“The way I see it, you’re wrong“.
Or, depending on your mood, the ‘wrong’ could be: ‘stupid’, ‘fat’, ‘ugly’, ‘badly dressed’, ‘choosing the wrong spouse’, ‘driving the wrong car’, ‘eating the wrong foods’, ‘living in a horrible house’, ‘believe in the wrong things’, ‘have the wrong religious or political beliefs’, ‘are being a terrible parent’and on, and on. And on.
Because being judgmental is poisonous. Being harshly critical of other people poisons our relationship with them, with those that are listening, and with ourselves.
Making a judgement is defined as the ability to make considered decisions or come to sensible conclusions. On the other hand, somebody we label as “judgmental” is expressing their harsh disapproval of someone or something based on their perceived faults or mistakes. The key word is perceived. In other words, the person who is being judgmental has become aware of (perceived) something, someone, some idea, and has reacted to (judged) it based on their own values, beliefs and/or experience.
Being judgmental is just an expression of a harsh opinion – it’s not a fact!
Now, let’s get real. If we are honest with ourselves, we are all guilty of being judgmental of people, things, situations. What did you think to yourself when you walked into that room, you know, the dining room with the bright-yellow and green striped walls and the mushroom-soup cans hanging ‘artistically’ from the ceiling? Did you genuinely enjoy it? (which is making a judgment) Or did you quash an inner ‘eeeeeek!’ and add an inner ‘OMG – their taste is horrendous – what on earth were they thinking??!’ (which is being judgmental).
Reacting in a judgmental way is, in itself, not harmful. It happens because we – as humans – like a sense of control, of constant, of things being the way we like them. Whatever that might be. We tend to make snap judgements based on our own experiences, history, values and preferences.
Our perceptions (and judgements) are based on many different factors. Social psychology research tells us that we will choose to sit beside an elderly, white haired lady on a bus before choosing to sit beside a burly looking male (meanwhile, the sweet little old lady is a pick-pocket). Other factors that influence our perception of other people include roles and social norms (things we expect of people based on our experience in our society/culture), physical cues or characteristics (how a person dresses leads us to conclusions about their occupation), or how obvious something is (e.g., we might make a judgement about a teens’ personality simply because they have a ring in their nose). Indeed, our judgement might even extend to that teens parents for allowing them to have that ring!
But quick (not thoughtful) reactions to anything can often be harsh and even harmful. Like the person who writes a critical note and leaves it under the wiper of the car parked in the handicapped spot – not ‘seeing’ the hidden disease that cripples the driver’s immune system. Or the person who offers unsolicited advice to the parent for how they discipline their child at the grocery store. Judgements may be well-intentioned, but are often flawed (because the judgement is based on incomplete information).
We certainly do not need to look far or hard for harsh judgements throughout the media (or even in our own social circles) following a national or global catastrophe (e.g., a terror attack), either. Unfortunately, fear often brings out the worst in us.
Is it time to retire your judgmental “Judgy McJudgerson” hat?
All of us are guilty of being judgmental. However, you will know it is a ‘problem’ behavior for you (or someone you love) if you have a tendency to share your harsh judgements. Frequently. And yes, anonymous online comments count.
Being constantly critical (of ourselves or others) is like a bad habit. The good news, then, is that it can be broken. Like breaking any bad habit, the key is to identify what you would like to do more of, and start to do that.
Breaking the bad habit of being judgmental involves creating these healthy habits instead:
1. Be aware
Be aware of how critical or judgmental you are – of yourself and others. Notice that running commentary in your head. Make a conscious decision to engage less with that commentary. At the least, notice the thoughts and make conscious decisions not to share them! And because telling yourself to stop thinking about something is near impossible (check our post on anxiety for an explanation of that), then work on what you would rather be thinking about instead.
2. Be caring
Notice positive characteristics of the person wearing what you think is an awful dress – is she being nurturing to her child, is she doing her job well, is her skin beautiful? If that man is wearing “awful shoes”, think about the hundred different reasons that could be so (he’s working two jobs to buy new shoes for his kids, or even funny thoughts like he got his good ones stuck in mud at the golf course).
Choosing to change how you think about a person or situation has a positive impact on mood, which leads us nicely to our next point:
3. Improve your mood
How we perceive the world around us is directly impacted by our mood. Whether we are sad, angry, happy or depressed will determine at least in part how we will perceive a situation. Cognitive psychology tells us that negative thoughts impact our mood and our actions in a negative way (that includes critical thoughts). Mind-Body research tells us that sad, angry, depressed feelings have a direct impact on our physical state as well as affect what we pay attention to (and thus what we think about). Focus on your physical and emotional health.
When you notice that are being hypercritical it is a good time to check in: Is all okay in your life? Are you sleeping, resting, playing, eating well?
Look for ways to alleviate your stress, look for outlets to relax, let go, and enjoy. Everything seems a little more bearable when we are in a positive mood.
4. Be curious
When we are being judgmental, we are slotting a thing or experience or a choice into a category of ‘bad’ (vs. a possible category of ‘good’). This is called black-and-white thinking, and it causes a lot of inner turmoil for us humans (this type of thinking is emotionally associated with our ‘fight or flight’ response, and ultimately to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression). Instead, let’s look at things with the curiosity of a child. Difference can be interesting and even beautiful. We do not have to like it, or accept it into our own lives – but we can be curious about it. Instead of criticizing a persons choices, ask questions about it instead – out loud or even to yourself.
“I wonder why that mother is standing over there with her arms folded while her child is screaming in the aisle?”. You might just find out that that child has special needs, and that mom is overwhelmed.
5. Believe in Yourself
There is a strong correlation between being critical of ourselves and the tendency to be critical of others. Take note of the type of things you are saying to yourself. Is your language full of “shoulds” and “should-nots”, “musts” and “must-nots”? If you have self-critical commentary running on repeat in your head, it is very likely that judgmental thoughts literally seem to pop into your mind (or oops! – out of your mouth!). Keep track of what you say to and about yourself. The kinder you are to yourself, the kinder you will be to others.
“Only when we feel comfortable with our own choices — and embrace our own imperfections — will we stop feeling the driving need to criticize others.”
6. Learn to Apologize
And if we do slip up – and we do – just own it. You can learn from it. Avoid the temptation to use a slip-up as another reason to criticize yourself. And then apologize. If you struggle with how to do that, learn how to apologize effectively here.
What else have you tried to help you combat the urge to be a Judgy McJudgerson?
We’d love to hear – please comment below (no judgement ;))