Over the last six months I have been challenging myself to learn how to be less judgemental. I kept catching myself judging others in a harsh way. I remember asking myself, “would I treat a client who came to my office like this?” The answer was a clear no, so I decided to try to really look at what the judgement was about when it came out towards others.
A few interesting things happened, one being I started to realize how many people are constantly judgmental. As I tried to steer myself away from participating in negative discussions, many people around me still easily engaged in the shaming and judging. The negative energy and tone of conversations started to get to me; when you are talking poorly about someone, your tone shifts. It seems like there is this imaginary belief that we know what is best for a person and we slip into this unchallenged space where we can take on a strong stance that “I am right” and “you are wrong.” It’s a false sense of superiority with no basis in reality. Not only that, it takes you completely out of the moment and puts you into a defensive position because you now have to defend why you are right. Based on a superficial judgment, you now treat the other person differently to justify your initial reaction.
In reflecting back on a recent relationship I realized my partner and I did spend too much time in a negative space together. We spent a great majority of time talking about the people in our lives in a less than compassionate way. I remember a few times throughout the relationship we noticed this and sort of tried to shift how we communicated, but we were stuck in the negativity spiral. It was almost as if we didn’t know how to communicate about the people around us without talking about what they were doing wrong.
This negative energy tainted the relationship, and the relationship went sour. Was this the only thing that ended our desire to stay committed to one another? Of course not. There were many other compatibility issues, but as I reflected on this particular aspect, I got really curious how many of us are pulling down our relationships with the negative energy of judgments.
Since I challenged myself to treat the people in my life with the same compassion I have with my clients, I have noticed a major shift in how I relate to others. I feel softer. I no longer feel the need to justify or make sense of what those around me are doing. I simply say to myself, “they are doing the best they can and that must be a tough place to be in.” Isn’t that what we are all doing – the best we can based on where we are? Trying to get away from our pain and into happiness, even if we are doing a shit job at the time of it.
Looking back over my life, I can see many, many areas where people could and probably do cast judgment around my life decisions. Was I trying to piss people off or make them hate me? No, I was just trying to figure myself out and what would make me happy, and that was much harder and took a lot more time than I thought it would.
I found myself also getting curious about how couples communicate outside my room around this topic. Typically, when people come to see me we process what is front and center for them in their relationship; I don’t often ask about what they normally talk about and how the energy between them feels on a regular basis.
What is it that makes us feel like we need to judge others? What happens in our relationships (and even friendships) when we spend so much energy saying how we think other people are doing it wrong?
I see two major disruptions to communication:
- I have already commented on the negative energy and the space that gets created as a consequence. The conversations tend to veer towards anger or making fun of someone. I’d say it is like being back in high school all over again, but it seems adults continue to judge and say harsh things about one another long after high school. There becomes little room for fun, positive and playful energy to come in and conversations can turn towards hopeless or defensive.
- Those who are judgmental seem more difficult to trust, therefore one must hide who they are or how they feel in the face of their judgements. It is not safe to be vulnerable with someone who does not see you as you are and wants you to change. I am not advocating for people to not say if they are truly concerned for your health about a particular decision, but there has to be balance – how often are they speaking up? I recently started a new relationship with someone and a few of my friends were very judgmental right off the bat. With a few of them whom I have close relationships I shared that I felt judged and we are working on it, but with others I simply decided to not share much because it doesn’t feel good to have negativity coming at you. It has been interesting in my new relationship to look at how we engage in conversations and being mindful of not letting the pattern of judgement play such a heavy role as it did in my past relationships. I have found myself on multiple occasions, when the conversation could easily gear towards bonding over how this other person is doing it wrong, saying out loud that I am “working towards being less judgmental of people.” It doesn’t really help anyone to go into the million reasons why you think you are right and this other person (who often isn’t even around to represent themselves) has to be so wrong.
It can be easy to bond over how you think someone else is all wrong and messed up. Although, who is it really serving and what are you really bonding over? It doesn’t feel good to be talked badly about and you may also be pushing people away from sharing openly with you if they feel you may judge and attack them. When it comes to differences of opinion I think we could all use a little work in becoming more tolerable of that which we do not agree with or understand.
Food for thought: