Category Archives: Mind and Emotion

Our Judgments Are About Us

If I’m feeling critical and judgmental about someone, it means I’m in a lousy state of mind. My thinking and perceptions are imbalanced.  I am not seeing things clearly and with perspective.

Critical judgments and the feelings they bring – constriction, anger, indignation – are indicators that our thinking has gone astray, that we are not grounded.

Of course, it doesn’t look that way.

Our judgments always look justified and based on facts, rather than skewed perception. From our lousy state of mind, we project lousy motives.  People’s actions look intentional.

But our imbalanced feelings do not lie. They tell us what’s really going on, which is that we’ve lost our bearings.

When our psyche self-corrects (which it always does naturally), a more balanced perspective will come in, and we will see things with more wisdom and perspective.  We will remember people are generally doing the best they can, based on the thinking they have in the moment. We will see the bigger picture and thus respond more effectively.

Of course, our judgments are inevitable. They arise in our mind unbidden, sometimes with such speed and ferocity we can’t help but respond.

In every relationship, we fall in and out of judgment on a continual basis.   We can’t control it.

But we can understand it.  We can understand what judgments mean, what they are telling us.

The question is: how do we understand judgments when they arise in our mind? Do we mistakenly believe our judgments are true and accurate? Or do we understand they are errant thoughts, a sign that we’re projecting imbalance onto others?

The former understanding – which is widespread today – leads inexorably to conflict. Since judgment arises from a skewed subjectivity, it is, by nature, divisive.

The latter understanding creates an opening for our innate wisdom to restore us to balance, love, and humility. Such understanding gives the psyche what it needs to restore us to connectedness.

I am, of course, aware there are people whose actions are indeed worthy of condemnation: people who hurt innocents, commit atrocities, betray our humanity. Are we to just ignore this?

Of course not. But if we ourselves are blinded by judgment,  we compromise our ability to respond effectively. Any form of righteous certainty tells us we have lost our way, that we would do well to pause and allow space for wisdom to point us to a more enduring justice.


We Are All Difficult At Times

We all have good moods and bad moods, our ups and downs, all day long.

When we’re up, our finer qualities emerge.  We are more generous, courageous, empathic and loving. Life looks good.

When we’re down – and we all get down regularly – we wrestle with difficult thoughts and feelings. We get insecure, doubtful, impatient, anxious.  And we fall into reactive behaviors and clumsy coping mechanisms.

We get judgmental or nasty, grumpy or impatient, withdrawn or defensive.  We numb out, or bury ourselves in distraction.

And then the mood passes, and the fog clears. Better feelings re-emerge, and once again, we become the person we wish we could be all the time.

But alas, that’s not in the cards. We all fall short sometimes. Maybe even a lot of the time.

And it’s good to notice and appreciate that.

It’s good to be humble about the fact that we can be difficult – let’s face it, very difficult – at times. And it’s good to understand that every single human being in our life – our family, our spouses, our partners – needs the space to be difficult at times too. It’s part of being human.

We all fall short, on a regular basis.

Recognizing this, understanding this, smooths out the rough edges. It helps us take bad moods and crappy behavior less seriously. It softens their blow, and makes it all less jarring and disturbing.

And that helps us bounce back and move on.

Just as it’s human to have our lows, it’s human to return to a better place, to recognize our foibles and be humble about them, and to be kind, generous and understanding towards others in the face of our common humanity.

Listening When It’s Hard

When we are arguing with another person, odds are we aren’t listening well. We are usually dealing with our intense personal feelings and defending our point of view.

But listening to what’s been said to us can actually be quite helpful.

In my heated exchanges with my wife, for example, I find (often reluctantly, mind you) there is always some validity to her complaints.

If I’m arguing, it is usually because I prefer to focus on the validity of my complaints. But if I’m being honest, I need to accept responsibility for my side of the street.

This is actual good news. When I have looked at my behavior through my wife’s eyes, I’ve always seen is ways I can grow as a husband, father and human being. And that really has resulted in a great deal of fulfilling (and humbling) personal growth.

Our partners, friends, family members, business colleagues – all of them have powerful penetrating wisdom and intelligence. All human beings without exception are powered by this intelligence.

If someone is sharing their views with you, there is, by definition, intelligence and wisdom in what the other person is saying. And if they are sharing it loudly and urgently, it is a good guess there is an important message in what they’re saying.

Now, does this mean taking what they say as gospel? Of course not; that would be relinquishing our own intelligence. Their perspective is necessarily limited and subjective, just the same as all of us.

What I’m pointing to is the value of listening and being open to considering what your partner is saying. Doing that transforms arguments into avenues for our growth.

Doing this requires that we let go of being right and open ourselves up to seeing things in new and different ways. It means recognizing our perspective is always subjective and incomplete.

The problem with arguments is can be hard to set aside our personal feelings to look for the truth and value in what our partner is sharing.  Which is why I am not suggesting that arguments are a good idea in and of themselves. There are more helpful ways to communicate if we can manage it. It’s just sometimes we can’t.

And even then, even in the midst of righteousness and anger, there is an opportunity to listen, to open ourselves up to hearing new things.

That sliver of humility makes space for wisdom to show up.  And that wisdom is the gateway to fresh insight and a better experience.

Understanding Overreaction

We’ve all had the experience of responding to a perceived offense with an irate email, or a righteous tirade, only to regret it later, after we’ve settled down.

What felt justified in the heat of the moment later seems unwise or beneath our dignity.

Why is this? What is the broader principle at work here?

Intense personal emotions, like anger or indignation, are in-the-moment signs that our perspective has become narrow and constrained.

