Please help me to be a better - or at least less judgey - friend
October 16, 2018 3:25 PM   Subscribe

I think I behave like a good friend -- supportive and kind and encouraging. However I am not always that person in my head, and it's reached a distressing level. (To me -- I really hope not to anyone else.) Particularly as regards a specific friend. What advice do you have to help me be less judgemental and unreasonably annoyed by actions that don't actually affect me?

I realize a good answer is 'therapy', which is on the docket for the New Year, after I pay off some debt. I'd love to get started working on this part of me before then, though. I've worked with a Cognitive Behavioral therapist in the past, so if you know a particularly good workbook or technique with that, I would welcome that. I am also open to specific prayers and rituals (I'm a Quaker, with real affection for the Catholic saints as well as my very pagan past), as similar rites and rituals have helped enormously in the past.

Okay, so long story short(ish), I am super, super judgey (privately!) about a particular friend. Said friend is making perfectly fine life choices that work for them, but they aren't the choices I would make in their shoes, and for some reason this is annoying the shit out of me. (I cannot overstate how much this is none of my business, and does not really impact me in any way.) Some things that are contributing factors:

- My mother is extremely judgemental of other people. She grew up on the Philadelphia Main Line, if you'd like some cultural context. I really, really do not want to become her, but I was raised by her, you can figure out where this is coming from and going.

-I kind of...would just like to be a better person? Like, as a life goal? And dealing with my rush to judge is a big part of that, I think.

-Said friend is my closest friend in my current city, but we don't really have that much in common. Like, almost nothing, since I've largely left the hobby we shared. I like them as a person and we help each other out in practical ways regularly, but we run out of stuff to talk about and do together extremely quickly, and I often feel like I just listen to them talk about their interests when we hang out. If we met now, I don't think we would be terribly close friends, which is a bit of a shame.

-I am trying to make other friends to kind of spread out my attention and have more people in my life I have things in common with, but of course that takes time. Also it doesn't necessarily solve the underlying rush to pass judgement on others' lives.

-I am finding myself dwelling on said friend's choices, and how I don't like those choices, and how immature I think they are, and it just kind of builds up and takes up a lot of time and brain space. (I'm not quite at Bitch Eating Crackers phase with the friend themself, but I'm getting close.) In the short term, this is my greatest focus -- just getting my thoughts away from actions that do not affect me, and re-orienting them to literally anything else. I have approximately nine million hobbies and interests, you'd think it wouldn't be that hard.

- I do need to provide some practical help for the friend through this week, but after that I can pull away a bit more and spend less time on them/with them, if you think that would help. (We rarely meet in person, but talk online and text very often.) I would like to maintain some level of friendship, because I do largely like them!

To sum up: Do you have advice or techniques to keep from dwelling on things other people do that irritate but do not affect me, and in the longer term, do you have any advice or techniques to be less judgemental of others?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (15 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
I had a similar feeling develop in a close friendship. I found that it was time to move on from that friendship, although I felt bad about it. My therapist reminded me that I didn't have to hang out with people that didn't make me happy.

It didn't make me a better person, but it made my life better. YMMV.
posted by Grandysaur at 3:46 PM on October 16, 2018 [7 favorites]

I think it might help to view the judgey part as just a bad mental habit. When you catch yourself doing it, detach and focus on something else. For me, the best phrase to help me detach would be "Not my circus, not my monkeys" Then have a little pre-arranged list of things that you would rather be thinking about than your friend's personal life. (Vacation plans, fun projects, dinner menu - whatever works) So, don't let yourself ruminate on your friend's stuff, when you catch yourself doing it, shift the focus to your life instead.
posted by metahawk at 3:56 PM on October 16, 2018 [9 favorites]

I have this problem so often. SO often. One thing that I stumbled on that (sometimes) snaps me out of it is this video from Zen Habits, one part of which talks about how we only have a short time here on earth, and do we want to spend it being cranky about coworkers, friends, etc. It's not a new argument, but for some reason it was that presentation of it that felt convincing to me.

I mean, not that I still don't struggle with this massively. But that video helps me pull away from it, sometimes.
posted by diffuse at 3:58 PM on October 16, 2018 [4 favorites]

When I consciously make the time to practice loving-kindness meditations, this stuff gets a lot easier for me, as someone who grew up judging in a family of judgey judgers and had to proactively separate from that habit. I like this metta because it starts with you, then grows to include people you love, then you feel neutrally about, and then people you struggle with, ending with saying the meditation for all living beings. It's surprisingly challenging at first, but it gets easier so try to stick with it if the idea resonates with you!
posted by stellaluna at 4:22 PM on October 16, 2018 [12 favorites]

