Judgement is the masa in a pork tamale. Without the masa, the tamale would have no shape, form or portability. Similarly, without judgment self-hatred is shapeless, formless and static. A person’s first encounter with judgment leaves an indelible mark and the ability to recall with lucid details the pain from the past. Because it is ubiquitous and has origins that are hard to trace, we hope scientists will soon isolate the judgment gene so it can be spliced in utero forever freeing future generations of its sting.
However, it is not inherited, at least not in the traditional genetic way. In my 20 years of working with many women, I find similar stories of carefully sequenced events that create the perfect framework for mastery of self-hatred. Our brains are remarkable and wired to learn; learning is the purpose of the brain. Unfortunately, in its zealous enthusiasm to learn, the brain fails to discern between learning tools for psychological self-preservation vs learning tools for self-destruction.
Let’s discuss the simplicity of learning. Behavior that is repeated forges neural pathways that change the architecture of our brain. These pathways become superhighways that enable speedy execution of the behaviors that forged it. For example, the first time I have a thought, a brain cell fires and leaves a faint trace. The second time I have the thought, the trace is boldened. By the time I have the thought ten times, the faint initial trace is like a knee-jerk reflex seemingly automated with little control on my part. This behavior (eg., thinking “I’m not enough”) becomes easier to recall because of the availability heuristic (whatever is recalled often, represents our reality).
However, repeated statements don’t make them universal truths. Now if these patterns are rewarded, they will get even stronger. Say a child hears “you are not enough” and when they repeat this to themselves, they feel an awkward sense of peace because agreement brings absence of conflict, jaded acceptance and common ground. This peace is a payoff that increases that likelihood of having that thought again. The individual says to himself “Although it’s a negative statement about myself, at least we both agree I am not enough, and agreement feels good.” Repeated studies on conformity indicate people will agree with clearly wrong or even dangerous decisions to avoid rejection. And the more significant the other person, the stronger the motivation to conform.
Instead of judgement, I advocate for discernment. Discernment is listening carefully for helpful and hurtful thoughts. Next time you hear your inner voice, press slow motion so you can manage it. Decide if it deserves to enter your consciousness. You have the right to deny it access. You are capable beyond measure. The reality is that you are beautiful in this moment and the next. Not because of anything you’ve done or failed to do. You are beautiful because you are willing to see beauty in others which helps you recognize it more quickly, even in yourself. Every time I say something about another, I give voice to my inner thoughts about myself. For the next 30 days, I challenge you to actively seek the beauty in everyone you see. You will find what you seek, and it will magnify with reflected rays that overflow your soul.
Dr. Esmeralda López
Dr. Lopez has worked in mental health for twenty years. She has presented on mental health topics in over 40 states. She currently teaches graduate students in the assessment program at UTRGV, supervises interns and works independently as a school psychologist for districts in the Houston area. She uses portrait and glamour photography to promote self-esteem in minority teens. She enjoys salsa dancing, bike riding, and travelling.
She spends most weekends outdoors watching her son play soccer.