Many of us have heard people say things like “try not to judge yourself so much” or “let go of your judgments.“
While we may intellectually recognize the importance of these statements, we often don’t understand why letting go of judgments is so important — or what to do instead of judging.
So, what is wrong with judging?
How or why should we cultivate a nonjudgmental stance?
To best answer this, it’s helpful to review the following four topics:
One of the jobs of the mind is to judge. In fact, you could say that the mind is a judging machine.
Everything we experience is filtered, categorized and dealt with in some automatic way, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with these judgments.
What actually makes something a judgment or not?
Describing things as good or bad, valuable or worthless, smart or stupid, terrible or wonderful, beautiful or ugly, or healthy or unhealthy are some of the ways that we judge.
Other ways include describing how things should or shouldn’t be or describing by comparing or contrasting.
Judgments can be both helpful and harmful.
They allow for quick descriptions by creating simple categories, helping us to interpret information and make decisions.
For example, if we’ve experienced trauma, judgments can keep us safe by allowing us to label situations as safe or dangerous.
They can also lead us to understand what gives us energy and fills us with purpose — as well as those things that don’t resonate with us and leave us feeling drained.
Judging can distance us from our true emotions and prevent us from digging deeper into our emotional experiences.
If you’re envious or hurt, you might judge others with an element of anger.
Judging allows you to stay in the feeling of anger while avoiding feeling envy and hurt.
Likewise, reacting to a situation with a judgment may deflect from exploring what’s at the root of the judgment.
Did you respond with a judgment because the situation reminded you of other times when this has happened?
The root of the judgment can help point toward some inner work that could be helpful, such as how often we may jump to conclusions or difficulties we may have trusting others.
Research supports the importance of working towards a more nonjudgmental stance.
Judging people, things or situations often distracts us from reality.
When we judge, we often stop observing.
When left unchecked, the judging mind is taxing and controlling. Significant energy is needed to evaluate every experience you encounter.
A nonjudgmental stance is part of the definition of mindfulness and self-compassion — qualities which research relates to less depression and anxiety, and improved quality of life.
As Jon Kabat-Zinn, the noted biologist, author and founder of the Center for Mindfulness, reminds us
“mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and without judgment.”
The last part of this definition — without judgment — means letting go of the automatic judgments that arise in your mind with every experience you have.
Learning how to stop judging ourselves and others helps us arrive at acceptance.
Acceptance is associated with:
Acceptance doesn’t mean we condone or approve of the trauma but rather we acknowledge the reality of what happened without suppressing, ignoring or denying it.
How we parent our children is also impacted by a nonjudgmental stance.
Research shows that children report fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety when their parents hold higher levels of nonjudgmental self-acceptance of their functioning as parents (Geurtzen et al., 2015).
Being nonjudgmental isn’t about completely stopping our judgments; that’s impossible.
The nature of the mind is to judge, but we do try to notice the situation and our reaction.
Describing without judging people or situations is a way of changing our relationship to judgment.
For example, saying to ourselves “I’m feeling really angry” rather than “what a jerk” gives us the space to be more effective in our responses and interrupt our reactivity.
This is what it means to be mindful.
Changing your relationship to your judgments is a practice; remind yourself that they are temporary thoughts that need not sweep you away.
Setting down the judging mind, even for a short while, is a refreshing weight off of your shoulders.
In practicing a nonjudgmental stance, there’s no longer anything to be done about the present moment…
Simply put, you awaken to the reality that the present moment is whole and complete as it is.
For more specific strategies to stop judging yourself and others listen to the full podcast episode.
This episode also includes a brief mindful practice to help you stop judging in a specific area of your life. Listen now!
As a holistic coach, psychologist, mindfulness, meditation & yoga instructor, & Ayurvedic doula I offer personalized paths to growth & healing.