I agree that it sounds like it’s time to pull back from this friendship. It seems as though you get along best as friendly acquaintances, but this person gets on your nerves in the context of a closer relationship. Which is fine; you’re not a bad person for discovering that this person isn’t BFF material. But now that you know this, what you don’t want to do is let this fester until you snap and blow up at them. You don’t have to ditch this person completely, but definitely take a vacation from the friendship and then set a new, considerably less frequent level of interaction so that you can enjoy their fun qualities without being subjected to the aggravating parts. And maybe your friendship is that one of you is the person whom the other can count on for a ride to the airport/jump start/check in on the dog when you’re away for the evening, and the very occasional beer, and that’s it. Nothing wrong with that.
posted by Autumnheart at 4:43 PM on October 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

Usually when I catch myself being judgey it has to do more with myself than that person. As you say, their choices aren't harming them. In most cases I'm either annoyed by their doing something that I'm afraid I do (or would do), or I'm unhappy about something else in my life and projecting on to their situation.

If neither of those is true, instead give yourself a new thing to think about - lovingkindness meditation, or how you're going to spend that time becoming a better person, or who else you might reach out to for a friend date - anything to get out of the judgey groove.
posted by ldthomps at 4:48 PM on October 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

She needs to be this way to get my approval —> I need to be this way to get my mothers approval —> it’s ok to not be approved of by my mother.

There are many ways to be.

As long as it’s not hurting anyone, go fer it.

I’m not the arbitrator of what is good and what is bad.
No really.

I have no idea what trade offs this person needs to make when making this decision.

Pick a mantra :)
posted by St. Peepsburg at 4:58 PM on October 16, 2018

When you find yourself annoyed by her, say what bothers you in the most hyper stylized exaggerated pinched Main Line Dowager voice of your mother's most stereotypical (probably fictional) great aunt (voiced out loud if you're alone, or in your brain if you're with the friend). "Good heavens, Tracey is eating crackers." "Oh dear. I'm afraid Tracey is sleeping with a boy of whom she knows nothing." "Our dear Tracey believes it's appropriate to wear those shoes today." "Oh, Tracey, that's simply not done." See if you can crack yourself up secretly. Use humor to be kinder to Tracey and gentle with yourself.
posted by nantucket at 5:21 PM on October 16, 2018 [12 favorites]

Sometimes, when I like someone a lot and identify with them, any decision they make that I would not have made jars me out of the fun fantasy in my head that we are two peas in a pod, identical twins inside and out. I don't LIKE being jarred. I HATE losing my fantasy extension of myself. In reaction I knit my brows together and think extremely uncharitable things like, "Ugh, what a loser! Who DOES that?!" and so on. And I would usually do a slow fade or something where I would stop being this person's friend because clearly they were UNWORTHY.

The reasons why I felt that way are multifarious and complicated and are being dissected in therapy right now, at age 36+. But I stopped my attitude and behavior way before I ever went into therapy, because sometime around the age of 30 or 32 or so, I began to catch myself doing this and wondered why the fuck I wanted everyone to be like me and think like me.

What REALLY helped me stop was to recall how *I* feel whenever my extremely intrusive parents are incapable of tolerating signs of differentiation by me. Like, I grew up with a mom who would frequently have a screaming fit at me if I used a new word that she hadn't personally watched me learn. That was the extent to which she could not tolerate the idea that I was a separate person from her. Did I really want to do that to other people? WHOAAAA no way nope nope nope nope nope...

And that made me hypervigilant of my thoughts, this idea that I had somehow turned into my mother. I caught myself every time I felt ownership of other people's feelings or ideas, I changed my habits, I changed my thoughts, I even changed my instincts with time. I am by no means perfect. Ever so occasionally I'll feel strangely annoyed when a new friend says or does a thing differently from me. I might even judge that new friend if I am feeling stubborn enough to stick to my guns. But I am AWARE of my thoughts, damn it, and I treat the judgey part of me with a withering patience, knowing that I will see reason sooner rather than later.

It's either that or turn into my mother, which is a horror I refuse to countenance. My mother is a horrible person. Don't turn into MiraK's mom, OP!!!
posted by MiraK at 5:31 PM on October 16, 2018 [10 favorites]

Buddhist principles and teachers have been instrumental in how I approach these sorts of things. (Tara Brach, Sharon Salzberg or Pema Chodron are all good places to start, if you're interested.) A few thoughts:

When you find yourself judging, try to investigate a bit to see why that is. Take immaturity. What would it mean if you allowed yourself to act immaturely? Where did your belief that it is bad to be immature come from? When have you felt judged for being immature? What are you afraid might happen to your friend if they behave this way? How do you judge yourself for doing similar things? Are they doing things you feel you're not allowed to do? Etc.

