“If you are pained by external things, it is not they that disturb you, but your own judgment of them. And it is in your power to wipe out that judgment now.” —Marcus Aurelius
I wonder why, despite our best intentions, we sometimes stand in judgment of others. The reasons that follow do not justify the behavior, but I believe they do help explain it.
When we judge people harshly, we use others as a basis for comparison. We tell ourselves that our choices are pretty good given what other people are up to. We don’t use our own goals and intentions as our yardstick or benchmark. Instead, we let others determine how well we’re doing. We develop a false sense of superiority when we find fault with others. As long as others are not perfect (and no one is), then we can feel more easily justified in our own behaviors.
Judging others might be our way of finding our place among others. When we form opinions about what we aspire to and what we disdain, we determine where we think we “fit” now, and perhaps where we would like to be in the future.
Judging others, ironically and as much as we might hate to admit it, can be an opportunity for us to rail against the things we like least within us. This is something we often fail to realize. Sometimes people hold up a mirror and we neglect to see our own reflections. We are bothered by qualities in others that we choose not to notice in ourselves.
Occasionally, judging can be a way for us to join with others. One person complains about something, then another person echoes that sentiment, and then another. Before you know it, a group has formed grounded in negativity. It sometimes takes root in humor, but is often at the expense of someone else.
How can we do better?
It is important that we try to understand where others are coming from, and remember we are often more alike than different. We need to look closely at what may be driving another person’s behavior. We don’t have to agree to understand.
We need to be careful not to let our judgment of others belie our own insecurities. It would be more constructive for us to work to build our own strengths and skills instead of comparing ourselves to others.
Carefully consider whether the very behavior or characteristic you complain about in someone else is something you could be working on yourself. Is it possible you’re upset that you don’t possess MORE of the characteristics you are upset with? For example, do you find yourself criticizing someone who exemplifies confidence and strength because you deem them haughty or pompous? Is that because you actually wish YOU were more self-assured and assertive? If you find yourself judging someone else’s characteristics or ways of getting things done, ask yourself, is this something I could be developing in me?
Examine whether you are forming bonds based on denigrating others. If so, these bonds are founded in adversity and likely won’t last. Unfortunately, there is also the possibility judgment will next be turned toward you. Create connections based on positive, uplifting similarities in thinking, rather than initiating bonds based on taking someone else down in the process.
Use your judgment of others as a cue to check in with yourself and your thought processes.
Ask yourself: Am I feeling insecure about something? Am I uncertain about where I fit in or afraid of not belonging? Do I need to develop something in me?
Plug back into your individual goals and intentions and behave in line with them. When we focus on what we see as others’ shortcomings, we waste energy that could be better spent on improving our own.
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.