What can I do to not be judgmental about people?
January 13, 2022 9:47 AM   Subscribe

I've flown off the handle with this a few times already, it has caused to do hurtful things to people I like. I don't want to keep doing this and I don't want my personal flaws to get out of control and damage other people.

For the record, I don't go around hurting people or outright telling them all their flaws. I know that being arrogant and ruthless in that way is a a recipe for disaster. Nonetheless, that doesn't stop me from seeing other people's personal failings, and thinking to myself about how they are not good enough.

This isn't a good idea and I think it's a timebomb as well. I already inadvertently hurt someone by not being empathetic to her concerns and implicitly blaming her for things that are outside of her control. In short, I was an asshole and I trampled all over her feelings without giving it much thought. I don't want to hurt someone like this again.

If I don't do something about it, I'll be doing this again.

However this is difficult for me. I know that my arrogance, aggressiveness and impulsiveness are problems. Nonetheless, I already know about the damage that comes from trying to extinguish your flaws. It leads to lack of self-confidence and self-esteem issues. I am who I am, arrogance, aggressiveness and impulsiveness are my baggage. I've had a lot of success repurposing these things towards more positive achievements. Nonetheless, they must be tempered or they will consume me.

I'm wondering if people have any advice on what they so when they feel the worst of them coming out.
posted by Tarsonis10 to Human Relations (26 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I used to be a judgy asshole.

Then life got hard and that just sort of bonked it out of me.

I can't rake people over the coals over petty nonsense when I'm too tired to care what they do. If it doesn't affect other people, eh.

So my suggestion is to tire yourself out, so you don't have the energy to fuss and judge.
posted by champers at 10:00 AM on January 13, 2022 [4 favorites]

Have you tried to figure out where this is coming from? What triggers you to start thinking of someone as not good enough?

Some people are triggered to notice flaws in others when the other person is perceived to be "winning" a (usually imaginary) contest against them. If that's you, you'll want to seek professional help to work on the unhealthy expression of your competitiveness, your overwhelming need to win, your jealousy, etc. At the same time (not instead of!!) you can also find healthy outlets for your competitiveness by participating in sports and making sure it stays compartmentalized there, and practice moving out of your competitive mindset on a regular basis by volunteering at a pet shelter, for instance, or something else that forces you to get joy from just *being* rather than winning.

Some people notice flaws in others when they're forced to change their own routine or their own way of doing things when they're teaming up with another person for a work project or in domestic partnership. If that's you, you'll want to work on being less rigid, seek professional help for your control issues and/or sense of entitlement over other people, try to adopt a beginner mindset or growth mindset, work on noticing the value you get from other people and other ways of doing things, find a healthier outlet for your inclination to guide other people in your way of doing things by, e.g., writing self help articles or volunteering at a youth summer camp.

Some people notice flaws in others when the other person has suffered a misfortune, and is asking for help/sympathy/solidarity/support. Another term for this attitude is "victim-blaming", and usually that means you need to work on your personal issues which are probably quite deep seated - likely to be childhood training that you cannot expect any help combined with a lifetime of privilege which has blinded you to the reality of other people's struggles. Volunteering at a hospital or an eldercare facility which brings you face to face with the reality of life
(and death, and illness) that happens to all regardless of who "deserves" it would probably be good for you in addition to therapy.

Some people notice flaws in other people just routinely and compulsively, as a mode of existence, just walking around thinking "That person's clothing is unsuitable," or "I would never park so badly," etc. This is an indicator of low self esteem, because this person is constantly trying to reassure themselves that they're superior to other people.... and they need to do this because they feel so insecure and inferior all the time. Therapy for self esteem issues would help, and at the same time you can focus on activities that allow you to feel competent and accomplished, allowing you to take pride in your own work rather than in the perceived inferiority of others.

These are just a few examples of the possible sources of your issue. Your particular case could be entirely different. What I'm trying to show you is that there is no way for US to provide you with a resolution for your problem, because only you know what triggers your judgmental behavior, and the best ways to resolve and manage your issue will differ based on your particular causes.

Secondarily, I hope you also understand from my examples that this will be a long process of change involving your willingness to look inward, to seek out and stick with therapy, and also take on some significant daily commitment that helps you put your new mindset into practice. This isn't going to be just "Ask Metafilter, read responses, change your mind, done." It's going to take work.
posted by MiraK at 10:22 AM on January 13, 2022 [16 favorites]

Best answer: 1) Stop consuming judgy media.

