Soul Without Shame deeply explores the inner judge (or inner critic), that voice in your head that says that you need to be better or different in order to earn love and acceptance. When you were a child, you were completely dependent on your parents for food and nurturing, and “you had little choice but to internalize your parental role models in the form of the judge”. As a child, you had to do what your parents said, or risk losing their love and affection (and potentially sustenance!), and the judge perverted that into making you believe that “your value is conditional, that you are worthless on your own”. However, now that you are an adult, you are still letting that child’s limited understanding of your parents’ values run your life in the form of the judge.
The power of the judge is that it “always touches on something you believe is true about you. Because you believe there is some truth in a judgment, it generates self-rejection, … [evoking] a negative self-image”. When we engage the judgment, we accept this negative self-image, and are thrown back into our child self, desperate for love and attention. Brown describes three ways in which we engage the judgment:
- Counter-attacking, fighting back to try to defeat the judge with anger and/or blaming others for the perceived shortcoming
- Rationalizing, trying to justify or explain our actions to the judge
- Absorbing, accepting the judgment and collapsing, trying to placate the judge by submitting
However, all of those engagements accept the judgment as accurate that our actions are wrong, and therefore we are not good enough. The premise of the judge is that we do not have unconditional value, and if we accept that premise, we continually reject who we are, which is an exhausting way to live.
So how do we reduce the judge’s power over us? Brown suggests that we must get in touch with our soul, or true nature. In particular, he notes that “The judge defines the way you experience reality by telling you what to pay attention to and what is important”. Only by seeing reality as it is, and yourself as you are now (not the scared child that created the judge), can you move beyond the judgement and find peace. As Brown puts it, our soul gives us the “capacity and clarity to defend your own truth in the face of judgment”. I loved the qualities of the soul that he describes throughout the book: Awareness, Acceptance, Personal Will, Strength, Joy and Curiosity, Compassion, Spaciousness, Value, Peace, Truth, and Presence. Every soul chapter was an inspiration to connect with my true nature, and I will use the practices from those chapters for myself and my clients.
Once we are more in touch with our true nature, we can more readily identify judgment attacks by paying attention to our feelings and bodily reactions, and knowing what judgments resonate from childhood. The judge often arises to protect us from uncomfortable feelings, so if we “focus on communicating the feelings, you will bypass the need for judgment”. Once we know we are under attack, we can avoid engaging the judgment as above, and instead defend against the judgment through a number of techniques that Brown outlines, including acceptance, humor, exaggeration, etc.
One of the most powerful ideas in the book is the concept of disidentifying from the parent-child dynamic. The judge has conditioned us to play one of two roles: the judging parent (from which we feel strength and control as of a parent over a child), or the defensive child trying to engage with and defeat the judge. True power comes from stepping out of this dynamic – rather than act as the parent powered by the false strength of judgment, trust in your own true strength, and rather than let the child engage with the attack from the judge to try to earn safety, remove the power of the judgment by accepting it and trusting in your own intrinsic value.
As somebody who regularly struggles with the loud voice of my Inner Critic, I appreciated Brown’s thoughtful, practical advice and personal stories on how to reduce the power of that voice over my emotions and actions. I loved this book, even though it was hard to read for me. Almost every chapter evoked strong feelings, and I could only read a chapter at a time as I absorbed its learnings and experienced my emotions. I was surprised that even the spiritual references to the soul resonated with me; I don’t consider myself spiritual, but I have experienced those moments of true calm when I feel aligned in the flow state, and whether we call that my soul or true nature or embodied experience, it does keep my inner judge quiet.
I highly recommend this book for anybody who struggles with their inner judge; I will refer back to this book regularly, both for my own development, and for practices or exercises to use with my clients. I will use the backward-looking exercises to help identify the attacks that a client’s particular judge is using, and I will suggest the soul practices to help clients get more grounded and in touch with their true nature and reality.