Who is Really Judging You?

Judging is a mind trick, and can be used to gain insight into oneself.

Posted Oct 20, 2019

Artwork by Alexi Berry. Used with permission.
Source: Artwork by Alexi Berry. Used with permission.

I do not know a single person that is proud that they are judgmental. Yet I know no one who does not judge. In fact, evolutionary theory posits that it is human nature to judge, to determine friend or foe, to categorize people, and how to proceed. Judging and being judgmental come up a good deal both in my psychotherapy practice and in teaching, as well as in my personal life. 

I recently came across an article title that grabbed my intention called, “Your therapist isn’t judging you, you’re judging you. 10 truths about therapy”. The article only included the insight that your therapist isn’t judging you, you are projecting that, in one of the truths. I had expected the article was all about that. In my discontent, I began writing this post. 

First, your therapist shouldn’t be judging you. Therapists are trained to have unconditional positive regard for clients. No one is perfect, and there have certainly been cases of therapists judging a client. But this is the exception, not the rule. A lot of what therapists do is attempt to get clients to stop judging themselves. Which brings me to the second part of the statement.

The point Ms. Dreja is making is that often people are judging themselves so harshly that they believe others, especially those they share their intimate details with are (like a therapist). This is called projection, and it happens all of the time unconsciously. I’ve written about projection a bit in the past (Top 20 ways you are lying to yourself, Your dream world) but it bears some repetition here. 

Projection colors one’s reality. We see what is inside of us, often unknowingly, in others. When we don’t like something about ourselves and try to deny it, C.G. Jung called it the shadow. His theory is one’s defense mechanism projects this unwanted part into someone else. Jung is quoted, “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” Herman Hesse said, “If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is part yourself. What isn’t part ourselves doesn’t disturb us”. Anaïs Nin is credited saying, “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are”. You get the idea that this is a repeated theory. So, according to this theory, it is not your therapist judging you, but you are judging you. 

But what about judging others? The same idea of the shadow can be applied. I will use a personal example to illustrate. There are podcasts I listen to regularly. Sometimes when I recommend them, I’ve pointed out the host might be hokey, or ramble too much. In some reflection about my own projections, I realized I dislike my rambling articulation of ideas or overuse of analogies (see, “Why don’t I just shut-up”). I also fear being perceived as hokey, (think Stuart Smalley, the Al Franken character from SNL) and have put effort into not coming across that way. So, some of my judgment is a projection of who I am. 

This can be witnessed in other ways. Sometimes one person in a group will react strongly to another person, while others do not. There is a good chance the individual’s reaction relates to something inside of himself that he wants to deny. Jung says a great deal about projections, perhaps most powerfully, “Projections change the world into the replica of one’s own unknown face”. He saw looking at how one views the world as way in which to gain insight into oneself. 

This may be difficult to grasp, as it not only applies to others but oneself, but judging is also an ego trick to make one feel better about oneself. I often ask those I come in contact with that are being judged to question why the other is judging. They often realize that others do it to boost their own self-image and ego. The same is true of them. When I am judging, on some level it is categorizing that individual as a “them”. Studies of in-group / out group bias indicate when this is done, (which, by the way, is nearly all of the time) people feel much better about their group (in this case, the group that isn’t doing that).  

Being judgmental is an evolutionary, and often unconscious, phenomenon. It is natural but has roots in psychopathology as well. (As I often tell my students, natural doesn’t mean healthy). But evaluating one’s judgments can bring about insight. You can learn a good deal about yourself from how you view others, and evaluating why you are judging, if you dare. 

Copyright William Berry, 2019


Dreja, L; 2019; Your therapist isn’t judging you, you’re judging you. 10 truths about therapy. Elephant Journal, August 18th, 2019. Retrieved from, https://www.elephantjournal.com/2019/08/your-therapist-isnt-judging-you-youre-judging-you-10-truths-about-therapy-leah-dreja/