For example, I used to read Go Fug Yourself, which was a blog about ugly outfits on celebrities. The outfits were actually poor choices on fashion victims, but reinforcing that attitude was not good for me. I also read fewer movie reviews and other reviews, and focused more on reading fiction for fun. Recreational judgement is not good for you.

2) Make a mental effort to flip your perception of something you don't like and force yourself to think of reasons you don't like it.

For example, I don't particularly like hip-hop music. It's mostly not for me. I decided to listen to some and find reasons why someone would like it, and to be honest, I kind of get it now and like some of it. Forcing myself to see why someone would like something has overall made it easier to be understanding.

3) When it's a person, focus on what you like about them, and remember that every time they do the annoying thing.

In my case, my asshole boss was pretty awful. I tried to focus on our pleasant conversations, including times when we talked about vocabulary we had learned (English was his second language, and we both did Word of the Day.)

Basically, it is a habit you have to concentrate on breaking, until it becomes automatic to reach for the positive thought instead. I was also dealing with a lot of hardship in my life, which made it really easy to be negative. Ultimately, breaking the habit and making positive changes in my life made me a kinder person.
posted by blnkfrnk at 10:27 AM on January 13, 2022 [22 favorites]

To address at least some of this, and for the specific case you mentioned where you implicitly blamed someone for her perceived failings:

Take the saying "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." Think carefully about what it means. A big part of it is the implied "... and you may know nothing about that battle." Then make it a mantra of sorts. Repeat it to yourself. Actively look for places in your life where it applies. Work to get to a point where it comes to mind automatically when needed.
posted by whatnotever at 10:43 AM on January 13, 2022 [2 favorites]

Another thing I though of: try and consider the root of where the attitude is coming from. In my case, I was raised by a hypercritical, pick-everything-apart, nothing's-ever-enough mom.

So I was primed to never see anything as good enough, and to constantly look for flaws. It gave me a feeling of familiarity and safety.

Once I realized that's actually an exhausting, miserable way to go through life, both for me and for those in my orbit, it helped me in unclench.
posted by champers at 10:57 AM on January 13, 2022 [11 favorites]

Best answer: I've been really realizing lately how much being on social media makes me more judgmental. That's one of the reasons I've been trying to cut down on social media.

Have you watched Ted Lasso? In general, I think it's a really great show about the importance of empathy, and how it can look a lot of different ways. One moment I really, really loved was when Ted talked about the (misattributed to Walt Whitman) quote, "Be curious, not judgmental." I find when I can step back and approach someone with curiosity, that helps to stave of judgment.

For instance, let's say the thing you were judging your friend for was staying in a toxic relationship. The judgmental response is to tell them they've made their own bed for choosing to stay with this person. The curious response is to think about what they might be getting from that relationship that they don't get elsewhere, and how you might support them in getting that.

The other thing that sometimes helps, especially if it's someone who hasn't intentionally done something to hurt someone, is just to try to reframe my thoughts by assuming the best. Sometimes it's almost like an exercise: noticing that I'm mentally judging someone, and forcing myself to recast their intentions in my mind.

I really think it's a matter of training your brain to notice when you're having these thoughts, step back, and reframe them. It can be work, but I really think it's worthwhile, not just for other people but for yourself. I think having more empathy has made me a happier and less anxious person.
posted by lunasol at 11:01 AM on January 13, 2022 [16 favorites]

I hesitate to push out the 'mindfulness as an answer for everything' wheelbarrow here, but, done over time it can help make you more aware of your thoughts and behaviours in a way that helps you notice more quickly when something unhelpful flashes up in your mind. Then you can insert a tiny pause between that thought and the action that would otherwise automatically follow. That pause can be just enough for you to stop and consider whether you really want to do or say The Thing that's going to upset someone.

There are other elements of meditation, like loving-kindness practice, which could be helpful if you got into it. Basically you practice, while sitting on the cushion doing nothing else, thinking warm loving thoughts to people you care about, then to people you are indifferent too, and eventually even to people that you really don't like. It sounds trite and can feel a bit fake and forced sometimes, but often the things you practice in meditation can have a way of eventually spilling over into your everyday thoughts and behaviour.
posted by penguin pie at 11:09 AM on January 13, 2022 [2 favorites]

Well....there's thinking bad things about people and then there is outright saying those things to a person's face. I certainly do think bad, unkind things about certain people and their behavior. I just...don't say that to those people. I'm not sure here if you're asking how to get rid of the thoughts entirely or just how to not blurt them out, though. I'll attempt to answer the latter, because I think we all make judgements, it's just a case of keeping them to ourselves because it doesn't help/probably makes things worse to express them.

