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Releasing Judgement & Reclaiming the Shadow


Two months ago I decided to go on a self imposed judgement cleanse. I got to a point where I was tired of judging myself and others and was ready to do some serious work around it. Like my experience with most things, once I set out to make a change, the piece I am trying to shift becomes much more intense. Any time I put my focus towards an area where I want to grow, it magnifies. I knew I needed to change how much I was judging, but to be honest I didn’t quite how much until the cleanse.

In 2015 I committed to a 40 Day No Complaining Challenge that changed my life. It has been over a year and a half since I began that journey and it’s amazing how little I complain any more. The cool thing is, when I find myself complaining now I am able to turn it around so quickly, usually within seconds. This whole judgement thing has been another story. I am now on my second 40 day practice with it because it has been so confronting.

I’ve been judging myself and others for as long as I can remember. Most of my life I felt like I knew what other people should be doing with theirs and that was intensified by the fact that once I got sober people started seeking out my opinions on how they should be living. I’ve also had ideas about how I should be living/feeling/thinking/behaving that I couldn’t always manifest as quickly as I’d like to. That whole life is a journey/process/always in flux reality has never been an easy truth to grasp.

Releasing Judgement and Reclaiming the Shadow x Ashley Neese

There is this phrase in the recovery community, the road gets narrower, and that is exactly how I have been feeling around judgement the last six months. I’ve spent years and years working on my energetic body, becoming more intuitive, psychic, and sensitive. As I’ve continued to hone and sharpen these skills I notice that when I judge myself or another person my body has an immediate and intense reaction. Each time I engage with that behavior my solar plexus tightens and my stomach turns. Often my throat gets scratchy and I feel immense pressure in my head. When I started deeply listening to my body and paying attention to these signals around judgement, it became crystal clear to me that judging is not supporting my growth. Furthermore, this pattern of judgement is blocking me from being an open and clear channel in the present moment.

Judgment simply cannot exist in the same way it has existed moving forward in my life. I know where I am headed and the work I am here to do and a big part of it is shifting my judgements. In order to start this work I needed to understand why I judged in the first place. This might sound really obvious, but it took me a few meditations (and probably the last several years of personal growth) to really get to the root of it. What I have uncovered through self inquiry is that my judgements are always connected to my shadow work. Anytime I judge someone for needing attention for example (a big one in my life) I understand that they are activating the part in me that needs attention too, but is afraid to ask for it. Oh, just writing this I am having loads of feelings come up. Feeling so vulnerable!

Shadow work.
We’re going in.

Releasing Judgement and Reclaiming the Shadow x Ashley Neese

When I began these self initiated judgement cleanses I wasn’t fully aware of the scope of the work I was committing to. I thought it would be pretty straightforward like the No Complaining Challenge: when I notice a judgement simply turn it around into a blessing. Seemed easy enough. That totally hasn’t been the case. The more I became aware of my judgements the more I saw that in order to really shift them I had to drop down into my shadow work and take a longer and more uncomfortable look at what was happening below the surface.

And wow, there was a lot happening below the surface.

Our shadows are the unconscious aspects of our personalities that we had to at some point growing up hide or attempt to push away. As children we had to stuff down some aspect of ourself that wasn’t well received by our parents or the people who raised us. I was told as a child that I was too sensitive more times than I can remember. Because those intense feelings and intuitive gifts were not nourished or valued they became my shadow, aspects of myself that I was ashamed of and often referred to as negative. As adults we continue to spend most of our time trying to discard, will away, distract ourselves from, or cover up those unconscious parts of ourselves that we dislike. While I have worked through those particular shadows over the years and created a life and career out of my empathic and intuitive gifts, there are still other aspects of myself that hide in the darkness.

Negating the traits that we don’t like within ourselves leads to repression. The more repressed our shadow aspects are the more we judge others who seem to freely exhibit them. For example, when I judge someone who has achieved a great deal of success in their career I know my work is to look at the ways I am playing small in mine (especially when it comes to writing essays for the blog!). The shadow trait I am experiencing in this example is procrastination which in my case leads to fear and further down to the root, that I am unworthy.

