How to Be Less Judgmental (and Why We Judge Others)

Has someone ever called you judgy? Being overly critical and judgmental can push people away. When we’re judging others, we’re putting up a wall between them and us, and in doing so, we’re blocking authentic connection. If our friends think we’re judgmental, they’ll refrain from telling us things.

Since we learned to be judgmental, it’s something we can unlearn by practicing new ways of being. This article will help you understand why you find yourself judging others and how to stop doing so.

Sections

  1. Why we judge
  2. How to be less judgemental
  3. Common questions

Why we judge

Understanding how judgment works and why you judge can increase your self-awareness. By understanding how normal judging is, you can reduce the amount of blame you feel for judging and, as a result, become less judgmental.

1. Our brains find it easy to judge others

Our brains are constantly taking in our surroundings and working to understand them. Part of that process is automatically labeling things as positive, negative, and neutral. Being human means that your brain does this all the time without you even noticing.

We judge to measure our place in the world: are we doing better or worse than others? Do we fit in? Humans are mammals geared towards cooperation and being part of groups. Some areas of our brain are dedicated to figuring out how to be part of groups and get along with others.[1]

The problem is when we find ourselves judging too often and slanted in a certain direction. If we always judge others as being better than us, we will feel unhappy. If we constantly judge others negatively, our relationships will suffer.

2. Judging is a form of self-protection

Sometimes we judge people out of a desire to believe that we wouldn’t end up in the same situation. When we hear about someone who wound up in a very difficult place, we get scared.

For example, say our coworker finds out that the person they were dating is married. By judging our coworker’s actions (“I would have demanded to see his apartment early on, she was way too trusting”), we can convince ourselves that a similar situation couldn’t happen to us. These types of judgments are related to what psychologists call “the just world theory.” We want to believe that the world is overall fair and just, so we find ourselves blaming victims of sad circumstances out of a need to protect ourselves.

3. Judging can help us feel better about ourselves

Judgments can also be a way of feeling better about ourselves when we’re feeling low. While not ideal, many people rely on external perceptions for self-esteem.

When we’re feeling bad about ourselves, we may look at other people and think something like, “at least I’m doing better than them.”

For example, someone who is feeling insecure about being single may think, “At least I’m not clinging on to an unhappy relationship because I’m afraid to be alone, like some people I know.” They can then feel better about their situation without addressing the root cause of their insecurity.

4. We may have been taught to judge

Many of us grew up with a judgmental and critical family, so we learned judgment early on. Our parents may have been quick to point out our flaws or bonded with us through gossiping about others. Without realizing it, we learned to focus on the negative and point it out.

Fortunately, we can unlearn many of these behaviors and practice positively relating to others, creating healthier and more fulfilling relationships.

How to be less judgmental

Even though everyone judges to some degree, we can learn to become more accepting of others and give them the benefit of the doubt. Here are some of the best tips to stop judging people.

1. Accept that getting rid of all judgment isn’t possible

Because judging is a normal thing we all do automatically, it’s not something we can just turn off.

While you can reduce the negative judgments you make about other people and the world around you, you probably can’t shut down your tendency to judge completely. It is more reasonable to examine the judgments and get to a place where they don’t have as powerful a hold on your life.

2. Meditate or practice mindfulness

There are various forms of meditation. You may choose to sit and focus on your breath or the sounds around you. When thoughts pop into your head, you learn to let them go and return to your object of focus instead of following the thought.

You can also practice being mindful throughout the day by bringing your attention to what you’re doing and the things around you. For example, have a meal where you don’t watch anything or go on your phone. Instead, bring your attention to how the food looks, smells, and tastes. When a thought pops into your head, notice it without following it.

This process teaches us that thoughts and feelings come and go. Thoughts and judgments aren’t bad or wrong; they just are. Having a nasty thought doesn’t mean that you are a nasty person. It simply means that an ugly thought popped into your head.

Practicing mindfulness regularly will help you notice when you’re being judgmental and take these thoughts less seriously.

3. Investigate what you’re judgmental about

Are there particular things that you’re more judgmental about? Where did you learn these messages? You can do some research to learn more about people you find you judge often.

For example, if you find yourself judging people for their weight, you can read some books by people who struggle with eating disorders and research the science behind food addiction. Learning people’s stories will help you feel more compassion towards them. Educate yourself about various disorders and disabilities that may affect someone’s speech, behavior, and looks.

Recognizing what triggers your judgments will help you be less judgmental at the moment. You may notice that your triggers are more about you than others. You may find that you’re more judgmental when you’re tired or hungry. You can then take appropriate action, for example, by using an urge to judge others as a sign to slow down and take care of your needs.

4. Practice self-compassion

Because many of us find ourselves judging others to build ourselves up, working on creating a secure sense of self can lessen the amount that this happens.

For example, if you’re insecure about your looks, you may find yourself more attuned to how others look and present themselves. If your self-esteem depends on your intelligence, you may be harsher when people get things wrong.

By working on giving yourself unconditional love and self-compassion, no matter what you look like, you will be less likely to judge someone else for looking unkempt or making unwise fashion choices.

5. Try to become more curious

When we judge people, we assume we already know why they are doing the things they do. For example, when someone snaps at us, we think, “They think they’re better than me.”

But maybe there’s something else going on. Let’s say that this person may be struggling to try to care for a sick parent while raising young children, working, and studying, and everything bubbled up. The truth is, we never really know what another person is going through.

When you find yourself judging others, try to ask questions instead. Try to feel truly curious as you ask yourself, “I wonder why they are acting in that way?” If you need help, try our article: how to be interested in others (if you’re not naturally curious).

6. Interact with people who are different than you

There’s a saying that goes, “If you can understand someone, you can love them.” Getting to know people from different backgrounds, cultures, ages, ethnicities, beliefs, etc., will help you be more understanding of where they come from and, in turn, be less judgemental.

7. Practice noticing the positive

Attempt to notice people’s efforts and positive qualities. You can practice writing down good things that happened every day. Start by writing three things a day and slowly increase as you start to notice more positive things that happened, that you did, or that others did. Doing so regularly can help you shift to a more positive and less judgemental mindset.

8. Reframe the judgment

When you catch yourself judging someone negatively, try to find another side of things. For example, if you’re judging someone for being loud and taking up space, see if you can allow yourself to value their self-confidence.

9. Stick to facts

When we judge someone, we have our own story going on. Separate what you know to be true from the story you’re telling yourself about the facts. For example, you know that someone is late, but you don’t know the whole story of why that’s so.

10. Remind yourself that you don’t have all the answers

We can never really know what someone else should do because we don’t know their whole story. Even when we know the person extremely well, we can’t know what’s going on for them internally or what their future holds. Remembering that we don’t always know best can help us stay humble and be less judgmental.

Common questions

Why do I come off as judgmental?

Comments you think are neutral may come off as judgmental. For example, “He’s put on a lot of weight” may be factual, but it will probably come across as harsh and inappropriate. If someone says you’re judgmental, you might be sharing thoughts that may be best kept private.

Is it possible to stop judging people?

While it’s probably not possible to stop judging people completely, you can learn to reduce the number of negative judgments you make about others and to stop taking your judgments so seriously.

Show references +

Viktor is a Counselor specialized in interpersonal communication and relationships. He manages SocialSelf’s scientific review board. Follow on Twitter or read more.

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