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How to Be Less Judgmental Toward Yourself

An open approach toward your personality can build confidence and connection.

Key points

  • Thinking about our personality traits on a continuum is more helpful than taking a black-and-white approach.
  • Social, cultural, and environmental factors all influence how we judge personality traits and qualities.
  • A more open and nonjudgmental approach toward yourself and others can lead to more connections and positive experiences.

How do you describe yourself and your personal qualities to other people? What comes to mind when you think about your strongest characteristics?

  • “I could never do that; I’m too much of a Type A person.”
  • “I wish I were more disciplined. I never seem to be able to get things done because I’m too disorganized in my thinking.”

We all have opportunities to describe ourselves to other people. Which traits you highlight may depend on the context—for example, whether you’re talking about yourself in a job interview or in casual conversations with friends. What is important is not only what we say but also how we judge those traits. In other words, depending on whether you consider a trait as “good” or “bad,” a strength or a weakness, this can impact how you feel about yourself and the choices you make in your life.

Giorgio Trovato/Unsplash
Source: Giorgio Trovato/Unsplash

It is a common and normal tendency for us to label and categorize things in our life. One way we do so is to label certain traits as “good” or “bad.” Similarly, we judge certain emotions as good or bad (e.g., happy = good emotion; sadness = bad emotion). This good versus bad categorizing is an example of black-and-white thinking.

Black-and-white thinking is the tendency to see things as all one way versus another. It has also been called “all-or-nothing” thinking and is a type of cognitive distortion. This can be helpful in certain situations when we need to make a simple and fast assessment. However, when it comes to describing a human being—whether it is yourself or another person—this type of restrictive thinking pattern can become limiting and unhelpful.

One way it can be unhelpful is that this pattern of black-and-white thinking can lead to us feeling unnecessarily judgmental toward ourselves or a situation. If you have caught yourself thinking, “Why am I so…?” or “I wish I were more…”, you may notice also feeling less happy, satisfied, or confident about yourself. It can so happen that we apply this same kind of black-and-white thinking toward other people. This poses its own set of problems such as increased conflict, limited social connections, and stereotyping behavior. How did we get to think this way?

Why We Judge Certain Traits as Good or Bad

We come to judge personality traits in these good and bad categories for a few reasons. First, certain traits are praised and valued by society. We get external reinforcement that there are certain good qualities. You are praised for being a “hard worker” at work or school. You were probably praised for being a “caring” person because you were generous with your time and talents. On the other hand, there are traits that we’ve judged as categorically “bad”: “I’m too disorganized. I have too many ideas but no follow through.” This person may be a creative person and/or a neurodivergent person with expansive ways of thinking, but they’ve been criticized for not being detail-oriented or “disciplined.” Over time, this person will start to consider their creativity a “bad” trait, a weakness to be fixed or hidden.

Second, social and cultural factors contribute to our definitions of what is good or bad. The environments we inhabit will value certain traits above others. A creative person working in an organization that values big ideas and open-ended thinking will be seen as demonstrating a strength whereas the same person at a different organization that prioritizes detail-oriented, rational, and concrete thinking will view this person as less qualified or as having weaknesses. We also internalize messages we receive from those within our immediate social networks and society. We take in reinforcing or critical language from teachers and family members about how we “should” act and perform certain abilities. Social media and other forms of cultural representation will teach us what qualities are celebrated or denigrated. Collectively these social and cultural factors color whether we view our personality traits as good or bad.

Now that we have a better understanding of why we have adopted categorical ways of thinking about ourselves, what is an alternative approach, and how can we apply it in our lives?

Learning to Approach Yourself With Greater Open-Mindedness and Acceptance

It is more helpful to take a nonjudgmental, open approach toward personality traits. Rather than taking a dichotomous black-and-white approach, it can help to consider them more on a continuum. It will help to consider the context when determining how much to lean into a particular personality trait. Just as context matters, the degree to which we embody a trait makes a difference. There is such a thing as too much of a “good” trait!

The following are some examples of the benefits we can experience if we are less judgmental and reduce black-and-white thinking tendencies:

Marcos Paulo Prado/Unsplash
Source: Marcos Paulo Prado/Unsplash
  • Greater self-acceptance, self-compassion, and reduced negative self-perceptions: When we are more open to traits as being neither “good” nor “bad” but rather existing on a continuum, we are less prone to judge ourselves negatively. When you become less judgmental of yourself, you can focus more on finding appropriate contexts and conditions to fit with your qualities. This good fit between your qualities and the context can help you feel better about who you are and appreciate the whole of what you can do. This reduces unnecessary suffering and negative feelings.
  • Building connections with others and reducing conflict: Adopting a nonjudgmental stance toward ourselves can help us be less judgmental toward others. This reduces conflict with others and allows opportunities to build more and deeper connections. Just as the saying goes, “Treat others as you want to be treated,” if we start to treat ourselves with greater compassion and acceptance, we will be more accepting of others and treat others with compassion.
  • Expanding what becomes possible for us to experience in life: Letting go of a restrictive view of ourselves allows us permission to try new things. For example, if you stop thinking you’re “not creative” and instead view yourself as someone who wants to strengthen that part of yourself, you can choose to take a class in some activity you’ve always wanted to try. (Is it time to sign up for that improv class? To try cooking up a new recipe?)

Practices to Cultivate a More Nuanced Mindset

Here are some mindset shifts and practices that can help you cultivate greater self- and other-acceptance and avoid the potential dangers of making unnecessarily harsh judgments.

  • Practice thinking in more flexible and expansive ways. Imagine embodying your qualities like adjusting the temperature or volume level. Can you imagine “turning up” your creative side or “turning down” the practical detail-focused side depending on the situation?
  • Consider moderation and context. Too much of anything can lead to more harm than good depending on the situation. Consider to what degree of a trait you find to be appropriate for a given scenario. For example, when you’re doing your taxes, being emotional isn’t going to be very helpful in getting the task done. Instead, turning up the part of yourself that is detail-oriented and rational will be more helpful. Or, while you’re exercising, can you simply pay attention to the child-like part of yourself that enjoys moving your body rather than grading how you’re performing?
  • When you catch yourself judging yourself or getting into black-and-white thinking, ask yourself these questions: Is this way of thinking working for me right now? How would I like to approach this situation? How do I want to feel about myself (or another person) right now?


Source: Greg Rosenke/Unsplash
Hiking up a hill
Source: Greg Rosenke/Unsplash

We are human beings with complicated, nuanced ways of being with various strengths, weaknesses, and everything in between. When we consider the whole of who we are with a sense of greater generosity toward our strengths and weaknesses, it allows for greater self-acceptance and well-being. We are all capable of adopting a less judgmental and continuous mindset toward ourselves. More self-awareness and practice of these mindset shifts will help us feel more confident about ourselves and cultivate a greater connection with ourselves and others.


Klussman K, Curtin N, Langer J, Nichols A.L. (2022). The importance of awareness, acceptance, and alignment with the self: a framework for understanding self-connection. European Journal of Psychology, 18(1), 120-131. doi:10.5964/ejop.3707

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