Recently I found myself judging a very beautiful woman for being so open with her sexuality. I know, it’s really embarrassing to admit here, but if you’ve been reading my posts for the last few years you know I’m all about transparency. When I took the time to explore that judgement I became aware of my own repressed feelings around expressing my sexuality in a more open and fluid way. When I dig a little deeper into those repressed feelings what comes up is residual shame from being raped, guilt for having abortions at a young age, wishing I had asked a woman out on a date, and ultimately negating my sexuality because I felt like I needed to punish myself for my past desires and experiences. My take away from processing and getting clear on my shadow aspect in this case is that I need to forgive myself fully and step into my sexuality by taking more risks with my sexual expression.

Releasing Judgement and Reclaiming the Shadow x Ashley Neese

What I have come to understand is that every time I experience intense feelings of judgement or criticism around someone it is because I am projecting my shadow aspects onto them. I’m also keenly aware now that on a deep level I am rejecting a part of myself that I don’t like. The truth is, the people who I judge are some of my greatest teachers. Each time I notice a judgement or criticism about someone else I have an incredible opportunity to do some really deep work on myself and move towards more self acceptance, unconditional love, and equanimity. This is exactly the kind of personal growth I want to focus on this year and I am truly grateful for each chance I take to heal, transform, and integrate new ways of being into my life.

Repression of our shadow aspects feeds limiting beliefs, creates major blocks in our energy bodies, and often leads to physical, emotional, and mental illness. Recognizing when we are judging and criticizing is the first step towards crafting new beliefs, clearing those blocks, and moving into more vibrancy and well being. One of the most important concepts to remember is that every time you are judging or criticizing another person there is always some repressed shadow aspect of yourself that you are projecting onto them. It feels really uncomfortable to be around someone who is expressing a part of ourselves that we are rejecting. It takes courage to shift the focus back to ourselves and take a look at what is in our power to change.

Similarly, when you notice that you are caught in self judgement or criticism it is because you are dealing directly with your own shadow, or aspects of yourself that you are trying to hide, discard, will away, distract yourself from, or cover up. Judgements and criticisms of others might feel in a moment like they are giving you a sense that you are better than or above someone else, but all they are doing is cutting you off from living a less polarizing and fragmented life. Judgements and criticisms of yourself keep you small, powerless, and cut off from the rest of the world.

Releasing Judgement and Reclaiming the Shadow x Ashley Neese

Awareness is always the first step towards integration. It’s impossible to shift anything without the light of awareness. You release judgement through reclaiming the shadow. In order to be less judgmental and critical of yourself and others you must dive deep into your shadow work and inquire to find out what is really going on within. Here are a few of my favorite questions to ask:

Why am I so annoyed or frustrated with myself/that person?
Where does that (the thing you are judging or criticizing) live within me?
What scares me about this situation/that person?

The next time you notice you are judging or criticizing take a moment to pause and breathe deeply. Steady your breath long enough to inquire about your shadow and discover its root. Ask the questions above. Turn the focus onto the aspects of yourself that feel unworthy or unlovable. Stay with the feelings as best you can. Allow yourself to fully feel them. Write. Breathe. Make some sounds. Move your body. Make time to share your feelings and process everything with a trusted friend.

Each time you move through the steps of getting clear on why you judge or criticize and do the healing work of exploring the shadow, you are that much closer to accepting your darkness and limitations. Self acceptance is the needed medicine for returning to your true nature: wholeness. As long as you live in judgement and criticism of yourself and others, you are stuck in patterns of isolation and separation that block you from experiencing your true nature. These blocks are detrimental to your evolution, growth, and ability to generate inner joy. Releasing judgement and reclaiming the shadow is how you come home to who you have been all along: open, whole, and full of love.

Releasing Judgement and Reclaiming the Shadow x Ashley Neese

When I set out to go on a judgement cleanse I had a limited understanding of how my judgements were connected to deeper, hidden aspects of myself, or rather aspects I was trying very hard to conceal. There is a phrase in recovery rooms, when you point the finger at someone else there are four fingers pointing towards yourself. Or another favorite, you spot it you got it. It’s humbling to admit but it has taken me years to fully grasp the complex meaning behind those words and begin to integrate them into my system. One area where I am working on releasing judgment is around my healing process and how long it seems to take at different times in my life. In the past even writing this would have sent me into a shame spiral, feeling so badly about myself that I wasn’t ‘further along’. Today, in this moment, I am choosing to reclaim the shadow and move towards being in acceptance of where I am on my path: a woman who has been through so much, has integrated a great deal and still has some work to do. And to be honest, when I write this piece I feel my resilience, strength, and devotion to personal and spiritual development and that makes me want to keep going to see what’s next.

