Judging and fear of being judged often keeps people in a trap – an emotional jail. Instead of living your life the way you would love to, you live safely, doing what is acceptable, so you aren’t labelled as crazy, stupid, worthless, a failure, lazy or some other hateful word. You may try to fit into molds that aren’t right for you or that aren’t even possible for human beings.
Humans simply aren’t perfect.
Judgments are often based on “rules” that don’t really make sense. History is full of judgments that have been made against other people which let to disastrous events and great harm to fellow human beings. People have been judged inferior for their gender, the color of their skin, where they lived, their language, their appearance and their occupations. Most of us shake our heads with regret at those horrors, yet judge ourselves and others on a daily basis.
People are constantly judging in terms of good and bad, forgetting that what they are really describing are the consequences of actions and events, not the person. When you say he is a good person for volunteering in homeless shelters, you mean his actions will be helpful to others. When you say she is stupid for staying with a man who is mean to her, you mean she is likely to be harmed by her decision and that is hard to accept.
When you call someone “stupid,” you avoid feeling sad, yet sadness is what you are likely to be feeling. Saying more clearly what you mean makes a difference in the emotions that you experience.
Judgments can result from the avoidance of feeling. When you call yourself names such as “loser,” you may avoid feeling sad about something you did and the need to make changes. Avoiding feelings does not have good results!
Judging yourself is a form of punishment. We know that punishment is effective in stopping behavior and at the same time isn’t motivating and doesn’t help create new behavior. Thus lots of judgments result in doing nothing, not in doing better.
Harsh judgments of yourself interfere with developing a sense of identity, a sense of belonging, and intimate relationships with others. Judgments also add to feelings of depression and anxiety. The more harshly you judge yourself, the more alienated and alone you are likely to feel. It’s difficult to feel a part of life when you are distancing yourself through judgments.
Letting go of judgments is difficult and requires repeated practice. Some possible ways to let go of judgments are listed below.
Mindfulness of your thoughts is a first step. You must be aware of your judgments to let go of them. Mindfulness can also be the way you let go. Be aware of the thoughts that you have with the knowledge that your thoughts are just thoughts and not necessarily true. Notice your judgments, label them as judgements and let them pass. Simply practicing letting judgments pass without acting on them or believing them will lessen the power they have over your mood and behavior. With time, you will be able to smile, say “That’s a judgment,” and go on with your day.
Restate the Judgment in Terms of Consequences
When you notice yourself judging, look at what the true meaning is. What are the consequences of what someone is doing? Judgments are usually about consequences to yourself or others. Stating the consequences instead of using “good” and “bad” will give a fuller meaning. Remember to include the emotion that goes along with the consequences. “She said something so mean–it shocked me and hurt me.”
Restate the Judgment in Terms of Goals or Appreciation of Others
You can also restate the judgment into goals for yourself or appreciation of others. Instead of saying, “She always looks so put together and I’m such a slob,” say “She’s great at putting outfits together. I want to learn to do that.”
Look for What is Being Left Out
Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Comparisons are usually done in a superficial way by looking at your weaknesses in terms of someone else’s strengths, not the whole picture, and without complete information. When you judge yourself, consider what you are leaving out, what the bigger picture is. Maybe you didn’t pass the test. And maybe you were taking care of your mother who was ill. Or maybe academics isn’t your strength and you are a terrific dancer. Maybe the store clerk was rude to you and perhaps she was upset because she was put on probation at a job she needs to support her family.
Judgments are often a form of invalidating others and/or yourself. One way of letting go of judgments is to change them into validating statements. Maybe you say them out loud to help you regulate your emotions. Instead of saying you are stupid, say “change takes time and I need to be patient with myself in order to stay committed and reach my goal.” You can do the same with others. Instead of saying “he’s a jerk,” say, “he is saying hurtful, horrible things and he doesn’t know how to be angry in a healthy way. It is my job to keep myself safe, not to add to his anger or be a target for him.”
Remember that judging can also be about saying something is “good.” The problem with using positive judgments is that it means that something can also be “bad.” Being more descriptive as we discussed above means not using the shorthand of “bad” or “good.”
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