Are you building your own prison?

Berlin Wall ArtI’ve been thinking a lot about judgments lately.  Judging is a natural part of our existence.  We begin judging others even as very small children.  We do this instinctively in part out of survival by relying on the reptilian and emotional parts of the brain.  We do this long before the higher functioning parts of our brain are developed. You may have heard about the fantastic brain cells called mirror-neurons that play a key role in this regard. They are taking in everything and helping us model behavior or identify behavior we unconsciously judge as something we should or should not do. Of course as we mature, we are able to consider our feelings, actions and judgments in a more complex manner, and begin to articulate how things “should” be. Whether or not our judgments are accurate and true or made-up doesn’t matter.  At this point our judgments have a lot less to do with survival and more to do with how we see others and ourselves in the world.

There seems to be no end to the amount of judgments, usually negative, that we heap on our family, friends, partners, co-workers, strangers (ever judge that person in the grocery line in front of you?) and of course, the biggest recipient of all — ourselves.

So what?   I judge others, they judge me, that’s how it works. Oh — and my judgment is more accurate than yours of course.

I maintain that these judgments, unchecked and unexamined, actually create a prison that holds you back from achieving your best.  Each time you have a judgment, it’s like adding a brick to a wall that you are building around yourself.  Every time you maintain, someone should be like….you are saying that you should be or already are like that.  Judgment by judgment, brick by brick, eventually you’ve created a nice tight cell which walls you off from connecting with others and worse, your best self and higher purpose.  That’s a lonely existence if not claustrophobic.  There’s barely any room for you at all.

There is an answer of course. It’s called Empathy.

Empathy: “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experiences of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experiences fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.”

Here’s an easier way to think about it from someone I met in a class years ago. “Empathy, she said, is like you and I each having a glass of water and there is a third empty glass on the table.  Each time we talk about something going on for us, we can pour some water in the third glass.  We don’t pour the water back and forth in our own glasses because that would overflow one of our glasses. But the empathy glass has room for both of us because neither of us is trying to put our “stuff” into/onto the other person. We are both equally heard.”

Empathy is a cornerstone of emotional intelligence or (EQ).  In the model I use in my coaching practice it follows under an EQ competency category of Give Yourself.

Empathy is a gift that you give yourself because when you have empathy for others, you make a little more space for yourself. There’s breathing room for your own mistakes and the times that invariably you misjudged others.  Each time you show empathy, you get to take down a brick off the wall (or at minimum, not put up another brick). That’s freedom.  That lets you step out of the prison cell when you want and pursue whatever it is that you’re after.

So today, notice those judgments.  Do you want to put another brick on the wall or do you want to take one down?  How’s the view now?

Perhaps it’s time to start to dismantle your own Berlin wall.