People say stuff like "You wouldn't say that to Jorts, would you?" or "You wouldn't say that nasty thing you said to yourself to someone else's face, would you?" Well, yeah, you don't do that because that person would probably punch you. At the very least, thinking of the consequences of what happens if you are brutally honest might help to keep you from not openly saying that stuff. Most people can't deal with brutal honesty about themselves, as certain episodes of the TV show "Angel" certainly pointed out. At the very least, try not to immediately speak when you want to speak or give it a few seconds to think about what you're about to say before you say it? Try to think about the consequences of what you want to say and what's likely to happen if you actually say it. Maybe think that through in private later on at the very least even if you lose control in the moment.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:26 AM on January 13, 2022 [2 favorites]

Hi I'm arrogant and judgmental and condescending.

And as such, I recognize that other people may be judgmental and arrogant in re. me.

Since these are negative traits that make me look bad, and I don't want people judging me in a negative light for displaying these negative traits, and in fact would rather them assess me as someone more thoughtful and considerate, I filter what I think and may even spruce it up a bit before it comes out my mouth.

And over the years what I've found is that by actively acting in a way that others would have a more difficult time judging as arrogant and condescending, my thoughts have naturally started to become more charitable. You are what you pretend to be, etc.

Like, I am no saint, I'm still judgmental and not very nice, but I'm better primed now to be generous than I used to be, simply because I've put up a good show of it for so long.

p.s. One of my little tricks is "maybe they have to poop". Needing to poop and not being able to go poop is a really sad state of affairs, and can put anyone off their best behavior. So if someone is acting around me in a way that I don't like, I try to write it off at first assuming maybe they're being terse because they need to go poop and can't because they're stuck talking to me. It helps smooth over a lot of ills.
posted by phunniemee at 11:41 AM on January 13, 2022 [15 favorites]

I suggest that you try to root out "I am who I am [and cannot change]" from your self-concept. Hanging onto that is going to block a lot of the excellent advice above.

I used to think this way about myself, too. It gave me a readymade excuse to indulge my worst tendencies and to avoid working on my bad behavior. Moreover, whenever my behavior was problematic, it caused me self-concept and self-esteem wounds that were much deeper than they would have been if I could have told myself I'd done a bad thing but I could try to repair it and work on avoiding it in future -- it wasn't part of me, just something I'd done wrong and we all do things wrong sometimes.

I changed "who I am" by changing what I believe and how I behave. You can too. I don't promise it's easy or fun, but I do promise it is possible.
posted by humbug at 11:55 AM on January 13, 2022 [8 favorites]

I think blnkfrnk's advice to challenge yourself to see the other side of something you're judgemental about is really good. I mean, it's easy to say that decorative bullet journaling is stupid, but it's also true that a lot of that backlash is rooted in patriarchal diminishment of crafting and in rejection of feminine reclamation of a male dominated industry. The same is undoubtedly true of all kinds of things you judge (as it is for many, many things I don't know enough about to hold a valid opinion on, despite having Feelings about them.)
posted by DarlingBri at 11:58 AM on January 13, 2022 [1 favorite]

I used to be judgmental and slight mean and then I realized I was just like my Mother and Father in law…boy did that hurt. I changed, that was not who I wanted to be, not for myself, not for my daughters or anyone I cared about. It took work but in the end, I believe I am now happier about everything and everyone in my life.
posted by ReiFlinx at 12:13 PM on January 13, 2022

Response by poster: I changed "who I am" by changing what I believe and how I behave. You can too. I don't promise it's easy or fun, but I do promise it is possible.

It's not so much that I think I can't change, it's that in other cases those flaws have been qualities. Instead of being arrogant, aggressive and impulsive I was assertive, proactive and steadfast. Don't want to lose that is what I mean. I've had great success by taking the bad and putting it to good use. I'm always looking to improve, and I am aware that I can fly off the handle. That is why I am here asking this. I could tell my friends, but I think some of them will give me a biased picture of things.
posted by Tarsonis10 at 12:16 PM on January 13, 2022

Best answer: Three things, and they're going to sound infuriating, trite and not helpful at all. But sometimes the most intractable problems are the most straightforward to solve, which unfortunately is not remotely the same thing as easy.

If you're anything like me, there's that moment when you think of the funniest, most incisive, cutting and judgmental thing you can possibly say. When you think of that thing,

1. STOP. That's an inside thought. Recognize that you have time and space between your thoughts and your reactions, and you have an active choice about what to say and do next.

