We all generally prefer to see ourselves as smart, generous, kind, patient, and forgiving people most of the time.
But the truth is that we aren’t. Life isn’t ideal. We aren’t perfect. We simply cannot be nice and ‘good’ 100% of the time. If we’re honest with ourselves, we actually have some pretty scary and embarrassing flaws that we prefer to avoid at all costs.
But the reality is that we don’t like facing our shadows. We tend to avoid or react to anything or anyone who tries to point out our failures and weaknesses. While this is understandable, we need to realize that our dark side holds the keys to authentic happiness, self-acceptance, and inner freedom. To quote author Ryan Holiday, “the obstacle is the way” – and this article works on that philosophical premise.
One of the biggest obstacles out there on our paths to wholeness is judgmentalism. Why is it an obstacle? When we are unaware of our judgmental tendencies, we become angry, hateful, defensive, anxious, and isolated. As you can imagine, such a trait not only alienates us from others, but also from our very own souls.
Now, I’m not proposing that judgmentalism is an infestation of the personality that must be exterminated. Instead, it is something we need to understand, even embrace, and work to counteract. (So don’t expect this article to be one of those typical “how to get rid of …” columns, which in my opinion, create more harm than good. Sound judgmental of me? I know! But that’s OK. ;))
What is “Being Judgmental”?
Being a judgemental person essentially means thinking, speaking, or behaving in a manner that reflects a critical and condemnatory point of view. When we are judgmental we are critically nitpicking and finding fault with another person, group of people, idea, or situation. In a nutshell, we are seeing through the filter of our black/white beliefs, condemning something or someone as “bad,” “stupid,” “unworthy,” etc. Judgmentalism also extends to ourselves, leading to problems such as low self-worth, depression, and anxiety.
Being judgmental isn’t all bad. When our inner Judge is balanced, we are able to make clear decisions and avoid potentially dangerous situations. Being critical also helps us to be creative, innovative, and insightful about other people’s problems (think of the therapist who must judge his or her patient to help them).
But there is a big difference between making judgments and being judgemental. Making judgments comes from a balanced and neutral mind. On the other hand, judgmentalism comes from an imbalanced and reactive mind that is seeking to protect itself from being hurt by others. We could, therefore, say that judgmentalism is actually a defense mechanism.
Judgmentalism as a Defense Mechanism
What is a defense mechanism? A defense mechanism is a type of conscious or unconscious technique that is used to protect the ego. The ego is our false self, the “I” that we identify with (read more about the ego). The purpose of the ego is to keep us feeling isolated and separate from others as a survival instinct, and that often happens through various defense mechanisms.
Judgmentalism as a defense mechanism benefits us in a number of ways by:
- Making us feel superior (self-righteous), therefore giving us (false) self-worth
- Avoiding our own faults by pointing them out in others
- “Protecting” us from being hurt by others
You might look at the list above and think “I would never do that!” But the reality is that such behaviors are rooted in the unconscious mind. In other words, we are completely unaware that such drives are at the core of our judgmental tendencies; they are lurking beneath the surface.
13 Signs You’re a Judgmental Person
Here are some signs to look out for:
1. You believe that everyone is out to get you.
2. You expect other people to be consistent all the time.
3. You struggle to see beyond a person’s flaws.
4. You easily skip to conclusions.
5. You struggle to tolerate ambiguity and uncertainty.
6. You’re intolerant of people unlike you.
7. You’re generally pessimistic about life.
8. You tend to believe people are either ‘good’ or ‘bad.’
9. You struggle to truly appreciate or see the beauty in others.
10. You have low self-worth.
11. You feel anxious around other people.
12. You’re suspicious and untrusting.
13. You have a strong inner critic who judges you.
Be honest. How many of these signs can you relate to? Also, did you receive any strong or uncomfortable feelings while reading through this list (e.g. anger, defensiveness, shock, fear)? If so, you were probably triggered, meaning that judgmentalism is likely an issue for you.
