It’s our nature as humans to make judgements. When you choose not to turn into an unfamiliar road late at night, sensing it may be dangerous, for instance, you’re making a judgement call which is vital for your safety or well-being. Other daily, yet less crucial judgements may include choosing whether to join a certain online group, deciding if you should approach someone at a gathering, and so on. These judgements are less crucial and are designed more to help us navigate our social relationships and take care of ourselves. Judgement becomes damaging when it involves diminishing the worth of another person or deciding your choices or lifestyle are superior to others’.
If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of another person’s judgement, you’ll know that it can be painful, frustrating and invalidating. Judgement can come in the form of a disapproving look, critical comments on social media, becoming the subject of gossip, or outright statements expressing disagreement about your actions or choices. A friend of mine recently shared with me how, when she left her husband, one of her family members commented that she was selfish and should think of her children. This comment hurt because it came from a place of not-knowing, with no consideration for why she may have made this choice. Unfortunately, I know my friend’s experience isn’t unique and that feeling judged, or being scared of judgement, is common. Therefore, I want to give you some guidance on how to navigate your way through what often feels like a judgement minefield. Here goes:
Separate opinion from fact – Judgements hurt so much because of the value we place on people’s opinions. Using the above example, my friend was floored by her family member’s comment because it made her feel like a bad mother. When someone shares an opinion, assess its validity. ‘Am I really a bad mother? In what ways am I selfish? In what ways am I a good, caring mother?’ Recognising that people’s opinions are not facts is a way to take back your power and pick yourself up quicker after someone judges you.
Realise when it’s time to draw the line – No-one has a right to consistently criticise, demean and undermine you and your life choices. By all means, do what you can to preserve or find reconciliation in your relationships but don’t allow yourself to be abused. Everyone wants to be accepted and liked, but this shouldn’t come at the expense of your self-worth and well-being.
Examine your own beliefs – People’s judgements often hurt so much because they touch on aspects of ourselves we’re not fully accepting or comfortable with. For instance, if someone makes a rude comment about the fact that you’re not in a romantic relationship, this may hurt or make you angry. It will sting a lot more, however, if you attribute a negative connotation to being single. For you, does being single mean that you’re worth less than people in relationships, that there’s something wrong with you, or that you’re unlovable/boring etc? This may be an opportunity to look at your assumptions or beliefs and challenge them. Where did these beliefs come from? Who told you this? Does this experience or life situation really define who you are?
Exercise self-compassion – Feeling judged can bring up all kinds of unpleasant emotions. Allow yourself to feel and express your emotions as they arise. Be kind and understanding with yourself throughout this process, being careful not to berate yourself for being sensitive or having feelings. When you feel ready, reach out for support from someone you trust.
Resist the urge to defend yourself – When someone says something hurtful, tactless or insensitive, it’s tempting to want to defend our position or hurt the other person back. Don’t bother. You’ll only get drawn into unnecessary conflict or waste your precious energy on someone who isn’t really worth your time.
Connect with like-minded people – Judgement hurts because it creates division and a sense of not belonging, or being accepted. If you don’t have friends who share your same experiences (e.g. single parent, child-free, different religious beliefs, LGBTIQ, etc) see if you can find groups online or in-person so you can share experiences and enjoy the company of people who you may have more in common with. Alternatively, try to spend time with people in your life who accept and value who you are. They may be few but this will make these relationships all the more special.
Remember that everyone is on a different journey – Feeling ‘different’ or that you don’t quite measure up to society’s standards of what your life is supposed to look like, can be tough. However, who said we all need to follow the same path? Who decides what we should and shouldn’t do? Not conforming to society’s expectations doesn’t make you abnormal or a failure. We’re not all designed to have the same life experiences because we’re all unique and find fulfilment in different things. Own your choices or unique life experiences and don’t waste valuable time comparing yourself or your life to others. Who you are, and your life choices, are just as valid as everyone else’s.