by Annie Gurton, Imago Relationship Therapist from Sydney’s Northern Beaches

When we judge someone, we diminish ourselves. Judgement is a vice as bad as the seven deadly sins of pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth. It is moralistic (it implies that I know better than you), and it can be deeply wounding.

Judgement is extremely common. It is as rare to find someone who loves us as we are as it is to find someone who loves themselves unconditionally.

judgementimage via pinterest

It is both positive and negative. We often assume that when we ‘judge’ someone, we are criticising them by suggesting that something about them is not as good as we would like or believe things should be. But approval is also a form of judgement, one that we frequently use with children but also with the adults around us. Positive judgement might hurt less than negative judgement, but it is harmful nonetheless, and more subtle.

‘When we judge people we have less time to love them,’ said Mother Theresa, for judgement takes energy and demands constant effort particularly by the judgee to meet the demands on the judger. The trouble is that it makes us uncertain of who we are, and what our natural inclination is, and whether we are worthy of being loved in our natural state. It interferes with our naturalness and can make us inauthentic.

Our judgement, both critical and approving, make those around us conscious of themselves and cause people to waste time considering the impression that their words and behaviours create. It makes people strive for approval all the time, which is a distraction from just being oneself and not being oppressed by a sense that we should be someone that we are not. That we are in some ways a failure, or inadequate.

So, how to overcome the tendency to judge and to use judgment as a tool of manipulation?

1. Put yourselves in the shoes of the person you are judging.   Whether positive or negative, consider where these thoughts are coming from and whether they should be spoken.   The chances are that the thoughts – whether positive or negative, can be seen as an effort to affect or change the other, who can live just as well without hearing your judgemental opinions.

2. Be curious   But avoid coming to a decision about whether what the other person does is good or bad, healthy or unhealthy, strong or weak, suitable or unsuitable.   It’s none of your business.

3. Recognise that the other person is as entitled to their views, perspectives, behaviours and individuality as you are.   By expressing your critical or approving judgements, you are implying that the other is in some ways lesser than you, and you are the ultimate arbitrator.

4. Try and build a bridge between you and the other person which does not allow for any judgement, critical or approving.   Just allow the other person to be themselves and accept that without thought or comment. Understand that fundamentally they are no different from you, and that you are no better or worse then them.

5. Become conscious of your tendency to judge and curb your enthusiasm to express your judgemental thoughts.   Judging others does not serve us – it makes you discontented and gives you short-term feelings of superiority. We judge others because we need to feel better about ourselves. It may make us feel superior or secure in the short-term, but the long-term stress of never feeling good enough can lead to a host of health issues. Being non-judgmental, though, can lead to lower levels of depression, anxiety and stress-related illnesses.

6. Some people are raised in highly judgemental homes and learn to pass judgement over and over.   People can feel self-righteous by passing judgement on others. For most, it’s done automatically without noticing. Try noticing how often you pass judgemental thoughts on yourself and others. It is shocking. First step to change is noticing judgemental thoughts as they arise. Have a pen and paper / notebook handy. Write down those thoughts. Once you start this you’ll be surprised often this happens. Once we notice, we have a chance to choose.

7. You can’t stop your thoughts, but you can change your focus.   Rather than being involved with and dwelling on your judgmental thoughts, you can just notice them when they happen and say to yourself, ‘That was judgmental. I want to move on to something else now.’ When you can detach from what you think, you realise that not all of your thoughts, especially the most automatic, are you, the person. They are just something that happens in your mind, something you can choose not to dwell on.

A relationship without judgement is a healthy, relaxed, loving place to be. The opposite of judging is ‘giving the benefit of the doubt’. Once you become non-judgemental you’ll find that your inner dialogue is more peaceful. You’ll have more time to love those around you, and you’ll stop berating yourself and others because you’re more likely to be understanding, gracious, or give the benefit of the doubt that others are doing the best they can.