• Lisa S. Larsen, PsyD

The Costs of Critical Judgment

Updated: Oct 28

two people staring at each other angrily
When we judge others we are judging ourselves

It may be hard to believe that judging yourself is the same as judging others, but it's true. When you are criticizing other people, you are criticizing yourself as well. You may feel momentarily good when you've put someone else down. It may seem  exhilarating and fun. You might justify it by calling it "just venting," but it affects you more negatively than the other person.


Projection is a form of Critical Judging

It is a form of projection, and all projection starts with the originator of the projection: YOU. I know this because I used to judge people harshly all the time. And believe it or not, my physical and mental health suffered as a result.


It became like an insatiable addiction at one point; once I got going on finding fault with someone, I would dig deeper and deeper to find all their perceived failings. I learned the hard way that this only tears me down and makes me miserable. When I am finding fault with them, I cannot find the innocence, beauty, and love in them. And I miss out way more than they do; they usually don't know that I am judging them that harshly.



Different Reasons for Critical Judging

Sometimes we judge people because they are different from us and do things in a way we do not understand. Other times, however, we judge them because they share a similar flaw that we hate about ourselves. Have you ever met someone who just rubbed you the wrong way and made you cringe every time you heard their name? I have! It turned out that in many cases, I didn't like that person because they had a quality that I didn't like in myself, and I thought that somehow I had transcended that ugly trait while they had not.


Once I learned to forgive myself for judging them and myself for that quality, I could let go of the resentment, disgust, contempt, and all the other nasty feelings I had about them. I was literally giving away my power by forgetting my essence: love. We are here only to love. However, we often forget that because we are so involved in feeling superior or inferior to others. What if we just accepted other people the same way we're trying to accept ourselves? We don't have to hang out with and spend vast amounts of time with people who irritate us, but we don't have to spend a lot of energy being upset about them either, do we?



tree branches reflected in the water
More reflection, less projection!

Reflecting on Your Critical Judging

When you meet someone do you want to judge or criticize them? If so, it's good to pause and reflect on what you do not like about the person. Is it because they're different in their beliefs, lifestyle, or cultural/ethnic background? If so, take a step back and say, "What gives me the right to view this person as wrong and myself as right? How would I feel if they did that to me? What good does it do for me to judge him/her/them?"


Do you believe that by judging them or criticizing them, you could change or eradicate them, realize that this is 1) totally unrealistic and 2) completely arrogant. You can no more change them than they, you. If tend to get red in the face and self-righteous, pushing your fist in the air and saying how wrong they are (unfortunately, I have been guilty of this myself), consider the effects on you physically, emotionally and spiritually. Is it worth raising your blood pressure, flooding your body with stress hormones, and ruining your peace for critical judging?


woman and man looking in different directions
Judging drives a wedge between friends, lovers, and family members

The Toll of Critical Judging

Physically you're getting stressed out over something over which you probably have no control, which shortens your life, messes up your memory, and floods your bloodstream with stress hormones that are only made for fighting or fleeing. If you don't believe me, read Robert Sapolsky's wonderful book, Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers. 


Emotionally you're flooding yourself with negative emotions of hatred, anger, and sometimes fear. Spiritually you are forgetting that there is really no separation between you and your fellow sentient beings on earth, and so you are mistreating and judging yourself just as much as the target of your vitriol.


This is really easy to fall into in this current political climate. I have to dial back my reactions to things that are going on. Believe me, I'm not even close to perfect, but I try to become conscious of when I am judging and projecting. It actually brings me peace to stop the judging in its tracks. I am not served by forgetting to love others unconditionally.


The Man(/Woman) in the Mirror (thanks, Michael Jackson)

Of course, if we judge others because they share a flaw with us, it is a great opportunity to change that in ourselves. If I hate laziness in other people, for instance, I cannot do anything about their laziness. I can do something about mine, however. I need to look inside to see where I do the same behavior that I don't like in them and address it in myself.


When and how am I lazy? What can I do about it? This is not only more empowering, it's a lot more realistic. Some spiritual beliefs say that when we address our own flaws, we stop attracting them into our lives. I have experienced this. It is a nifty side benefit of clearing my own limitations and challenges.


young African American man looking in the mirror
When you look in the mirror, what do you tell yourself?

Are You Ready to Reduce Your Critical Judgments?

This is hard work. We live in a culture that is very much dependent on comparing ourselves favorably and unfavorably with others. This comparison leads to all kinds of judgments and justifications for ugly behavior. I have seen how freeing it is to take total responsibility for how our lives progress. It is so empowering it is to distinguish between what we have control over and what we don't. If you're ready to start the process of loving yourself and others unconditionally, please give me a call: 661-233-6771. Together, through judging ourselves and others less, we can create a much more loving, peaceful world.

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