Why Judging People Is Really About You (Not Them)

“It’s easy to judge. It’s more difficult to understand. Understanding requires compassion, patience, and a willingness to believe that good hearts sometimes choose poor methods. Through judging, we separate. Through understanding, we grow.” ~Doe Zantamata

Why doesn’t he say something?

I was sitting at the dinner table with my partner and friends. Everyone was interacting and talking to each other, except my partner. He was just sitting there quietly. I had to admit, this situation made me very uncomfortable.

Why was he so quiet? We had been dating for over six months and normally, when it was just the two of us, he was very talkative, we had vivid discussions, he knew his opinions and was not afraid to speak his mind. But now, at a dinner with friends, he was a shadow of his normal self.

To be honest, I felt a bit embarrassed. What would my friends think? Did they quietly judge him too? Did they think he was boring and uninteresting?

When we got back home, I was irritated and annoyed. Have you ever had that feeling, when all you really want is to be brutally honest with someone? To explain exactly what they did wrong and explain how they should behave instead? I wanted to lecture him. To tell him this: “It’s rude not to interact at social gatherings. It’s weird. Can’t you behave? It’s sloppy! What’s wrong with you? What’s your problem?” 

I didn’t say those things to him. Instead, I allowed what had happened to sit with me for a few days. Slowly, I started turning that finger I was pointing at him toward myself. Maybe this wasn’t all about him, maybe it had something to do with me?

That’s when it struck me. He wasn’t having a problem. I was!

I realized that my upbringing had given me certain values and “truths” about relationships and social interactions. This is how you behave: You actively participate during conversations, anything else is considered rude. You ask people questions and share stories during social gatherings; otherwise, people will think that you’re uninterested. That’s what I learned growing up.

Because my partner wasn’t acting in accordance with what I had been taught, I judged him. Instead of asking myself why he was behaving the way he was, I put labels on him. When we came back home, I had, in my mind, labeled him as rude, boring, self-conscious, and not living up to the standards I wanted in a boyfriend.

Now, eight years later, I know that my husband was quiet during that dinner because he needs more time with new people before he’s fully comfortable. He didn’t do it because he was rude. On the contrary, I know he cared deeply about me and my friends, he was just showing it in a different way.

When I understood this, I knew that my judgment really had nothing to do with him—it was all about me. In judging my partner, I realized that I most of all judged myself. My judgment was never about him—it was about me.

This insight did not only bring me more compassion, less judgment, and more closeness in our relationship, it brought me a new perspective and new values that made my life better.

Below you’ll find the steps that I followed:

1. Identify: What judgment do you make about someone?

The first step is to be aware of the judgment(s) you make about other people. In my case, it was thoughts like “He’s rude and awkward,” “I’m better than him at interacting socially,” and “Maybe we’re not a good match? I need someone who can interact socially.” Often judgments include a feeling of you being superior, that you know or behave better than other people.

Just become aware of the judgments you’re making (without judging yourself for having them). This is the first step in transforming the judgment.

2. Ask yourself: How should this person be instead?

In the specific situation, ask yourself how you think the other person should be or act instead. According to you, what’s the best behavior in the situation? Be honest with yourself and write exactly what comes to mind, don’t hold yourself back here.

In my case, I wanted my partner to be fully involved in the conversations. I wanted him to be talkative, interested, and curious about my friends.

3. Go deeper: Why is it important to be this way?

Be curious and ask yourself, why is it important to be or act in the way that you prefer? If a person doesn’t act that way, what does it signal about the person? What is the consequence of not being or acting in the way you desire?

For me, social skills translate into good manners and that you can behave appropriately. I used to think that people that weren’t behaving in the “right” way, according to my viewpoint at the time, weren’t taught well by their parents. I labeled them as uninteresting and not contributing to the group. (Now, I know better, but more on that soon).

4. Spot: What underlying value is your judgment coming from?

Ask yourself what underlying values and beliefs that are fueling your judgments. What’s the story you’re telling yourself about the specific situation? Be brutally honest here.

In my case it was the following: Being unsocial is negative and equals weakness. Not being socially skilled is awkward and weird. It means that you are less—less capable, less skilled, less smart/intelligent, and ultimately less worthy. (Just to clarify, this was my judgment and insecurity speaking, and it’s obviously not the truth).

From my upbringing I had learned that social skills are highly valued. I was taught to be talkative, to engage in social interactions, and to articulate well. If you didn’t live up to these expectations, you felt inferior and less worthy.

5. Make a choice: Keep or replace your values?

When you have defined your underlying values and beliefs, you have to make a choice: Either you keep or replace them. And the crucial questions are: Are your values and beliefs serving you or not? Are they in line with your moral standard and aspirations?

I chose to replace my values. Instead of valuing people based on social skills, I chose to replace that value with acceptance, respect, curiosity, and equality. As much as I didn’t want to judge someone for their skin color, gender, or ethnicity, I didn’t want to judge someone based on how they behave socially.

Instead, I made a conscious choice to accept and respect all individuals for who they are. And to be curious and kind, because in my experience, every person you meet can teach you something.

Transforming Judgment to Your Benefit

Looking back at that dinner with my partner, I was so close to falling into the trap. To get into a fight where I would hurt my partner badly and create a separation between us. It took courage to turn the finger of judgment I was pointing towards him and to turn it towards me instead.

I realized that my underlying values and beliefs had consequences, not only for the people close to me, but also for myself. They implied that if someone has a bad day and doesn’t feel like interacting, that this is not okay. That others and I are not allowed to be ourselves and to show up just as we are (talkative or not).

I realized that the values that my judgment stem from did not only make me judge my partner, they also made me judge myself. I was not allowed to just show up. I realized that my upbringing had given me a sense of insecurity and uncertainty. Sure, I had learned how to interact and be the center of attention. But the underlying painful feeling was there. I had to be an entertainer. I had to always be smiling and in a good mood. I had to be curious and ask other people questions.

If not, I’d be excluded. I felt that I was only accepted when I was happy, outgoing, and enthusiastic. That was stressful and it didn’t make me feel safe.

Also, to my surprise, once I stopped judging my partner, he became more social and talkative at social gatherings. Why? Because previously he’d probably felt my judgmental look, and that made him even more uncomfortable and introverted. When I stopped judging he felt acceptance and respect. And that, in turn, made it easier for him to be himself, even at social gatherings.

The bottom line is this: When you judge someone it always comes back to you. What I discovered was that because I judged others, I was also very hard on myself. The more I have worked on this process, the more forgiving, accepting, and loving towards myself I have become.

Next time you find yourself judging someone else, stop and reflect. Follow the five steps and remember: it’s key to be honest, vulnerable, and curious.

Free yourself from the chains of judgment and allow acceptance, compassion, and liberation to enter—both for yourself and others. You got this!

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