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Why Not Judge?

A central goal in DBT is to cultivate a non-judgmental stance towards our lives and ourselves.  However, when you experience intense emotions and have stress and significant obstacles in your life, it’s difficult to refrain from passing judgment.

Judgments are spontaneous and often inaccurate interpretations of our environment that influence our thinking and behavior.  Social psychology research shows that our motives and expectations slant our judgments.  When we are motivated to avoid painful emotions, we are likely to judge those who hurt us, conflict with us or remind us of our shortcomings.  Often we’ve internalized the judgments of others and save our harshest judgments for ourselves.  As a result, when we face an obstacle, don’t get our way or don’t succeed in our efforts, we are likely to attribute our problems to the personality defects of those around us and ourselves.  They are lazy and stupid.  We are incompetent, needy or a failure. 

2 Comments to
Why Not Judge?

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  1. Why Not Judge?
    By Christy Matta, MA

    From this artical she said, “Let go of judgmental language and focus on descriptive information. Getting from judgment to description takes practice and repetition, but it can significantly reduce extreme painful emotions and result in a clearer picture of the world.”

    I would like examples of “Descriptive information” in a situation that might come up.
    Can you help?

    Thank-you for your time

    • Instead of saying “I’m so stupid” when you make a mistake, being descriptive might be saying to yourself “when I make a mistake I feel inadequate.” Sometimes it’s a slight shift and sometimes it’s a large one. Change it’s an “awful” day to “today I’m stressed and overwhelmed by demands people are making on me.” Descriptive language tends to be more specific and is often connecting to your feelings. Instead of “He’s a jerk” “He raised his voice when I asked a question and didn’t give me an answer.”

      I hope that’s helpful.

  2. I take issue with this concept of strict adherence to non-judgmentalism. When speaking in terms of one’s judgement of self, I tend to agree. When applying the stance to a household or society we are then inviting Moral Free Agency where we ultimately arrive at anarchy.

    • I don’t think that non-judgementalism has to lead to a suspension of morality. DBT would hold that there are times when it’s useful to judge, but that being judgemental is a shortcut (an automatic label saying “this is good/bad or right/wrong), & like any shortcut it misses lots of information. It’s perceiving things as absolutes, in black & white. Better, when you can, to observe & describe. So for example rather than saying “it’s wrong to steal”, you might say “one of the consequences of stealing is that another person loses something that belongs to them, and this will usually cause harm to them”. That’s an example of observing & describing. If you state categorically that it’s wrong to steal, you miss the opportunity to notice those occasions when it actually might not cause too much harm, because the need of the stealer is greater than the hurt caused to the person stolen from. e.g. an impoverished person who is starving & takes food from the kitchen of a wealthy person. That, IMO, is a grey area around stealing. As a culture, we abbreviate a lot of our moral rules as “this is right/wrong” because to do otherwise would be time-consuming & convoluted & just plain inconvenient. But it’s useful to unpack what we mean by right/wrong and good/bad. I hope this clarifies.


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