Nothing spotlights sagging self-esteem stronger than when people judge others. Growing up, I was the supreme judge. A fat kid (I had to wear “Husky” brand pants), I constantly put down others in an attempt to pull myself up.
Looking back, I had good teachers; my family members were masters in the art of judgment. Around the dinner table, we would take turns picking on and judging one another. It got so bad during one Sunday supper that my brother’s new bride fled the dining room; our cruelty had reduced her to tears.
Teachers used to preach, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything.” Even when I don’t verbalize judgments, I subtly communicate them and damage relationships.
I now know that judging serves me poorly. My judgments separate me from others, and above all I want connection in my life. I also know that self-esteem is an inside job; it must come from within, not by putting people down.
When judgments bubble up, they must be examined. Writers Carol Kurtz Walsh and Tom Walsh recommend applying “The 90/10 Rule.” When judgment rears its serpent-like head and we experience a strong negative emotional reaction to another, assume that only 10 percent of our reaction is based upon the situation, leaving a whopping 90 percent that belongs to past.
When we consider the psychological principles of projection and transference, the Walshes’ counsel makes sense. A projection is something that we don’t want to accept about ourselves, so we bury it and then observe it someone else. Years ago, I was in a men’s support group in Atlanta. One man in the group drove me crazy. He was so emotional; he cried at the drop of a hat. Several years later when I began to experience my own shut-down emotions, I was able to reclaim my projection.
Transference occurs when we assign traits to someone that really belong to someone else, and nowhere is transference more apparent than in our primary relationships. I used to transfer negative traits belonging to my mother and father onto my romantic partners until I read the eye-opening imago work of Harville Hendrix, Ph.D. Hendrix’s research shows that we seek partners who have the predominant character traits of the people who raised us. He believes that we do this subconsciously in an attempt to heal old childhood wounds.
Old habits are hard to break. Although my self-esteem is much stronger than it once was, I still catch myself becoming judgmental toward a person or situation at times. When I do, I try to remember the 90/10 Rule and these wise words: “When you point your finger at someone else, there are four fingers pointing back at you.”
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