05/20/2010 11:51 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Judging and Being Judged: Week 15 of Mental Muscle Boot Camp

Part seventeen in a series.

Of all the themes in James Mellon's Mental Muscle Spiritual Boot Camp, the one that loomed largest was that of judgment. In reviewing my journals from the past 15 weeks, the issue of judgment was there from the start and continued throughout.

The main question was whether or not I am a judgmental person. The answer is yes, I am. However, there is a caveat. I do not judge people until I feel judged by them.

I grew up judged for being "short", "four-eyed" (I had glasses), "wimpy" and "not good enough." Somewhere along the line I decided I was never going to treat people the way I had been treated. I was always going to be nice and never judge anyone, no matter what. I knew what it felt like.

Everyone I meet comes into my life with a clean slate. I have a keen ability to step into other people's shoes and see situations from their perspective. I understand why people behave the way they do. I certainly form opinions and make observations, but I don't hold anything against anyone unless behaviors affect me in negative ways.

At this time last year, some developing friendships came to a screeching halt because of a political opinion I'd written. One new friend didn't like what I wrote, and told me so when we were out at a bar.

I have no problem when people disagree with me. I am energized by engaging discussion and debate. However, that wasn't going to happen in this situation. My new friend was clearly upset, and gave me names of other new friends who were angry as well.

Since I have previous hurts over being judged, I'm very sensitive if people tell me I've hurt others. I also don't deal in gossip or hearsay. I prefer people speak for themselves. I checked out what I was told by apologizing to "the angry people" for anything they may have found offensive. One person told me they didn't know what I was talking about when I apologized. Later, two other people told me they agreed with my opinion! Clearly, the first friend lied.

Once I realized I had been lied to, I still didn't judge my new friend. The day this happened, his partner was ill and they had no doctor in Los Angeles. I stepped into his shoes. I figured he may have snapped from stress and that this was just a little blip that would blow over. It didn't.

Initially, it was just the one friend who wasn't speaking to me. Over the course of a month, it appeared to spread to his partner, and others. I stopped being invited to group outings. People wouldn't return my calls. It got to a point where the tension was undeniable and ridiculous.

A third party, sick of the tension, tried to help. I sat a few feet away as he spoke to my friend and his partner about having a "mediated" conversation. I was close enough to see and hear the partner's reaction at the mention of this idea. My anxiety shot through the roof as I listened to the guy completely flip out and berate me. He wasn't even the one who had the issue!

I did not engage in this situation. I felt the best thing to do was leave. Afterwards, my judgment became equal to my anxiety. Now, I could care less what these guys might have been going through, or, if they were my friends or not. This situation was now affecting my life, or at least my ability to be social and have a good time. I was pissed. All I did was express an opinion, and this garbage felt crazy and unnecessary. It doesn't get any more judgmental than that!

Throughout this Boot Camp, James Mellon has talked about situations in our lives where there is "heat." I equate "heat" with anger, or feeling impassioned about something to the point that there is an "edge" or defensiveness to what I'm saying. In the blog I sent to James about this situation, I used the phrase "judgment, with heat" quite a few times.

During session and in response, James said, "I don't think there is any such thing as judgment without heat. Judgment without heat is a different word: opinion. Judgment inherently has heat in it."

He continued, "Do we have to accept behavior that is harmful or hurtful to us? No, we don't. This philosophy is not synonymous with being a doormat! However, when behavior seems aimed right at us and is incredibly personal, that is even more of a reason to step aside and have unconditional love and compassion.

"Maya Angelou has a quote: 'When someone shows you who they are, believe them.' Act accordingly. Paul, you say that you don't judge until you are judged. Acting accordingly doesn't mean to go into judgment mode because you're pissed off about something. It can be hard to do, but it is an opportunity to say 'I let go of judgment and my next step is to take this impersonally and without heat.'"

A year later, my heat has dissipated around what happened, but I still hold a bit of a grudge. Not only have I had held grudges against the couple, but just about anyone who appears to have taken their side over mine. This is why I practically couldn't wait to get to Judgment Week in Boot Camp. I wanted to focus on why this situation knocked me through such a loop, and judgment was all over it.

I really examined those grudges this week. My fear of people holding grudges against me completely stems from the fact that I hold grudges. I know what my grudges feel like, and they're not pretty.

I see now why I "snap" when people judge me. I have high expectations that people treat me as I treat them. This week, I realized I may not be getting the best because I haven't been truly authentic, even when I thought I was.

Being nice may simply have been an exercise in working to get people on my side. It's as if I tried to lock people into liking me by doing things where I'd have "tangible" evidence of why I'm a good person. Then they couldn't judge me.

I've been living life trying to prove to the world that everyone was wrong about me when I was a child. It's as if being nice was a way of punishing everyone who ever had a negative thought about me. I wanted them to feel bad, and judged, for being so wrong. It's time for that to stop.

There is a lyric in Joni Mitchell's song "Refuge of the Roads" that has jumped out at me repeatedly in the last year:

"A thunderhead of judgment was gathering in my gaze and it made most people nervous. They just didn't want to know what I was seeing......"

I sense people know when I'm judging them, and it does make them nervous. I expect to continue working on keeping the thunderhead of judgment from my gaze.

Next week is the final entry in the "Mental Muscle" Boot Camp series.