Stories on the Head-to-Heart Journey: Working With Self-Judgment

I occasionally share stories to illustrate what a coaching session is like. While these stories are drawn from my experience working with clients, names, details, and identifying information have been altered.


D. has spent much of the last year exploring a space of mindful presence. Even while her job throws challenge after challenge at her, D. takes time to meditate, reflect, and do yoga. She knows that doing these things helps her maintain balance, openness, and calm in the midst of a hectic life.

In a recent coaching conversation, D. observed that although she was still going through the motions (taking time away from work to spend with friends, spending time on her yoga mat), her sense of peace was getting interrupted by a nagging, worrying voice in her head. I’ll call the voice Mr. Judge.

“What if you’re missing something?” Mr. Judge said. “What if you’ve forgotten something important? You don’t have time to take an evening off; you should be working!”

What I noticed in our conversation was how much energy and power Mr. Judge’s voice had. When D. talked about what Mr. Judge said in her head, D.’s voice got louder and stronger. I could tell that Mr. Judge was the one calling the shots right now.

“Here’s what I’m noticing,” I said to D. “Mr. Judge has all the power. He’s keeping you from enjoying your time off. Even when you take some time for yourself, for self-care, Mr. Judge gets in there and keeps you from really relaxing.”

“That’s true,” D. said.

“So,” I asked, “what would satisfy Mr. Judge enough that you could quiet him down, send him out for a cigarette, and get him to leave you alone for awhile?”

D. and I explored the different strategies she has for dealing with her self-judgment. As we talked about what had worked in the past, and what wasn’t working now, D. discovered that she was engaging in mental warfare with Mr. Judge. Every time he showed up, she fought back and tried to shut him up. So this week, she’s going to experiment with a new strategy: when Mr. Judge shows up, she’s going to let him say his piece. She’s not going to fight. She’s going to listen, observe, and then let him go. Rather than making inner war, she’s going to try making inner peace, knowing that if she gives mindful attention to her thoughts, they tend to lose their power over her.

P.S. For all you coach geeks out there, some of the coaching skills I was using in this conversation were:

  • Working with the “saboteur” or “Gremlin” (similarly, from a Gestalt perspective, we were working with a top dog/ underdog situation): Of the many ways there are to work with the saboteur, I chose in this call to ask D. what her saboteur needed to satisfy him, but I made sure that D. got to exercise her own power over her saboteur by choosing what she would offer him.
  • Big-A Agenda: the client’s Big-A Agenda is what brings her fulfillment, what she values, what’s important to her in the longterm. I know D.’s Big-A Agenda includes bringing peace and mindfulness into all aspects of her life. Meeting Mr. Judge with peace, rather than with war, is one way for her to continue to embody her Big-A Agenda.