or immunity, from the judgments of others (including any accompanying emotional hurts) because he has made preparations and inoculated himself to any pain in advance. What the self-judging person does not realise, however, is that his judgments create emotional suffering anyway (shame feelings in particular). The non-stop judgments may also set the stage for long-term adverse mental health effects, such as anxiety and/or depressive disorders.
A person who develops Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) may be extremely vulnerable to relying on self-judgments as a way of feeling safe from external judgments and related emotions. Self-judgments can again seemingly function like an emotional buffer or safety net since emotions for persons with BPD can be experienced in such potent and intolerable ways. ‘Living in the moment’ and ‘taking life as it comes’ may be felt as too risky and painful for someone with BPD, as it isn’t possible to predict when you may experience external judgments. It is therefore highly probable that a person dealing with BPD might also eventually struggle with concurrent depression or anxiety disorders (amongst other things) due to the chronic self-judgment possibly involved in his condition.
Learning to become mindful of self-judgments is essential in order to begin reducing the frequency in which they occur. Likewise, being willing to replace those self-judgments with radical acceptance of emotional experience, is essential in order to reduce suffering. For instance, it is better to practice feeling “out of control” or “fearful” rather than using self-judgments as a form of perceived protection. Eventually, and if necessary with the assistance of a therapist, it is also important to more specifically articulate the irrational thoughts that form the self-judgments, and then reconstruct the thoughts into something more factual and realistic. Reconstructing self-judgments often means recalling and embracing our good qualities that so often get ignored or discounted as self-judgment dominates.
After all, each and every person is a combination of good qualities and areas of weakness. No matter what we try to do, we will all experience disappointments and embarrassments as we work on ourselves and as we walk through life. It is therefore interesting to note that even though we may try to protect ourselves through unhealthy acts (such as unnecessary self-judgment) the more difficult emotions of life will get experienced from time to time anyway. Since this is the case, the wiser action would be to relinquish unnecessary self-judgment so that the larger proportion of the life experience is not overshadowed or weighed down with unnecessary feelings of shame.
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