Be curious, not judgmental.-Not actually Walt Whitman, so I guess Ted Lasso gets credit?
In Ted Lasso, the titular character uses this prescription—be curious, not judgmental—to advise against judgments and assumptions about others. It’s solid advice, and has served me well, especially in difficult conversations that are likely to veer into defensiveness. When I feel the urge to defend myself or lob an accusation, instead, I try to ask a question. Perhaps, Are you saying… followed by a paraphrase of what they said, to make sure I understand. Maybe a question that probes deeper into what they’re saying, a reach at its roots. Sometimes, asking about the feelings underlying their words increases empathy enough to defuse my explosive feelings.
But you know where I always struggle to be curious rather than judgmental? With myself.
By way of example: At any point in the past two decades, if you’d asked me what my greatest fear is, I’d reply invisibility. Not being seen, not being valued, not having my needs met. In short, not mattering. This, to me, feels like death.
And when I feel that fear, usually because nobody is actively paying attention to me at any given moment, I don’t get curious. I get angry.
How stupid and needy I am! How ridiculous to be a grown, independent woman and still want someone validating me 100% of the time. Why can’t I just meet my own need for visibility? Why can’t I just heal whatever stupid wound causes this feeling, already!? Pathetic.
In case it’s not immediately obvious, this is judgy as shit. And unkind, and unhelpful, and I would literally never say anything remotely like that to someone I cared about. Except me. Because I do care about myself! I’ve worked really hard to care about myself.
It’s just that, sometimes, that gap between the way I want to be and the way I actually am is frustrating as all hell. I want to be someone who doesn’t need validation from others in order to be okay. I want to be someone who has healed the deep wounds that cause the anxiety about not mattering.
But when I actually get curious about that feeling, its origins, and the meta-feelings I have about that feeling—like, when I decide to focus on them long enough to write a blog post about them—here’s what happens in my brain:
What’s this feeling really about? Hmm…it’s not invisibility, it’s not a bid for validation…Oh! It’s a desire for connection!
Is that bad? No, no, that’s just human.
So why does it feel bad?? Well, because I’m probably not going to get it. I probably don’t even deserve it.
Where does that idea come from?? Oof. Childhood.
And the thought of not deserving connection, or never getting it, makes you feel angry? Well, yes, but also, I get angry at myself because I don’t want to need anybody. If you need people, they can let you down, and then you feel bad. And I don’t want to feel bad. I don’t want to be a human person with a need for connection and unavoidable bad feelings. I want to be perfect, untouchable, invulnerable, and magic. I’m a unicorn.
Can you hear it? The voice answering the questions? It’s her:
It’s Krista, she’s 5, and she’s a unicorn, because unicorns don’t need anybody, because by 5 years old, Krista had already learned that needing people hurts.
Are you gonna judge her for it?? I’m not. Nobody should have to learn that by 5 years old.
Interestingly, what 5 year-old Krista feels when adult Krista gets curious about her feelings (instead of judgmental) is seen. Acknowledged. Understood. Validated. Held. Loved. Safe.
Like she matters. Huh. Curious.