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Why Judging Others Is Bad for You

Judging others can easily slide into just another judgment about yourself.

Source: Wikimedia

“It was awful.”

That was the response I got after asking a friend whether they enjoyed a movie they just saw.

“Awful?” I asked wondering what could make something so definitively terrible. However, the answer to my fairly rhetorical question didn’t matter as much as what I had just realized. I realized how much and how quickly we judge our life. Not just how much we judge our lives, but how much we fuse with our judgments. It is through this fusion that we make such definitive statements that leave little room for other people to share their experience. And I argue that the language we use to describe "things" easily becomes the same language we use to describe ourselves.

I could have just as easily gone to that same movie and said, “Wow, that was the best movie.” Does this mean that my friend is wrong? How could it be that the movie described as “awful” was the same movie I said was the “best”? Did we even see the same movie? One of us has to be wrong, right?

The truth is that we, as humans, tend to fuse with our judgments and perceive them as reality. My friend judged the movie for what he thought it was instead of realizing that it was through his own perceptual lens that he made the judgment in the first place. Think about that for a second. So often, what happens in arguments is that we fuse with our opinions. We fuse, meaning that we can’t tell the difference between what our opinion is and what the reality is. And in the end our perception becomes our reality. However, this is not a universal reality. We end up believing our thoughts/judgments and take our thoughts as facts. We believe that person is horrible. We believe the furniture is ugly. We believe the movie was awful. Instead of seeing our multitude of judgments as a perception or as a lens we put on situations, we see it as a truth. By doing this we subliminally create a separation and a lack of acceptance of other’s beliefs.

Think about how often this happens when we judge people, movies, places, and things. We don’t realize that we are the one judging. So it is not that “the movie was awful,” but “I didn’t like the movie.” Both of these phrases are expressing the same sentiment, right? Both of them are sort of expressing one's distaste for the movie. But one of them leaves room for other people to express their opinion and to still be correct in their own perception. I would imagine that saying “The movie was awful” doesn’t exactly welcome a conversation about the movie or the pros and cons about the movie because maybe there was some scene you liked. I’m sure you’ve even done this with movies that have won Academy Awards, thinking “How did THIS movie win an Oscar?!" Obviously, someone found it worthwhile.

And yes for those of you more skeptical towards this idea, yes it is just semantics. But part of my argument is that the semantics we use impacts our perceptions. It impacts the energy we bring to our opinions. It impacts how people respond to our perceptions. It impacts the level of conversation and curiousity our words bring. And ultimately it impacts the judgments we make about ourselves.

This post is also about how the language we use to describe people, places, and things can also impact the language we use when we talk about ourselves. We often make blanket statements that imply some sort of universal truth – movies or otherwise. Notice how the language you use describe furniture (e.g. “it’s ugly”) or people (e.g. “he’s annoying”). That same language we use to describe other people, objects, movies outside of us is often the same harsh and unforgiving language we turn to judge ourselves. “I hate myself.” “Why am I such an idiot?” As is said in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, humans can evaluate just about anything in innumerable ways, and yet fail to see that this process is arbitrary and not a property of nature (e.g., a rose is a rose, whether you call it stupid beautiful, ugly, precious, dumb).” We don’t see things for what they are, we see things through the lens of our mind.

So the next time you start to judge something or someone else, think about all the times you've judged yourself. Give the same mercy for others that you would want for yourself. You're just one perspective and there are as many perspectives in the world as there are people. So choose your words carefully because we shroud our words with judgment that are self-defeating, negative, and don’t help us get any closer to our goals and values. We need to recognize that we're not the only ones making judgments, nor are any of the judgemnts facts. Judgments are simply our way of seeing the world, which is just one perspective.

I’ll leave you with a quote by Don Miguel Ruiz from his book, The Four Agreements, that captures the essence of this message:

“We make the assumption that everyone sees life the way we do. We assume that others think the way we think, feel the way we feel, judge the way we judge, and abuse the way we abuse. This is the biggest assumption that humans make. And this is why we have a fear of being ourselves around others. Because we think everyone else will judge us, victimize us, abuse us, and blame us as we do ourselves. So even before others have a chance to reject us, we have already rejected ourselves. That is the way the human mind works.”

Reference: Eifert, G. H., & Forsyth, J. P. The application of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy to problem anger. Cognitive and Behavioral Practice, 18, 241-250.

Dr. Rubin Khoddam is a Clinical Psychologist currently working in private practice in Los Angeles, CA as well as at the West Los Angeles VA as the Team Lead in the residential rehabilitation program for individuals dealing with issues related to substance use and homelessness. Dr. Khoddam currently provides individual, couples and family therapy, as well as group therapy. He also runs the IMPROVE: Outpatient Substance Use Treatment Program, a low-demand, harm reduction substance use treatment program for individuals hoping to decrease their substance use or examine the impact of their substance use in their life. For more information, visit his site and follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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