Healing doesn’t happen in a vacuum and it is in no way linear. We heal in cycles and b putting ourselves way out there in front of each other. We heal by admitting what we are struggling, by sharing our experiences with people that we trust, and by showing up for others when they need it. I know this shadow work is a big part of what I am here to focus on this year. In some ways I will be working with releasing judgement and reclaiming the shadow for quite some time and I am perfectly okay with that. I am open to this healing happening with ease, grace, and acceleration, but I am ultimately really just open to how it continues to show up and evolve in my life, without judgement of course.

To a year of being imperfectly perfect.
To a year of awareness.
To a year of long exhales.
To a year of acceptance.
To a year of curiosity.
To a year of integration.
To a year of evolution.


All my heart. x

If you would like support locating the roots of your judgements and transforming and releasing these patterns of beliefs feel free to sign-up for a digital course. Breathwork is an incredible tool for diving deep into shadow work, shining a light on our unconscious patterns, and clearing the way for a bright and wholehearted life.

Photos x Lani Trock







  • Jenny

    Hi! I am new to your site and I absolutely love it, great design and content! This post definitely hit a nerve for me and I am looking forward to trying the No Complaining Challenge! Keep up the good work!

    • ashley

      Hi Jenny! Thanks so much for reaching out. It’s great to connect. Keep me posted on the challenge, I look forward to hearing how it goes. All my best. x

  • Kamaile

    Wow, I’m so glad I read this today and I’m happy you are back to writing in your journal!! I want to reread this again as it gives me so much to think about and i want to integrate this into my self care practice.. The thoughts you expressed are giving me inspiration to look at myself and why I judge myself on my recovery path. My favorite quote from the other room is practice not perfection. Working through the feelings that come can be difficult and I remind myself that it is a process. Thank you Ashley <3

    • ashley

      Hi Kamaile,
      Thank you so much! I am thrilled you are here. This is a pretty dense essay, lots of big ideas and it’s one I am going to come back to again and again as well. I love that quote too, it’s a great reminder that we’re all on a journey and that the work is really just showing up as we are and loving ourselves in those moments. Thinking of you and wishing you a wonderful weekend. x

  • Josefine

    Thank you for this article <3 still struggling a lot but always wanting to stand up and stand up and stand up again to become my true self <3 Sending you positive energy and a hug <3

    • ashley

      Hi Josefine,
      Thank you for sharing and I totally relate. This shadow work is tough and it really is about getting back up again and again and again! Sending you so much love as you step more and more into your truest self. x

  • Hannah-Phoebe

    This is really interesting and thought provoking and I am so glad and grateful that you are still/again writing these long-form vulnerable, thoughtful, intelligent and brave pieces so that we can all learn and heal together.
    MY this has been something coming up for me this past year gone and continuing, I have gone from complete and constant judgement of (and, if I really admit it contempt for) most of the people in my life to a far more accepting curiosity. It’s the biggest perspective shift imaginable and suddenly people seem more interesting and the world is a much gentler place than in that constant sharpness of judgement and animosity!

    Much love hp xxx

    • ashley

      Hello dear Hannah,
      It is always so lovely to hear from you. Thank you for sharing what you have been working on this past year and for the kind words about this post. I have many new ones in the works and it feels great to be sharing in this way here again. I love that you wrote about your shift and the curiosity you are bringing into your life. This is such a great way to step aside from judgement and enjoy the people and experiences in your life. I agree 100% that the world is sweeter with less judgement and more interest others. Thinking of you and excited for what is to come this year! Lots of love. x

  • Wow, big feelings with this. I resonate so much. You’ve written all the words I needed to write myself. And now, I realize I have much work to do. Thank you so much for sharing!

    • ashley

      Hi Rebecca,
      It is wonderful to hear from you! Thank you for chiming in and being part of this important conversation. Sending you love and light on your journey. x

  • Pure magic. Thanks so much for sharing and being such a light. Just when you think you’ve got it figured out, you realize you’ve got more work to do!! Always learning, always searching, always investigating and always loving more. So much to work on and feeling so ready to do it. xxxx

    • ashley

      Thank you Valentina, it is lovely to hear from you. Oh I sure know that! There is always more room to grow isn’t there?! Reading your enthusiasm for this personal work gives me loads of energy this evening. I am thrilled you are feeling so ready and willing. YES YES YES!!! x

  • Absolutely love your blog I discovered couple of days ago… this is not luck :) this is meant to be x Thank you

    • ashley

      Thank you so much! I am very grateful you are here! x

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