We’ve all heard some version of the urban legend: a babysitter or some unwitting teen is terrorized by ominous phone calls and contacts the authorities, only to receive the bone-chilling information that the caller has been in the house all along. It’s the sort of tale you’d hear at a middle school slumber party and then lose sleep over it for a week. Of course this story is just that, a story. Recently, however, I found myself in a situation where I, too, had the heart-stopping realization that the thing that was causing me non-stop terror was right there in my own house the whole time, and there is a very good chance you’ve been getting terrible calls from inside your own house too.
You’ve been walking along the aisles of Target minding your own business, when suddenly, you catch an older woman judging you. Who does she think she is? It bothers you all day. Maybe you even go home and write a post on social media about women tearing other women down.
Or maybe you’ve been getting dressed to go out with friends. You try on a couple of different outfits and as you reach for your trusty skinny jeans you are reminded of the Gen Z kids who will inevitably snicker about your choice.
Perhaps you’ve dragged your screaming toddler out of story time at the library, the other mothers looking on in horror at your inability to raise a child who behaves as well as their own.
But here we pause.
Let’s trace these calls back to the source, shall we? The woman giving you judge-y face, the teens mocking your outfit, the self-righteous moms who find your parenting abhorrent? The call is coming from inside the house. These interactions and their ability to completely ruin your day are entirely fabricated in your own mind. The mean-spirited thoughts you are attributing to others are your own.
I do this all the time, especially when I’m feeling insecure. You wouldn’t believe the number of times I’ve said to myself, “This lady won’t stop frowning at me, I can’t believe she’s being so judgmental,” without considering for even one second that she was probably thinking the exact same thing about me. Why would I assume she was judging me, unless I was subconsciously judging myself? If I’m in a group fitness class, huffing and puffing and sweating up a storm (as I am known to do), why is it that my thought is always “These people must think I’m in terrible shape,” and not “I am worried I’m in terrible shape?”
When we encounter someone with a bad case of resting “not-so-nice” face in the swim suit section at Target, why do we immediately think “She thinks I shouldn’t wear this, what’s her problem?!” and not “I don’t feel like I deserve to wear this, what’s my problem?!” When we put on our skinny jeans, why is our thought process “I can’t believe these imaginary mean teens hate my jeans” and not “I’m feeling insecure about aging and not keeping up with trends like I used to?” And when we have the kid who throws a massive fit in a quiet place, why do we think “Everyone here thinks I’m a bad mother” and not, simply, “Right now I feel like I must be a bad mother?”
We’ve all got a little judge inside our heads.
She speaks with a million different voices. She whispers in our former gym coach’s voice, Are you sure you should eat that? She sneers in our high school boyfriend’s voice, That’s what you’re wearing? She may be made of little comments we’ve heard along the way but make no mistake: the call is now coming from inside the house. My judge does great impressions but the fact is, she’s just me. The more I remember this, the quieter her hateful chorus becomes. We imagine others are judging us harshly because it’s so tough to admit how much we’re judging ourselves. The next time you feel the weight of all that judgment, pause. Trace the call. Tell your little judge to take it down a notch.