How to End the Habit of Being Judgmental
Like many people, I have struggled with judgmentalism before, and I still do at times. When you can see beyond the facades of people very quickly like I can, it is easy to slip into a judgmental outlook. Being tired, overworked, or busy makes this tendency even worse.
However, ultimately being judgmental is a self-esteem problem. By finding something to dislike or condemn about others, we are (a) protecting ourselves from being vulnerable, (b) avoiding our own faults, and (c) inflating our egos with false self-worth. All of these points relate back to our frail self-esteem.
So how do we end the habit of judgmentalism? The answer is that above all, you will need to work on your self-esteem. The more accepting you are of yourself, the more accepting you will be of others. Conversely, the more rejecting you are of yourself, the more rejecting you will be of others.
Here are some ways to counteract judgmentalism:
1. Explore your self-talk and journal about it!
Your self-talk involves all the thoughts you have about yourself in waking reality. Take some moments during the day to tune into what types of thoughts you’re having. Good opportunities to do this often happen while interacting with others, going to work, looking at yourself in the mirror, or making a mistake. You can also use your emotions to hook yourself into your inner talk. Whenever you’re feeling upset, depressed, insecure, or anxious, try to pause and focus on your inner talk. What thoughts or assumptions are behind your feelings?
Next, in a journal, record your self-talk. Do this every day, without fail! Try to find common themes or patterns that reveal your underlying core beliefs. For example, you might discover that you often think about how “stupid,” ugly, worthless, or weird you are. These beliefs will give you something to work with.
2. Accept the ugly, weird, messy parts
Easier said than done, right? But by slowly and steadily working to accept yourself, you become less critical of others as well. Self-acceptance is about honoring and allowing space for all that it means to be human. Instead of putting yourself up to high standards, self-acceptance is about realistically looking at yourself, understanding why you are the way you are, and embracing who you are at a core level.
Some powerful places to start with self-acceptance include:
- Taking care of your body and health
- Writing your own affirmations
- Journaling about how you feel
- Making a list of everything you appreciate about yourself
- Getting in touch with your inner child
- Removing toxic people from your life
- Surrounding yourself with supportive people
- Reading self-help books
- Doing one self-loving thing each day
- Learning how to forgive yourself
- Exploring the nature of toxic shame
Commit to any number of these practices every day and you will begin to see the results soon.
3. Look deeper into people and situations
When we judge others, we tend to do so quickly as a result of our beliefs and misconceptions. But jumping to conclusions blinds us, causing us to quickly shut off and ignore the complexity of others. For example, people who are mean, cruel, shallow, untrustworthy, or unfriendly almost always act from some kind of inner pain – usually fear or sadness (more about that here). By looking beneath the facade and immediate appearance of a person, we often find very human and tragic struggles. This, in turn, helps us to show compassion.
4. Be critical about your judgmentalism
When I say “be critical” I mean think critically: look at all sides. Be willing to be wrong. Ask yourself, “Am I seeing the whole picture?” Can you ever 100% know the entire story of another? The reality is that no, you can’t. None of us can. So whenever you start to feel that wall go up between yourself and another, stop. Ask yourself, “Do I 100% know my judgment is true?” Making this into a habit will help wear down your judgmental reflexes and open your mind.
5. Ground yourself with mindfulness
When being judgmental is a habit, it causes your mind to become narrow so that you see with tunnel vision. You cease to be grounded in reality, becoming lost in the world of your judgments instead. One of my favorite practices to counteract judgmentalism is mindfulness. Mindfulness is about paying attention to the present moment. When you start to feel the walls of judgmentalism go up, try noticing your surroundings instead. Feel the breeze on your skin, notice the colors and sounds around you – take everything in. By redirecting your focus to the present moment, you cut the cycle of judgmental thoughts.
Finally, be careful of judging your judgmentalism! It can be easy to start thinking that you’re a horrible person for having this personality trait. But please realize that many people struggle with this issue. You are not alone. So sit with it, think about it, and work on accepting yourself, EVEN (and most importantly) your judgmental tendencies. ;)
What is your experience with this topic? Please share below!