When You Judge Another, You Do Not Define Them, You Define Yourself

Recently, I was asked about what it means to remain nonjudgmental within the therapy room and whether it is truly possible not to judge others. The idea of maintaining a nonjudgmental attitude is most often associated with Carl Rogers who focused on each client as an individual and the idea that for people to truly grow, unconditional positive regard is imperative because the fear of rejection is taken out of the picture letting each individual safely explore, express, and process their inner worlds.

In society, we are used to support or acceptance typically being offered only under certain circumstances; however, when we are simply accepted for who we are (or even are not) then the potential for inner growth and healing is multiplied. The ability to remain nonjudgmental within the therapy room is not only essential, but also easier than one might think. As psychologists, we naturally, and with further training, consider the big picture and the variety of factors (i.e. situational, emotional, cultural, etc.) that may be at play in the lives of our clients.
After explaining the concepts of unconditional positive regard and remaining nonjudgmental, I began thinking about judgment outside of the therapy room. I think it is safe to say that most of us judge others, whether friends, family, or strangers at some point in time.

While some judgments are positive, such as “I’m proud of you for getting all your homework done” or “That dress looks amazing on you;” other judgments are negative, such as “What kind of person puts the fork in the dishwasher upside down” or “People like that are so obnoxious.” I often quote the following statements both in and out of the therapy room: “When you judge another, you do not define them, you define yourself.” “When someone judges you, it isn’t actually about you. It’s about them and their own insecurities, limitations, and needs.” For me, I see these quotes as two-sided. On one side, these reminders can help us not take others’ judgments so personally when we are on the receiving end of negative judgements; while, on the other side, when we find ourselves as the judger, we can step back and look within ourselves as to what may have contributed to the thought process and judgment.

Often when we take a moment to step back and look within after being judgmental, we end up learning more about ourselves and recognizing that we are projecting our own issues onto another person. We tend to dislike characteristics in other people that we do not like about ourselves, remind us of younger versions of ourselves, or feel threatened by another person. Given current events and the amount of hate that has spewed forth over the past several months, I urge each of us to pause when we find ourselves making judgments about another. Are we judging out of fear of the unknown, such as lack of education about other cultures? Are we judging another person because they mirror back parts of ourselves we try to keep in check or even hidden?

Are we judging another because we see a part of an older version of ourselves in them and their struggles trigger old wounds? We all have struggles, some we share, some we try to stuff down, some we try to hide, but we all have them. So, when we judge another without truly knowing their history, current life events, or even their inner worlds, we end up judging ourselves rather than them. For us psychologists, we are lucky that our relationships with our clients allow us to truly see the person sitting across from us as a person deserving of unconditional positive regard, and obtain an understanding of how various aspects of someone’s life lead to particular thoughts, behaviors, and feelings. In everyday life, I encourage all of us to take the time to build relationships with others that foster understanding, empathy, and nonjudgment…this world needs more love than negativity, not just towards others, but towards ourselves.

Mary Kathleen Hill, Ph.D.

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