Judgement, judging others, being judged, judgmental – we feel the impact yet all of us have some evaluative lenses of viewing the world. So when is judgement judgemental?
I ask this question as many (if not most) people I interact with experience judgement within their environment. This judgement can be so harmful to us and contribute to feeling like an outsider or as though there are conditions to being accepted. This can spiral into significant distress.
An Example of Judgement
Let’s start with an example – what is your immediate reaction to say teenagers:
- A 14 year old perhaps, getting drunk at a party with friends? Some might think this is okay while others might raise an eyebrow and regard this unacceptable.
- Let’s move the age up to a girl of 16 years old – different response? Maybe?
- What if I said a 14 year old girl got drunk with friends and then returned home to her parents and the 16 year old girl got drunk and engaged in unprotected sex with a 16 year old boy at the party?
- Any change in your response? We could switch it around and say a 14 year old boy got drunk and engaged in unprotected sex with a 16 year old girl, different response?
Do you see how your own evaluative lenses are evoked in each example and how with that lens a different emotive sense is carried through? For many the greater judgement would have been on the female for her behaviour and the male would have probably got away scot free or maybe even with a high five. What do you make of that? Some hold different lenses for males to what they hold for females.
Basically, the emotive response you felt points to your value judgement of the examples above and this would differ from person to person. Our judgements develop from our moral standpoint and what we view as ‘okay’ from our worldview. So if all of us have judgements, and often these judgements guide our own behaviour. When our judgements (that guide our behaviour) are placed on others as a condition we lead towards being judgmental.
Breaking Down Judgement
So let’s break it down, in terms of how I, as a clinical psychologist (and in my therapy practice in Garsfontein, Pretoria), view the act of being judgemental. Using Carl Rogers as a starting point, and particularly his view of the constituents of an effective therapeutic stance, one would look at Unconditional Positive Regard (unconditional acceptance) as integral. Basically, unconditional acceptance is then the opposite of judgementality. But still what does this mean as it is wholly impossible to simply blindside our judgements.
Perhaps, then, the meaning of judgement that brings with it potential harm is adopting a critical standpoint of others which has potentially harmful consequences. This is more in line with how I view the term “judgemental” or “value judgement” and is what many people find to be problematic and contribute to distress.
Although a really complex topic, I believe that there are some key aspects to keep in mind to try reduce your own contribution of harm through value judgments or adopting a judgemental stance of others.
Here are some of my thoughts (by no means an exhaustive list).
- In focusing on what we want to change, what we dislike, or what irritates us about our partner, friends, family etc we can so easily miss the beauty in front of us.
- Each of us has our own judgements. Understanding your own judgements and gaining awareness of how you position yourself in the world and the viewpoint you have toward others can help you to develop an understanding of where your boundaries lie.
- What could also assist is an awareness that our subjective realities differ and what might be unacceptable in your worldview may be quite all right for another person. Each of us has our own history and our own unique experiences, which contribute to who we are and thus to our worldview.
- Acting out our judgemental view can inhibit another person’s process and may contribute to them being more distant from you or to experience distress. For instance, in the examples used in the introduction, the person engaging in the alcohol use or the sexual activity may well be reaching out for assistance. Using our judgements could trap us in assuming another person’s position rather than reaching out to someone.
- Judging another often does not account for situational factors and presents as a reflection on a person (this is where the harm creeps in). “You are stupid” for instance is a strong reflection on another person and if said to a child, adult or any other for that matter it could be reflected as “I am a stupid person”. “Stupid” then carries a value judgement as it is based on your own view of what the semantics of the word “stupid” entail and the character involved in this word. What if a child failed their school year and you had called them “stupid”. The situation though was that their parents had been involved in a traumatic car accident and where in ICU during the child’s examinations. That situational factor may reframe your view of the person and account for other variables contributing to their struggles or behaviours. Another one could be a person cutting in front of you in traffic, you may think “what a rude person, how selfish” we do so without understanding of the contextual factors involved for that person.
- The above example also feeds my next point: Behaviour of a person versus the person. Perhaps your daughter moves in with her boyfriend during college, you may dislike or not approve of her moving in with her boyfriend from your value point. This can (or maybe cannot) be separated from your daughter as a person, do you then dislike or disapprove of her? Trying to separate behaviour from the person as an entity can also assist you in reducing the harmful impact of a value judgement, you may not agree with a particular piece of a person’s behaviour, however this one aspect does not necessarily amount to the person themselves.
So when is judgment judgmental?
In my view it is the imposing of your frame on another as “right” or “wrong” with high criticism and conditioned acceptance that underpins “judgemental” and although it can be freakishly hard to become aware of. I encourage you to try it out as it could be of such immense value in enhancing your relationships.