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It Is Impossible Not to Be Judgmental

Suppressing thoughts fires up our fight-or-flight mode.

Key points

  • Human consciousness precludes suppressing thoughts and emotions without experiencing physiological consequences.
  • You may understand that being judgmental is unkind, but it is universal and embedded in our existence.
  • Becoming “enlightened” or non-judgmental makes the problem worse, as thought suppression activates your nervous system.
Source: PublicDomainImages/Pixabay

When we judge people around us—either positively or negatively—we project aspects of ourselves onto them. We lose awareness of the details of who the person is, what they are saying, and how to see a given situation from their perspective.

The psychological process of projection is an aspect of human consciousness where we transfer our life outlook onto another person. Whether the predictions are positive or negative, it is a similar process for both. We see the world through our lens, programmed into us from birth. This mental “filter” is embedded in our brains as concretely as our perceptions of our physical environment.1 Our ideals and life outlook are our version of reality.

For example, a person who is highly critical of others may feel fearful, agitated, and negatively judge him or herself. Another self-confident and secure person may view the world in a similar positive manner but may not be able to see or understand darker characteristics in others. It sounds better than negative judgment, but they may be prone to be taken advantage of.

When you perceive the world from this perspective, your body is constantly on high alert. The term for this state is “threat physiology” or “flight or fight.” Your stress hormones (adrenalin, cortisol, histamine) become elevated, you consume your body’s fuel supply to survive, and inflammatory markers become elevated. You feel agitated, but your body is under attack, and eventually, people become seriously ill.

The essence of healing is learning strategies to create a state of safety, making the opposite physiology. Only in this state can you build up your reserves and heal.


I had my first personal insight into this phenomenon a few years ago, after emerging from severe depression and burnout. While I was deep in the abyss, I experienced an endless barrage of negative self-judgments.

With repetition, they became my “story,” my identity. My assessments of everyone else were negative, and my personal life fell apart. Of course, I blamed everyone but me. All I wanted was to have a few positive thoughts about myself—any would do.

A few years after my life turned around, I realized that positive self-judgment was almost as disruptive to peace of mind as negative self-judgment. My mind was still racing. Like negative thinking, it prevented me from experiencing the present moment.

That realization was a significant shift for me. After I worked so hard to be successful and acquire things that would allow me to view myself more positively, I realized that any judgment is still judgment. They are two sides of the same coin.


Anthony DeMello, in his book, The Way to Love,2 points out that as soon as you have labeled anyone—either positively or negatively—you have lost awareness. You can no longer see who they are. A comment, appearance, or opinion triggers a reaction in you, and your response has little to do with who the person truly is. Ask yourself, how well do you know them? What is going on in their life? What reasons do they have for feeling the way they do?

The Greek stoic philosopher, Epictetus, observed that it is different to call someone a drunk instead of saying, “This is a person who drinks too much.”3 One is a disparaging label, while the other is merely a description. Think about the experience of someone being labeled a “pain patient.” It would be more appropriate for the medical profession to consistently use, “This is a person who is suffering from chronic pain.


It is impossible to truly experience joy when in a judgmental state of mind. If you stop and take stock while judging someone, you might notice how tedious and joyless you feel. You are merely projecting the same views—yours—onto others.

Yet, judgment has always been necessary for our survival to assess safety versus danger. It is impossible to stop judging.

To keep judgment from robbing you of joy, you must become aware. DeMello’s solution is to become aware of your judgmental nature's effect on your quality of life and relationships. Awareness not only dissolves judgment, but it is also the only effective option.

Photocreo Bednarek/AdobeStock
Source: Photocreo Bednarek/AdobeStock

Not Being Judgmental

I offered my patients an exercise to think about someone they disliked. I said, “Look, you now understand the effects of labeling, and you no longer want to judge this person. What happens when you try to stop being judgmental?” They looked at me and quickly realized that this was a form of thought suppression, making us even more judgmental. They were often perplexed.

I pointed out that one of the significant benefits of writing down these judgments and immediately destroying them was that writing allows people to separate from their thoughts instead of reacting to them. They were being “de-energized.”

Although they may have still disliked the person, possibilities could open up for more careful listening and greater understanding of the other’s perspective. Being no longer trapped by your thoughts opens the door for more joy to enter your life. It is great to find common ground with someone historically regarded as an adversary.

I have also occasionally written down in detail what I think about a specific person–positive and negative, and then in the next column noted how I felt about myself on these same topics. It’s enlightening and humbling.


Is your consciousness one of peace or war? Most of us want peace, but peace is improbable unless we take responsibility for our contribution to the collective consciousness. No matter how justified you feel about your position, anger is still anger, and labeling is still labeling. Those behaviors are far more combative than merely liking or disliking a behavior, viewpoint, or person.

Why am I writing about being judgmental? Because ongoing judgments will keep you in a state of agitation. The adverse effects on your body’s chemistry increase your physical and mental pain.4 Then, the ongoing pain is even more upsetting.

You don’t have a choice about being judgmental, but suppression is even worse. You have a choice of becoming aware and learning strategies to separate from judgment and process it.

Success at separating from your thoughts builds on itself and positively affects your close relationships as you move forward. Becoming aware is the one contribution each of us must offer to the human experience to move it to the next level–becoming more aware of the needs of others instead of it being about us.

In Summary

What brings you joy? Remaining in a judgmental state of mind, of others or yourself, precludes bringing this energy into your life.

Judgments of others reflect our internal views of ourselves. They are unavoidable, as we must make endless assessments to remain alive. Most judgments are negative and are disruptive to our capacity to enjoy our day. Trying not to be this way worsens the situation in that suppression of thoughts activates our threat physiology even more.

So, what can you do? Simply becoming aware of your inherent judgmental nature will open up your thinking to endless possibilities. Then you can proceed along your healing journey. The definitive answer for chronic pain is embracing joy. Again, you must break loose from your established reactive patterns to move forward into the world you choose to create.


1. Feldman Barrett, Lisa. How Emotions are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain. Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt Publishing, New York, New York. 2017.

2. DeMello, Anthony. The Way to Love. Bantam, Doubleday, Dell. NY, New York, 1995.

3. Lebell, Sharon. The Art of Living: Epictetus. Harper Collins, NY, New York, 1994.

4. Chen X, et al. Stress enhances muscle nociceptor activity in the rat. Neuroscience (2011); 185: 166–173.