2. Breath. Seriously, take a deep breath and ask yourself, what am I trying to accomplish by saying this thing out loud? Will saying it bring me closer to, or farther away from what I want out of this interaction?

3. Pause. Can I take a moment and let this feeling pass without responding to it immediately? Is my judgement so vital that it can't wait for a better time or more diplomatic phrasing?

When I find myself in similar circumstances, it also helps me to reflect - am I being funny, or just plain mean? Am I trying to pick a fight? If so, why? Why is it so important that I center my opinion on this topic? Where in my life do I feel less-than or unheard, and what can I do about that?

The bottom line is, when I find myself talking shit, it's usually because I feel like shit. It's my responsibility to look inside and work on myself before taking my issues out on other people.

I really hope some of the answers here resonate with you and you find peace. It's not easy.
posted by Space Kitty at 12:26 PM on January 13, 2022 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Everyone's qualities are a double-edged sword. Other than like, genocidal tendencies. But every single quality you have as a human being can be used for good (to build/lift people up) or ill (tear down people around you.)

When people say they are judgemental about the failings of others, it's my experience that they think they are more truthful or that somehow most people have rose-coloured glasses and that they have a gift of discernment. But again, in my experience, those people are actually extremely blind to other people's strengths, the positives of mistakes/failures, the reality of situations, or systemic issues, or other things like what makes a positive relationship/interaction/etc. Or, just like you describe, they miss the emotional impact of things.

The best experts I have known have always given clear feedback to the people around them about both the strengths and the weaknesses. I think our culture sometimes positions the expert as "the person who sees what everyone else is doing wrong," but in my experience the people who really truly got the best results were "the person who sees where things are going right and uses that to fill the gaps." They took time for empathy over "rightness," not because they were going to compromise but because they knew if they wanted the people around them to try to address issues they needed to make space for those people.

For example, if they came into a tense situation they wanted to learn what was tense. If they found someone was coming up short, they wanted to understand why that person had a job they weren't able to do correctly. If they found a piece of work that was flawed, they wanted to learn why a group of capable people had let such an egregious error though.

So for me I try to model myself more along those lines.

I would challenge you not to try to judge a situation, but to understand that. So instead of Why isn't this done!!! It's hey, person, can you help me understand why this isn't done?
posted by warriorqueen at 12:26 PM on January 13, 2022 [12 favorites]

Best answer: You sound like a normal human being to me. There isn’t really such a thing as a person who is completely free of judgment.

It’s impossible to exactly meet everyone else’s needs for empathy and understanding 100% of the time because we’re all too different, you know?

It seems like you realize and own what went wrong in the example with your friend, and that you’re already self-reflecting on how you can do the work to approach things differently next time.

Don’t beat yourself up so much.
posted by oywiththepoodles at 12:58 PM on January 13, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Age helps. As does experience. As does personal growth and evolution.

I'm 52 now — almost 53. I'm not the same person that I was five years ago, let alone a decade ago or twenty years ago. As I get older, some versions of myself seem almost like strangers. That's because I'm constantly learning and challenging myself. I don't say this to brag, but to show that learning and evolving can fundamentally change who we are as people.

For instance, I was raised religious. I grew up Mormon, then Mennonite. When I was in high school, I was a devout Christian who thought he wanted to grow up to be a pastor. In English class, I wrote essays about the evils of abortion and homosexuality. I no longer believe that, and haven't believed it for thirty years. Older Me looks at kids who do this kind of stuff and shakes his head. I do judge them, but not out loud. What's the point?

Likewise, in my life I've been both fat and fit in equal measure. Right now, I'm fat. A decade ago, I was in the best shape of my life. Because I've experienced many sides of fitness, I give grace to the people I encounter regardless their physical condition. I know what it's like to be fat. I know the work it takes to be fit. I sympathize with both kinds of people (and everyone in between).

I've also been rich and poor. I was raised in a poor family. My parents sometimes struggled to put food on the table (to my father's never-ending shame). I was fortunate to attend college on a full-ride merit/need-based scholarship. Today, I am rich. I'm lucky and grateful. I've seen both rich and poor now (and various shades in between), so I have sympathy for people in both sets of circumstances. I know that poor people aren't always poor due to dumb choices. I know that rich people aren't always rich because they've done evil things. People can be poor through no fault of their own. People can and do get rich through hard work and helping others. (That's how I did it — plus I was in the right place at the right time.)

Seeing this happen to myself makes me a lot more forgiving of other people. I may still judge them (although I try not to), but when I do I don't pass sentence (if that makes sense). I give them grace and hope that perhaps they too will grow and change in time. I know for a fact that I'm not going to change them by telling them they're wrong. That'll just make them dig their heels in deeper.

