How DBT Therapy can help you stop Judging
One of the four components of Marsha Linehan’s Dialectical Behavior Therapy is mindfulness, essentially meaning being in the here and now without judgment. What is a judgement you ask? A judgement is what we add in addition to the facts of a situation. It’s an opinion, a personal value, or idea that is not part of factual reality. For example, “oranges are bad” is a judgmental statement. This statement tells me no factual information about oranges, I’m not even sure why you don’t like them. Is it the bright color? The acidic taste? The texture? Additionally, if something is judged as bad there will always be someone else who sees it as good and vice versa. What’s the saying? One person’s trash is another’s treasure?
In the past, judgements were crucial to our survival and kept us safe. Judgments helped us determine what was dangerous and what wasn’t. To some extent, we still use judgements to keep ourselves alive choosing the well-lit busy road vs the dark alleyway to walk home. Judgements can get icky when they happen to us. Most of us have experienced that family member who has too much to say about your new job, haircut, boyfriend etc. at family gatherings. Receiving another person’s judgment can feel like a personal attack. Usually, judgments are not rooted in constructive criticism or growth, they are simply pieces of information about how someone doesn’t like what you are doing. This can cause us to feel like we need to defend ourselves against the judger. Most of the time we walk away from the conversation feeling frustrated, depleted, and wanting to avoid any future interactions with the judger. If you’re interested in breaking this cycle, here are some of my favorite ways to respond to unsolicited judgments from others:
“wow, that sounds like a judgement!” (tone of voice is important with this one)
“I am not open to feedback at this time.”
“I will let you know when I am ready to talk about this with you.”
For some people, judging is so natural to them they may lack insight that they are doing it. Playfully pointing out their judgment in the present moment can bring awareness to the behavior. If you’re really lucky, it might even reduce the behavior. This same technique of noticing judgements works for you too! Simply noticing when you are using judgments can reduce how often you use them. So we’ve already established that we don’t enjoy being judged, so why do we judge others? There is a common myth that if you judge someone hard enough they might change the behavior that we don’t like them engaging in. While this method might lead to a temporary change, it usually backfires and the person becomes resentful and goes back to their old ways of behaving. This can lead to increased tension in the relationship and even leaving the relationship.
Judging others can also negatively impact our emotions. When we label people or things as “good” or “bad” it can cause our emotional responses to increase when we come into contact with those things. If you “hate” birds every time you see a bird you are going to feel a strong emotion of hatred arise. Sometimes this feeling can stick around and ruin your whole day. Instead of judging something as good or bad try saying it just “is”. My favorite way to use this example is with emotions. Sometimes we learn that certain emotions like anger are bad, and others like happiness are good. Instead of judging emotions in this way it can be pivotal to think of them as just being. Anger tells us when something isn’t inline with our goals or values and happiness usually tells us our needs are being met. They simply are.
How To Practice Being Non-Judgmental
Try observing and describing
Observe through all five of your senses (eyes, ears, nose, skin, and tongue). Notice how green the grass is, how does it sound when you step on it? Does it smell? How does it feel on your toes? If you’re feeling really brave you can even give it a taste. Notice what you feel inside and outside yourself as you practice this. Is there an emotion that comes up? Simply notice without trying to cling to one response or push another away. It can be helpful to think of this practice like clouds in the sky, noticing them and letting them pass on by.
To describe, add words to what you observed. If it was an interaction between two people that you saw smiling and hugging. Describe it! Let go of interpretations that might come naturally like, they are old friends or lovers. Instead, describe the “who, what, when, and where” that you observed. No exaggerations here, do your best to stick to just the facts. A key factor to remember is that if you can’t observe it through your senses, you can’t describe it. This makes it difficult for us to use common words in our vocabulary like “weird”, or “bad” because it needs to be observed first. Tell me what weird feels like, sounds like, smells like etc.
Let go of the word “Should”
Saying something should have happened does not change the reality of what is happening right now, it denies it and leaves you arguing with the past. It might even bring up some shame of not following through on things you wanted to do. I should have called my mom today does not change that I did not call her.Try accepting reality as it is instead and make a plan to take action in the future.
Using Always/Never as a Default
Using the words like always and never live in the extremes and are rarely factual. “It is always raining in Seattle” is sometimes factual, but not always! Try replacing these words with more neutral factual statements like. “On my vacation to Seattle it rained 4 of 5 days”. Notice how this is an observation and description of the event rather than a judgement.
Practicing non-judgmentalness is just that, a practice. Trying to be 100% non-judgemental, is not the goal and is not realistic. Instead try being 5% less judgemental. How do you think that would impact your life? As you practice noticing judgements try your best not to judge the judging as you notice it. Just notice that you were judging and carry on with what you were doing. Be kind to yourself as you try out this new skill, it will get easier over time.
Citation: Linehan, M., M., (2014). DBT Training Manual. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.