The term judgmental describes itself, doesn’t it? Labeling yourself or someone else as judgmental is itself a judgment. But why is that important? Negative judgments make painful emotions worse. Labeling something as bad makes you feel bad. Labeling something as good may also set you up to feel bad later.
Very few things, if any, are always good all the time, so you may end up changing your positive judgment to a negative one when the situation changes. Additionally, our judgments may not be accurate and could even cause unnecessary and unhelpful negative emotions. For example, imagine you are not invited to a party your friend is throwing. You might think that your friend doesn’t care about you and label them as rude, careless, or just a jerk. What you may not know is that the party was for family only and no friends were invited.
Your judgment about your rude friend failing to invite you wasn’t the full picture, so your judgment about your friend’s character was inaccurate. Really, you felt hurt that you were not allowed to attend. Throwing a family party does not make someone rude, careless, or a jerk. Feeling left out is also a valid reaction. We learn to judge from the time we are born. Were you a good girl or boy? Did you sit nicely or did you misbehave? See the judgments? “Good” or “bad” and “misbehavior” are opinions someone important to you, likely your parents or primary caregivers, teacher, coach, or someone else had of you. They judged you. It’s happened to all of us, so we have all learned to judge.
An important tool to managing strong, painful emotions is unlearning to judge. That sounds difficult. How do you unlearn something? Well, by learning something else to replace it. A good place to start is with specifics. Avoid broad labels. Asking someone to speak slower and more quietly is far more effective than calling them loud and obnoxious. Basically, say what you mean courteously instead of staying quiet and judging. Also, avoid judging yourself. If you wouldn’t say it to your best friend or if you would be offended if someone said it to you, don’t say it to yourself. It can be habitual to call ourselves stupid when we mess up or clumsy when we drop stuff, but those automatic statements about ourselves can create some strong negative emotions. Now here’s the catch. Some judgments are needed. Making judgments the right way can help us determine if our actions were effective and got results so we can learn from our mistakes.
Neutral observations like “this was helpful” or “that was unnecessary” can allow us to change our behaviors and move toward our goals and away from pitfalls. Again, the key is to be neutral. Be as objective as you can. Stick to facts and do your best to avoid interpretations. Ultimately it’s about identifying what painful emotion like anger or sadness is driving the judgment and focusing on it. As you begin shifting from judgments to assertive action you will probably catch yourself after you’ve already made the judgment. Just say to yourself, “Ah, I did it again” and don’t beat yourself up about it.
This is the first step. Once you consistently catch yourself, move toward changing the judgments as they happen. With practice, this habit will change, and you’ll naturally find yourself more assertive and less judgmental.
Van Dijk, S. (2012). Calming the Emotional Storm. New Harbinger Publications.