When someone does something that you have a negative reaction to, try to think about the stories that could be behind it. E.g. you get cut off in traffic. Maybe that person is overwhelmed or distracted by stress, illness, poverty. Maybe they are rushing to work to avoid the wrath of a terrible boss. What privileges might you have had in your own life that help you make "better" choices than others?

This is not about getting you to agree with their decisions, but rather to look at them from some other perspectives or in a less black and white way.

It sounds a bit like you have resentment building for this person, which may be a sign that you are giving them more of your time/space/energy than you need or want to. It's ok to step away.
posted by gennessee at 5:49 PM on October 16, 2018 [5 favorites]

I do this. To me, it’s about intrusive thoughts. The more I try to think good things, bad thoughts try to counteract them. For me, it ties into the obsessive of ocd. Just putting it out there in case it gives you a different perspective.

Also, another view: I get judgey when I’m not establishing and standing up for my own boundaries.
posted by MountainDaisy at 5:59 PM on October 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

I get it. I can be judgemental too. My parents were judgemental and I judged myself and others harshly. Oh the drama.

I think it stems for wanting to believe we are better than. Humans are always trying to bolster their egos. The ego loves to compare and it needs to feel superior and right.

I have come a long way. I work with the public and I used to be rattled my some people. Annoyed. Irritated. Judgemental. I would dread some people. Nowadays it doesn’t matter. They can be egomaniacs, or controlling, or needy, or long winded, or difficult in all sorts of ways and I sit with them in presence. I listen without judgement. I see them for the divine human that they are. When I do that I don’t see that they are difficult at all. My coworker tells me that I do so well with these “difficult” people. I use as a spiritual practice. I accept and allow and practice kindness.

I guess my ego was strong or I was having a bad day because I had a judgemental moment not too long ago. I have a friendly acquaintance who loves reptiles. She’s short on money. She confesses she doesn’t have a printer for her kid ti do a school project, but went out and bought two more snakes. I automatically thought poorly of her. It’s a way to boost my ego to think: I’m the better parent and I make sacrifices and what kind of person buys snakes? and I would never be without the supplies my kid needed, yada yada.

Everyone is trying their best for the most part and trying to be happy and feel good. We are all equal and at all different levels of consciousness and growth. I try to see people for who they are— humans with different degrees of pain. It allows me to be lighthearted and less judgey, and more loving and understanding. It’s something that takes practice and acceptance. Starting with acceptance of yourself.
posted by loveandhappiness at 6:19 PM on October 16, 2018 [9 favorites]

Is this friend the only person you feel this way about? The person who pushes your buttons the most? It sounds like that may be the case, which says it maybe has more to do with the friendship than with you in general.

You know, sometimes I've moved to new cities and made new friends and they've been fine, been good short-term acquaintances, but there just wasn't enough to sustain the friendship once I got my bearings. None of them ever guilt-tripped me over fading out, but I definitely guilt tripped myself, or I tried to find things that were wrong with them to justify the feeling that I was abandoning them.

I've done CBT and it has some great tools, but these days I'm more about ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy), which, simply put, has more to do with accepting the presence of thoughts and feelings you may not want to have. And that's been so helpful with me, just giving myself permission. Like if I'm mad at someone and start thinking "I shouldn't be mad! She's just really stressed out right now!" then I let myself spiral out in my head to "Well, she may be stressed, but that's no excuse! When I'm stressed, I don't treat people that way!" Etc. I don't police those thoughts, and eventually I start thinking "well, she's not that bad." That's the long version of "what we resist, persists."
posted by mermaidcafe at 10:46 PM on October 16, 2018 [8 favorites]

I think I harnessed my bad habit of projection to battle my bad habit of being judgemental. I imagine a reason that person might do The Thing which does not irritate me. Ex. that person could have anxiety about The Thing that pushes them away from the "obvious" solution. Or they are reacting to pressure from a crappy family or a job they hate. Maybe not! Maybe they're just an asshole! But I don't know either way.

It works better with strangers, and I am always aware that it's a thought exercise and not an insight into reality. It tends to diffuse the grar, though.

What worries me is that it might be a different spin on "find weaknesses, feel superior" as I was raised (by narcissists, rather than socialites). But I don't feel superior; I feel a kind of theoretical empathy, even though it's a scenario I made up. It works for now.
posted by cage and aquarium at 7:18 AM on October 17, 2018

From a true mindfulness perspective, the answer is not to be less judgmental, but to be less horrified/reactive/judgmental ABOUT the judgments. When you find yourself being judgmental, don't do anything about it. Don't give it power. Don't interpret it to mean anything about yourself or your situation. Don't battle with it (if you go to war with your mind, you'll be at war forever). Relax. Accept the thought. Move on. It's amazing how quickly thoughts lose power when we don't continuously grant power to our thoughts. Contact me if you want to talk about this further?
posted by namesarehard at 12:06 PM on October 17, 2018 [7 favorites]

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