Our focus has become intensely personal, largely to the exclusion of the bigger picture (for example, what others are experiencing or deeper factors that may be at play). As a result, actions taken from that state-of-mind will tend to be imbalanced and ineffective.

As a result, actions taken from that state-of-mind will tend to be imbalanced and ineffective. They will also tend to provoke reactivity in the other person, reducing their capacity to act in wise or balanced ways.

Now, since the human mind has a natural tendency to self-correct, our personal reactivity will tend to dissipate and a more impersonal and balanced perspective will emerge.

Many of us intuitively grasp this.  This is why we all grasp the wisdom of “sleeping on” things.  We hit pause on the righteous tirade in favor of a response (or non-response) that reflects a more inclusive, impersonal or balanced standpoint, one that is far more likely to be productive.

Some of us, though, may resist this shift and hang on to their personal reactivity, especially if we believe the intensity and strength of the reaction is an indicator of its rightness rather an indicator of imbalance.

In fact, this root misunderstanding, which remains widespread, is one of the reasons the world remains rife with intractable conflict.

But the hopeful message is this:  left to its own devices, our mind’s natural tendency is to clear away conflict-laden thoughts and replace them with ones that reflect equanimity and understanding, which are far more productive places from which to act.

In a negotiation, for example, I may feel a surge of insecurity or righteous indignation towards my adversary.  In those moments, I understand my perspective is not entirely balanced and trustworthy, so I do not act from that place. I set aside those thoughts as best I can, knowing my mind will produce more balanced insights along the way.

I can count on that, because it is how we work as human beings.

What I’m writing about here is not a doing or technique but rather, simply an understanding. We are all prone to lose perspective on a regular basis, but we have emotional indicators that tell us when we have done so.

Recognizing the indicators and letting our minds reset is a simple way to avoid counter-productive over-reactions before we’ve considered all the angles.

We’re not always able to do this, but even when we don’t, understanding how this works enables us look back on the situation with understanding – and that too is helpful.

Getting Over Things Doesn’t Have To Be Hard

There’s a prevailing myth that it is hard for people to “get over” things like insults, arguments, or past injuries.  This myth keeps us stuck in struggle and conflict far beyond what is necessary.

The truth is human beings can get over things quickly, even instantly.  And knowing can be enormously helpful.

When my wife and I argue, for example, it is a relief to know when the argument ends, the warm feelings will return and there is no such thing as emotional residue.

Consider this brief anatomy of an argument.

Our own internal pressure builds or our mood drops, and the mind attaches outside circumstances to our bad feelings. Since our partner is always around, it seems he or she is the cause of our discontent, so we blame them.

Some days, for instance, a messy house is fine with me. Other days, my mood is low and the mess gets under my skin, and I make a sharp comment about it.

If my wife is in a good place, she’ll ignore the remark or understand I’m in a mood.  If she is not, though, she will defend herself, and off we go.

So you see, the argument is not caused by a messy house. It’s just a reflection of our state-of-mind in the moment.  And this is always the case.

Now here’s the key.

At some point, our psyche will naturally want to reset itself, clear itself of excess thinking and restore itself to a more balanced place.  It may take time, but in due course, our psyche moves us back towards balance and connectedness, in the same way the immune system restores the body to 98.6 degrees.

In fact, an argument can be thought of as a mental fever, where the “heated feelings” reflects psyche’s immune system hard at work fighting off infected thinking.

This healing process can be subtle, but if you pay attention, you will notice it.  You may be driving in the car, or walking about, when a warm, loving or remorseful feeling breaks through.  We get a glimpse into our partners’ struggles or motivation, we get a surge of humility about our part in things, we see things from a different or broader perspective.

This is not something that we do, like a technique.  It just happens. It is how we work as human beings.  Like a pendulum returning to rest at center, we too naturally return to rest at center, which for us means a more balanced, connected place.

When arguments arise, it helps to know what is going on.  It helps to know that beneath the tumult of our mental fever lies a warm, loving and connected place awaiting our return. It may take a while, but this internal reset is always in the cards.

We just need to trust it and go with it when it happens. When we do, we still may not necessarily agree with our partner, but perhaps we understand them more, or see our own part more clearly, or recognize that arguing is not necessarily a helpful way to address differences. We see that “problems” are not problems at all, they are just the ordinary stuff of life.

Where I think many of us stumble is in believing arguments are caused by our partners’ behavior rather than our states of mind. And when we don’t remember this, it is easy to perpetuate conflict.

We replay the perceived slight in our mind, evaluate the meaning and significance of arguments, hold on to blame and grievances, stand on pride and self-righteousness. In a sense, we recycle a misunderstanding, blaming our partners for internal agitation that is solely our own. All when the internal pressure is screaming to be released, so we may enjoy a more centered experience.

Does all of this mean persisting in unhealthy relationships or allowing ourselves to be a doormat for mistreatment? Of course not. Acting from our own good sense and well-being, we may communicate our preferences or end unhealthy relationships.  And our psyche will keep moving us back towards balance and understanding, healing and reconciliation, which is an internal experience.

When it does, we will see things from a broader perspective and recognize that fighting, while utterly human, is not necessarily all that productive.  Because there’s another option available to us, which is wait for the internal pressure to clear, for the heated feelings to dissolve, or our mood to lift, perhaps before engaging.

The deeper blessing I am pointing to here lies in knowing arguments or injuries don’t have to mean anything, except that we’ve just lost our bearings in the moment.

Knowing when they’re done, they’re done, knowing we don’t have to work to “get over” them since the psyche does that on its own, knowing it’s in our nature to be restored to a more balanced place — knowing these things has been a continual help in my relationships.  I hope it helps you as well.