People go to self-defeating lengths to elude the possibility of being negatively judged by others. They avoid telling people what they want to tell them. They don’t speak up in class or at work meetings. They avoid telling their lover their true desires. They don’t ask for a raise. They won’t tell a new date where they’d like to go for dinner.
This fear of judgment is linked to the desire to be liked by all at all times. But because that is impossible, this is a losing game that keeps people from uninhibitedly experiencing and expressing their true selves.
Let’s face it, humans are always judging others—good/bad or like/dislike, with lots of nuance in between. And as new information comes in, the human mind reassesses: It is an ongoing process.
Instead of avoiding the issue by not saying anything about your preferences, and working overtime to try to shape the people in your life so they won’t judge you, you can work to accept this process instead.
Here are four ways to stop living in fear of judgment:
1. Nothing lasts forever.
The reality is that the human brain has limited data reserves. Although we may make judgments, they are not significant enough to earn a place in our memory banks for eternity. So when someone makes a judgment about you, chances are that moments or days later that judgment will have left their conscious awareness. We build up our understanding of people, not on the minor mistakes or setbacks we observe, but by creating a schema based on the big things they do and say, and the patterns of how they interact with us and make us feel over time.
2. Judgment is unavoidable.
Stop trying to control the judgments of others. It has become part of our zeitgeist to demand that others not judge us. Think about popular statements such as, “No judgments” and “This is a non-judgment zone.” None of this really helps: You can’t control what others think. Maybe they won’t express their judgment, but it doesn’t mean they can stop a physiological brain process. Instead, try to explain the context of what you are feeling so that those you are opening up to understand you and have compassion for you. Compassion is judgment’s kryptonite. When it is present, judgments have little weight because people can imagine themselves feeling the same way.
3. Let them judge!
It can be liberating in an intimate relationship to just allow judgments to be present. Instead of stopping yourself from being open or vulnerable or from sharing something negative but important about yourself, do it anyway. As I relate in my book, Building Self-Esteem 5 Steps, If you notice yourself holding back out of fear of judgment, ask yourself first: “What judgment do I fear will come from my opening up?“ and, “What is it I fear will occur if they make that particular judgment about me?” Once you identify the fear, try to reassure yourself or find a way that you could manage the fear if it did come to be. Remind yourself that close and intimate relationships deepen when people risk judgment. If this openness doesn’t happen, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have done something wrong, but it may mean the person you are working to connect with doesn’t have the capacity for an emotionally intimate relationship.
4. Notice your own judgments.
There is no better way to care less about the judgments of others than to judge yourself and others less. Of course judgment is unavoidable, but watch the language you use in your own head about the people and events in your life. Change the focus of your judgments: Instead of “she sucks” or “he’s a loser,” ask yourself what effect the person has on you that you want to avoid or be aware of in the future. For example, “She never follows through with her commitments to me.” Or, “He tells me he’s trying but I always end up disappointed.” Move away from the good and bad character traits of those in your life to what is healthy and unhealthy for you.
Jill Weber, Ph.D. is a psychologist in private practice in Washington, D.C. and the author of Breaking Up and Divorce—5 Steps: How to Heal and be Comfortable Alone and Building Self-Esteem—5 Steps: How to Feel "Good Enough." For more, follow her on Twitter @DrJillWeber and on Facebook, or visit drjillweber.com.