I sit on the porch meditating as my mother comes up the steps and I notice the thoughts arise. “She thinks you look ridiculous. You better open your eyes and greet her or she will think you are crazy.” As soon as they arise, I realize they are coming out of me. Those are my thoughts not hers. I realize in that moment, that everything I believe about others is really about me. Any time I believe someone is judging me, in reality, it is actually me who is judging myself. I have the opportunity to notice my judgments and take responsibility for them. Rather than blame the other person, or seek their approval, I must look inside and find my own approval. If, at any moment I feel judged, it is because I am judging myself or else I wouldn’t be able to feel it.
I was dating someone who didn’t like my body and he told me so. In that moment, I started searching for his approval. When I went to my therapist and told her the story, I felt a lot of shame about the way I acted. How could I have been so dumb to continue in a relationship like that? Her response was simple. “Esther,” she said, “he picked the one thing that is so personal to you; the one thing you hold in the deepest parts of your psyche and he attacked you there. He hit you where it hurts. Don’t beat yourself up. If he had come to you and said, ‘Esther, I am not attracted to you. You are not smart enough.’ You would have laughed at him. But if he is going to pick the one thing that you judge yourself on, then you are going to react accordingly.”
I love that story. Why you may ask does she love a story where she was degraded. And the answer lies in the truth. The truth is that, I was judging myself more than he ever could. I didn’t approve of my body so I allowed the false belief that if I gained approval from someone on the outside, I would be able to find acceptance on the inside. How often do we look to someone else to make us feel better about a self imposed judgement? “Honey” we might say, “how do I look?” Rather than recognizing our own judgments about ourselves, we look for outside approval. Ultimately no matter what they say, there is backlash. Whatever our spouse says, positive or negative, we don’t like it. Because the truth is, we have already decided the correct answer but we don’t want to see it. We resist looking inside because we are too scared to see what we might find. In my experience, when I look inside, my judgments are harsher than anyone else’s could ever be.
The truth is that he opened my eyes to my self hatred and allowed me the opportunity to question my beliefs about my body. The issue that I thought I had dealt with in the past, resurfaced for me to deal with in the present. So, yes that is one of my favorite stories.
Rabbi Esther Azar