How to Deal With Judgement

Who doesn’t want to know how to deal with judgement? Even the most empowered and confident amongst us are immune to the affected by other people’s views. HereDr Emma Hepburn Clinical Psychologist

Lets face it we’ve all experienced judgement: from the tutting at a tantruming child, the unwanted advice implying you are doing it all wrong, to the downright nasty comments condemning you as a person. Since venturing onto social media earlier this year I’ve noticed judgment has been a key theme: people passing judgement from behind the safety of their faceless electronic device about you as a person, the choices people make, the type of mum you are or simply the type of pasta sauce you feed your child.

Judgement has also been a key theme throughout my time as a clinical psychologist: from the mum trying to manage her children’s behaviour on the bus, to the man with a brain injury walking down the street, to the lady in a wheelchair due to a recent amputation. They all experienced judgmental comments which impacted on them. The theme comes up time and time again as judgement can be hurtful, shameful and upsetting and can impact on our emotions, confidence, identity and behaviour. It’s important then to consider how you deal with judgement so you can minimise the impact on yourself, which is why I was inspired to write this list. This list is based as much on the advice the people I have worked with have given me, as I have given them.

1) DON'T JUMP TO CONCLUSIONS. Firstly consider if the person is actually judging you. Are they merely expressing an opinion rather than passing judgement? There’s a difference between saying “I worry about children’s lives being put online without their consent” to “Mums who put their children online are thoughtless and insensitive”. The first is an opinion. Yes it might be different to yours, but it’s not really judgemental. The second is making a value based assumption or judgement about somebody else, in a harsh or critical way, often based on minimal information. i.e. being judgmental. From my experience online @mother_pukka responds well to differences in opinion by being open to them and replying eloquently by expressing her opinion in response.

2) WATCH OUT FOR SENSITIVE SPOTS. If we are sensitive to something, then we can be hyper vigilant for this happening. And lets face it who isn’t sensitive to being told they are a crap parent, when we often feel like that ourselves? This can lead us to misinterpret events or comments as we are sensitive to this potential threat. This, combined with the fact that our brains can make mistakes when we try to read minds, means that sometimes we think people are judging, when they are actually thinking something totally different instead.

3) DON'T BE A JUDGER! Make sure your sensitivity or emotional reaction doesn’t make you the judger. I’ve seen this happen online when there is a virtual witch hunt for someone just because they state a different, but perfectly reasonable, non-critical and non-judgemental opinion. Ironically it turns out the people assuming the comment was judgmental end up actually being judgemental! When someone makes a comment that raises your emotions STOP, calm down and take stock. Think about whether it really is judgmental and how you can respond, before you rush in and judge them back!

4) DEPERSONALISE THE SUBJECT. Okay, we’ve decided this person is being judgemental, so what do we do now? Firstly, remember, we all make judgements about people, situations and events all the time. We live in a complex world and it gives us a short hand way to make sense of the vast amounts of information coming at us. We compute this information according to the frameworks of understanding already in our brain. You will be making judgements too, although sometimes you won’t even realise you are doing so. Remind yourself that this person’s brain is working as brains need to: making a quick decision about complex information so they can understand it along with what’s already in their brain. And brains make lots of mistakes in computing information. Amongst the millions of judgements we are all making, we all get it wrong sometimes.

5) PEOPLE SEE WHAT THEY ALREADY BELIEVE. Your mum probably told you that judgement says more about the person making the judgement than the person on the receiving end. She was a wise women, your mum. When we make judgements we fit partial information into a framework that already exists in our mind. Remind yourself the person judging is understanding the minimal information about you based on what they believe or have experienced. This was shown very nicely in a psychological experiment where two groups of people with opposing opinions were given a neutral news article. Both groups thought the article backed up their opinion… really it backed up neither. We really do see what we believe!

6) FOCUS ON THE INTENT NOT JUDGEMENT. Judgements aren’t always meant to be critical or shaming, although that’s how they often feel. Sometimes they can even be well intended, but ill conceived. Sometimes they may reflect a lack of knowledge, a generational belief, a cultural belief or just the life experience of that person. If this is the case, then trying to understand the motivation or reasoning behind the statements can help depersonalise it and take the edge off the impact.

7) WHOSE ANXIETY IS IT ANYWAY? @mumologist (another clinical psychologist on instagram) speaks about how judgement often arise from that person’s anxiety about their own experiences or decisions. This can push people into judging other people’s choices as wrong to validate their own decisions. It’s a form of cognitive bias to justify your own decisions. So don’t let this persons anxiety become yours- metaphorically push it back to them where it belongs.

They do not know the whole story! Would it be fair to make a judgment about how good game of thrones is by just watching one dragon hatch from an egg? Of course not: this one scene doesn’t provide enough information about the whole seven series. Similarly judgments about you are usually based on a snapshot of your life. This one snippet is not representative of your entire complex life and the conclusions are therefore not valid and do not mean anything about you as person.

8) GREY-TINTED GLASSES. We are far more likely to notice negative information, because it is threatening and stands out. Try to maintain perspective: this is (hopefully) ONE person or comment, amongst lots of other more positive experiences. Don’t let those grey tinted glasses make you discard all the other more helpful, positive and contradictory comments and experiences. Notice them, remember them, focus on them and use them to balance out, and hopefully outweigh, that judgement.

9) GENERATALISATION ACROSS THE NATION. Often we can generalise judgment to assume it means something wider than it actually does. So one person thought an Instagram post was rubbish? Does this mean you are rubbish or that everybody must think you’re an idiot? Probably not. Often our brains have jumped to these generalised conclusions before we notice they have done it. Keep the judgment in context and don’t generalise them to mean more than they actually do. One person saying one statement does not represent the view of many people nor represent the type of person you are.

10) THOUGHTS VS FACTS. How we respond emotionally to a judgement depends on how we interpret the judgement and the meaning we give it. When a judgment impacts on you (often the clue is a strong emotion such as shame) try to notice what you are thinking. Remember that thoughts are not facts. Noticing your thoughts means you can choose how to respond to them, either by deciding not to engage with the thought or tackling it more directly by challenging it to come up with a more objective thought.

IN CONCLUSION: Don’t let judgement define you. This judgment is not part of you and it does not represent who you are. Do not let a minority of people define you, who you are and who you will become. Do not allow these comments to be incorporated into your identity and view of yourself as a person. You are far, far more than these judgments.

Don’t let fear of judgement stop you. Everybody is judging all the time, good and bad. You will never avoid judgement no matter what you do. Avoiding doing things for fear of judgement is unhelpful and narrows what you can and will do. It’s better to have a plan for how to deal with judgement when you do face it (hint: here’s a 16 point plan to start with) so you feel confident that you will be able to handle it when it comes.

Lets end with a (true) cliche or two. Remember people will always judge, no matter what you do. So make sure your life is guided by your values and beliefs not the beliefs of other people. Do what you want to do and be the person you want to be rather than what you think other people will approve of. You can never please everyone so make the choices and lead the life that work for you instead!