“Jack is such a jerk. I don’t think he cares one iota how I feel about things.
“Sheri is always on my case. She would be happy as a clam if I quit this job!”
“My mother always chimes in where she doesn’t belong. She thinks because she has three kids that she knows how to raise a child in this day and age. She thinks I’m an idiot.”
What do the above statements have in common? Yes, they are all snarky – but what else? The answer is, these are judgmental statements.
According to Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary, to be judgmental means:
1. Of, relating to, or involving judgment
2. Characterized by a tendency to judge harshly
What is judgment then? Judgment is simply an assertion that something is true. “Wait just a minute!” you may retort, confused. “I can see where you’re going with this, but I thought you were going to say judgments are not true.” Actually, judgmental statements always have a bit of truth, or else no one would be so easily beguiled by them.
If you woke up this morning and you had the thought, “I’m a green bug,” you might wonder what you dreamed about or ponder over the meal you had that fed this type of thought to your brain, but I doubt strongly you would believe in or worry about such a thought. On the other hand, if you woke up this morning and thought, “I’m not a good person,” you may be more likely to align with this thought. The truth is, you are a person and you have made mistakes (don’t worry, so has everyone else).
“So, judgments are true then?”
No. Any truth there is has been interwoven with something called a “cognitive distortion.” This is a thought error that often negatively affects the intensity, frequency, duration, direction, or other aspect of a thought to render it unhelpful, inaccurate, or misleading in some way. If decisions are made on these thought errors, it can lead to further problems.
“Okay. I get that. But, wait. If it’s so bad, why does it feel so good to judge?”
Judgment can make a person feel as if they have actually done something about the problem. When Joe is late for the third time in a week, calling him a “Low-down Polecat” may feel like punishment of some kind. There are problems with this, though.
First of all, Joe is not a low-down polecat. Joe is a human being with a multitude of traits, experiences, and intentions. We cannot begin to know the full story behind Joe’s behavior. Secondly, labeling Joe in such a way can make us forget what exactly he did to upset us in the first place. Rather than solving the actual problem so we are not hurt again, we are left to sit in our anger, and nothing changes. Therefore, though judging can be accompanied by a feeling of power that tricks us into believing we’ve done something meaningful, it ends up just being a mischievous little imp that leaves us chasing our tails.
Sigh. “What’s a soul to do, then?”
I’m very glad you asked. This author’s suggestion, as backed up by many of illustrious Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) types, is to develop a non-judgmental stance. What is that, you ask? A non-judgmental stance is an overall outlook in life that allows for the “truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,” without embellishment, overly emotional input, or hasty decisions.
The idea of such a thing may seem outrageous. Judgment can be such a part of our life, it can feel impossible to change. Here are some steps that can help:
Find yourself a little notepad or a handful of small chips and every time you notice yourself judging, put a chip in a bowl or a check on the notepad.
Don’t Judge Your Judging
It can be quite shocking to notice how much (or even how little) we judge in life. If you notice yourself judging, be compassionate with yourself. We all do it!
Just the Facts
After you become aware and have tamed your inner critic, practice restating your judgments as “truth translations”. For example, “Jack is such a jerk. I don’t think he cares one iota how I feel about things,” might become, “Jack did not put gas in the car last night. This caused me to arrive late to work, which resulted in my boss calling me into the office. Jack never acknowledged what he did. I labeled that as “uncaring.” The truth is, Jack is often in a hurry and he probably was not aware, and he was not there when the boss called me into his office.” Seems like a lot, but more times than not, judgments are simply “shortcuts” for what really happens in life. Sometimes, we need the whole story.
Make Truth a Goal
It is alright to notice your judgments as they can often indicate the level of annoyance something has. However, as a general rule, end all of your judgments with, “That is how it seems, but the truth is…”
Changing a mindset or behavior is hard work. Along with your goals, build in some incentives and rewards. Take yourself out on a date, get a new set of earrings, or buy that new Magic Mystic Merriment Tea you saw at the grocery store last week. Whatever you do, mark the occasion. Many years of research have proven that positive reinforcement makes behaviors more likely to happen in the future.
Ultimately, the solution to most of our life problems is not to judge them, but to change the causes that lead to them in the first place. It can take work to break this habit, but trust me, the judgment-free life is worth the effort!
Written by Hannah Smith, MA LMHC CGP, Group Therapy Training & Curriculum Consultant for The Center • A Place of HOPE. As a Neuroscience-informed, Licensed Therapist and International Board-certified Group Psychotherapist, Hannah’s passion is to see people reach their potential and find lasting, positive change. The Center is located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, and creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders,