We’re hardwired to evaluate whether we’re feeling safe and satisfied in our interactions with people. The problem is that we can see what others are doing wrong much easier than we can see our own contributions to creating discord. So we judge other people’s actions more harshly than our own.
Judging others is our mind’s automatic method of protecting us from people who may hurt us. On the other hand, being judgmental involves criticism, conflict, anger, and, ultimately, alienation – damaging even good relationships.
To understand how the process of making judgments works, consider how you feel about a painting when you first see it. You know instantly and automatically whether you like it. If someone asks you to explain your reaction, your mind starts searching for some plausible reasons to justify your feelings. You don’t really know why you find something to be beautiful or ugly, but your mind can quickly create some reasons that seem to make sense.
The same process is at work when you have a strong reaction about an interaction with another person. Your feelings about the issue come first, and your reasons are invented on the fly to support why you’re right. If the other person feels strongly as well, the argument is on.
Will the other person will suddenly change their mind and agree with you? Of course not, because you’re each intent on making up arguments to justify your feelings about the situation. Often this process ends with each side making moral judgments about the other person’s character, or lack thereof.
Then you end up seeing each other as bad people, rather than two individuals who reacted differently. This conclusion is based on your judgment of what you believe are flawed arguments and accusations made by the other person. But most of what they said was to justify why they felt the way they did about a particular event.
These snap judgments of what’s going on are based on gut feelings and intuitions that occur automatically and unconsciously. You think that you’re seeing the event for what it really is, and therefore the facts should be plain for all to see.
If others disagree, you assume that either they haven’t seen the relevant facts or they’re blinded by their own selfish interests.
However, you are interpreting the “facts” based on your own background. Your mind automatically compares your previous experiences to what’s occurring in the present moment.
Your current feelings are based on your pre-existing perceptions of similar situations from your past, so you feel that you’re right about how you perceive what’s happening now.
But because people have different backgrounds, they will rarely feel the same way about a situation.
To be happy in your relationships, you must learn to manage the judgmental part of your mind.
That requires recognizing that your feelings are based on your unique experiences in life, and other people who’ve had other experiences will feel differently about the same situation.
Thinking that the other person “should” see things the same way you do, “should” feel the same way you do about issues, and “should” act in accordance with what you believe is right will cause you perpetual frustration and anger. Resentment will rule your relationships.
But when you realize that you’re “shoulding” on the other person, you can give yourself the power to manage your emotions effectively.
The key to undoing the damaging effects of being judgmental is to focus your mind on finding faults in your own position.
Try this exercise: recall a recent conflict with someone you care about and review your own words and deeds to find a fault in how you handled the situation. Perhaps you said something insensitive, even though you felt it was right to do so.
Or maybe you did something to hurt the other person’s feelings, even if it was unintentional.
Or maybe you acted in a way that was inconsistent with your values, even though you justified it at the time.
Fight through your tendency to be defensive to protect yourself.
The experience will be like removing a splinter – suffering through some brief pain in order to keep a small hurt from becoming infected.
As soon as you can see that you contributed to creating the problem, you’ll be able to shift out of blaming and into empathizing because you’ll have developed some compassion for the other person’s point of view.