We’ve all been subject to making negative judgments — that cruel voice in your head that says, her haircut is so ugly, I hate that celebrity’s outfit, she’s such a b*tch, that couple must have a miserable relationship. The voice that gives a negative opinion about topics you may not know the whole story behind, the voice that posts mean comments on blog posts or Instagrams, the voice that judges a celebrity or friend’s actions before hearing their perspective, or the voice that gossips behind other people’s backs.
Not making any judgments at all, however, is pretty much impossible. As humans, we cultivate strong opinions. We should know right from wrong and feel strong and powerful enough to fight for the right when we see wrong. We should know what we like and dislike, and the values that are important to us. However, there comes a point where making judgments becomes being judgmental, and that is destructive for our own mental health and self-esteem. The difference is that positive opinions can be used to critique for a positive change. Being judgmental means being overly critical in an unhelpful and harmful way.
Why can judgments be harmful?
Judgments can have harmful and negative consequences. They can get in the way of fixing problems, hurt other people’s feelings when you don’t need or mean to, and they can harm your own self-esteem and happiness.
We tell our teenage daughters that the mean girl’s judgmental comments come from jealousy and insecurities, yet we don’t recognize our own mean girl behavior and how it also stems from insecurities. Making unhelpful and overly critical comments is not only a manifestation of our own insecurities and self-esteem, but it can make our insecurities and self-esteem even worse. It can get to the point where you’re making so many judgments that it’s hard to feel gratitude, which is when the judgments become extremely harmful for your own happiness and well-being. Research shows that being judgmental of others can negatively affect your self-esteem more than any outside force. If you’re critiquing others, you will also critique yourself, often even more harshly. Accepting and appreciating the good in others, whether it’s in their actions, appearance, relationships, etc., will help you accept and appreciate the good in you.
What can you do to stop making negative judgments?
The key to stop making negative and harmful judgments is to train yourself to recognize the difference between normal opinions and negative judgments, and then cultivate a less judgmental mindset:
1. Know the person you’re judging.
When evaluating a person’s actions, it is crucial to know their perspective, history, and where they are coming from. If the judgment is based on values, realize if those values are absolute (right versus wrong, like harming another person) or relative (like political or social values). Even if they’re violating your values, they might hold different values that caused them to perform different actions.
2. Know the impact of your judgment.
If it’s a comment that can hurt someone instead of help them, how can you rephrase it to be productive to them rather than boosting your own ego by thinking less of them? Especially in an age of social media, it’s important that we understand the impact our judgments have. A tweet on how much you dislike a celebrity’s appearance has different repercussions than calling attention to an issue you witness like inhumane acts or injustice. While both are opinions, one is furthering a “mean girl,” materialistic, and cyberbullying society, and the other is changing people’s minds that could result in a positive change.
3. Focus on the specific situation.
Research shows that judgments tend to assume and emphasize traits in people’s personalities rather than focusing on the specific situation. For example, if someone cuts you off on the road, you might immediately see them as selfish, rude, and inconsiderate. However, when we cut someone off, we focus on the specific situation (“I’m running super late,” “I missed my turn”). In other words, evaluate the situation and judge the sin, not the sinner.
4. Practice gratitude regularly.
We can actually train our brains to be happy through positive thinking and gratitude. It sounds like something Oprah would say, but gratitude is the key to understanding and cultivating a positive mindset. Implementing consistent gratitude can be as scheduled as daily mindful meditations, or as simple as noticing the beautiful sunset on your drive home and appreciating the small daily acts your friends or family do for you. Whether you write down three things you’re grateful for every night, send thank you notes out of the blue, or look for the beautiful in the mundane, train yourself to feel gratitude more than any other emotion. (For more on how to practice gratitude, click here). Instead of making gossipy judgments, you’ll start to find ways to help. Instead of seeing the bad in people, you’ll start to see the good.
5. For every judgment, ask yourself, why does it matter to me? Why does this affect my life?
There are, of course, the judgments that positively add to your own opinions and values, but if a girl you know is dating someone you think is boring, or got a haircut you think is bad, how does it affect your life? If your sister is wearing a weird outfit or the Kardashians posted a picture on social media, does it matter to your life? If it doesn’t affect your life or matter to you personally, don’t say it. If someone you love is in a bad situation, evaluate the situation and do something to help them. It is affecting your life since that’s someone you care about. But if all you’re doing is making negative judgments that don’t help? It must not be someone you care about that much.
6. Stay open to learning new things and know that many of your opinions should be changing.
Of course, we need to be careful about what information we can trust. But it’s also important to understand the uncomfortableness that comes with growth. Even people in old age should still be realizing where they are wrong and they should be changing some opinions through learning new things and understanding new perspectives. As humans, we should always be learning and changing. If you never realize when you are wrong or never change at least some of opinions, that’s not growing.
7. Strengthen your empathy.
In today’s world, when bullying on blog posts or mean tweets are more normal than compliments or kindness, we need to teach our children and ourselves to focus more on compassion than on judgments. We need to understand other perspectives, practice kindness more than we practice judgment, and we need to have something to talk about that’s not other people and our judgments of them.