All this is to say that everyone makes judgments, and that's fine. It's what we do with those judgments that matters. And it's important to recognize what aspects of our judgment is based on fact and reality and what part is based on personal prejudice. When I hear people judge others, a lot of time they're projecting. It's not about the person they're judging but about themselves.

Don't make assumptions about other people. Make sure that your judgments are based on fact not suspicions. And do your best to give other people grace, just as you'd hope they would give grace to you.
posted by jdroth at 1:15 PM on January 13, 2022 [10 favorites]

Best answer: cases those flaws have been qualities. Instead of being arrogant, aggressive and impulsive I was assertive, proactive and steadfast.

This is a great example of putting the kind of balanced thinking warriorqueen is talking about. Practice using this framing for the people you find yourself judging. What are the ways their perceived flaws and weaknesses can be positive qualities? How are they offset by their strengths? Try giving others the same grace and complexity you’re giving yourself.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 1:18 PM on January 13, 2022 [3 favorites]

When you're thinking others are "not good enough" - not good enough for what? By whose standard? Do you hold yourself to that standard? Is that fair to you as well? Why should people have to live up to that, and why do you have any reason to be thinking about it? Maybe interrogate those questions and try to identify what you're judging people about and where that comes from.
posted by lookoutbelow at 2:09 PM on January 13, 2022 [2 favorites]

I try default to looking for what I do like about people in any given moment. Like what would you compliment any given person on in the moment? even if it's just their shoelaces or something, at first. It puts me in a more positive frame of mind to jump off from, and everyone has some redeeming qualities i think.

I lost my way on this at some point and had to consciously flip a switch to get it back, but it does work for me.
posted by wowenthusiast at 2:12 PM on January 13, 2022

A key insight for me has been that when I'm judging other people harshly, it's very often connected, in some possibly unconscious way, to judging some aspect of myself harshly. Sometime it may be that the very trait I'm hating in someone else is a trait I hate in myself. Or it may just be a more generalized sense of judgment that I'm wielding against them, but also against myself.

Over the last couple of years, I've been learning more about the idea and practice of self-compassion. It's been very helpful to me in dealing with some of my own problems. And I'm finding it's inextricably linked with compassion toward others. It's hard to treat others with kindness if, on some level, we aren't treating ourselves kindly. And if we do learn to be kind to ourselves, we're likely to find that we're kinder and more understanding toward others.

You may want to investigate your judgemental impulses in this light, and see what you turn up.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 2:16 PM on January 13, 2022 [3 favorites]

I just noticed you're repeatedly saying you tend to "fly off the handle" - that is a different problem than being judgmental. While you may believe that being judgmental is what causes you to lose your temper, anger management is a separate issue altogether. You won't avoid feeling the emotion of anger even if you change ingrained judgmental thought patterns, so you'll need to learn how to manage anger even if you master the art of non-judgmental attitudes towards others. Anger issues can usually be addressed much quicker than judgmental attitudes.
posted by MiraK at 3:20 PM on January 13, 2022 [5 favorites]

I had a really good talk with my husband where he basically held a giant ass mirror up to me and made me look until I deeply truly grokked how everything I was judging others for, I did all the fucking time and no I wasn’t special or had some kind of cosmic excuse I was just as unconscious and unaware as everyone else.

The change was pretty immediate - accepting it in myself made me calm down about it in others.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 6:50 PM on January 13, 2022 [4 favorites]

Alternatively, there is some deep need of yours not being met, and when others do X then it brings up all the pain of not being validated / acknowledged / loved / valued and so you get angry. “How could they be so thoughtless…”
posted by St. Peepsburg at 6:55 PM on January 13, 2022 [1 favorite]

Nonetheless, that doesn't stop me from seeing other people's personal failings, and thinking to myself about how they are not good enough.

You don’t mention it in your question but I would guess that you tell yourself that the judging is OK because you’re even harsher on yourself.

Or perhaps I’m just projecting. In any case my road to peaceful coexistence began with learning not to be such a judgmental asshole about myself.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:01 PM on January 13, 2022 [3 favorites]

I've become less judgmental of others since working on self-compassion (i.e. I no longer judge myself so harshly). Might be a line of thought to explore, with or without a therapist. If you conclude that you should work on self-compassion, I recommend the steps in Tara Brach's RAIN of Self Compassion as a guide.

I agree that anger management is a separate issue.
posted by purple_bird at 11:47 AM on January 14, 2022 [1 favorite]

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