- Human consciousness precludes suppressing thoughts and emotions without experiencing physiological consequences.
- You may intellectually understand that being judgmental is unkind, but it is universal and embedded in our existence.
- Judgements of others, positive or negative, are projections of our own self-opinion, much of which is based on cognitive distortions.
- But when you try to become “enlightened” or non-judgmental, you have made the problem worse as thought suppression fires up your nervous system even more.
- Endless judgment (or suppression) becomes tedious.
- Simple awareness of these disruptive thoughts allows you to separate from them and learn to move past them in a powerful way.
The psychological process of projection is an aspect of human conscious where we transfer our personal life outlook onto another person. Whether the projections are positive or negative, it is the same process. We see the world through our ow lens, which has been programmed into us from birth. This mental “filter” is embedded in our brains as concretely as our physical perceptions of our environment.1 Our ideals and life outlook are our version of reality.
For example, a person who is highly critical of others may feel fearful, agitated, and negatively judge him or herself. Another self-confident and secure person may view the world in a similar positive manner but may not be able to see or understand darker characteristics in others. It sounds better than negative judgment, but he or she may be prone to being taken advantage of.
When we judge people around us—either positively or negatively—we are projecting aspects of ourselves onto them and have lost awareness of the details.
I had my first personal insight into this phenomenon a few years ago, after I emerged from a severe depression and burnout. While I was deep in the Abyss, I experienced an endless barrage of negative self-judgments. With repetition they became my “story,” my identity. My assessments of everyone else was also not great and my personal life fell apart. Of course, I blamed everyone else but me. All I wanted was to have a few positive thoughts about myself—any would do.
A few years after my life turned around, I realized that positive self-judgment was almost as disruptive to my peace of mind as negative self-judgment. My mind was still racing. Like negative thinking, it prevented me from experiencing the present moment. That realization was a major shift for me. After I had worked so hard to be successful and to acquire the things that would allow me to view myself in a more positive light, I realized that any judgment is still judgment. They are two sides of the same coin.
Anthony De Mello, in his book, The Way to Love,2 points out that as soon as you have labeled anyone—either positively or negatively—you have lost awareness. You can no longer see who he or she is. A comment, appearance, or opinion has triggered a reaction in you, and your response has little to do with who the person is. How well do you know them? What is going on in their life? What reasons do they have for feeling the way they do?
Going back in time a couple of thousand years, the Greek Stoic philosopher (and Roman slave), Epictetus, observed that it is different to call someone a drunk, as opposed to saying, “This is a person who drinks too much.”3 One is a disparaging label while the other is merely a description. Think about your experience about being labeled a “pain patient.” It would be more appropriate for the medical profession to consistently use the phrase, “This is a person who is suffering from chronic pain.”
It is impossible to experience joy when you are in a judgmental state of mind. If you really stopped and took stock while you are judging someone, you might eventually notice how tedious and joyless you feel. You are merely endless projecting the same views—yours—onto others.
Yet, judgment is and always has been necessary for our survival in order to assess safety vs. danger. So, judgment is here to stay; you cannot stop judging. What can you do to keep judgment from robbing you of the joy that is your birthright? Become aware. De Mello’s solution is simply to become aware of the effect your judgmental nature is having on your quality of life and relationships. Awareness not only dissolves judgement, it is the only effective option.
Not being judgmental
An exercise that I offered my patients in the office was to think about someone they really disliked. (It usually doesn’t take long.) I said, “Look, you now understand the effects of labeling, and you no longer want to judge this person. What happens when you try to stop being judgmental? They would look at me and quickly realize that this was a form of thought suppression, which makes us even more judgmental.” They were often perplexed.
I pointed out that one of the major benefits of writing down these judgements and immediately destroying them was that they were separating from their thoughts instead of reacting to them. They were being “de-energized.” Although they may have still disliked this person, possibilities could open up for more careful listening and greater understanding of the other’s perspective. Being no longer trapped by your thoughts opens the door for more joy to enter your life. It is a great feeling to find common ground with someone you historically regarded as an adversary.
I have also occasionally written down in detail what I think about a specific person – positive and negative; and then in the next column note how I feel about myself on these same topics. It’s enlightening and humbling.
The great majority of us want peace in this world, but peace is improbable unless each person takes responsibility for his or her contribution to the collective consciousness. Is your consciousness one of peace or war? No matter how justified you feel about your position, anger is still anger and labeling is still labeling. Those behaviors are far more combative than merely liking or disliking a behavior, viewpoint, or person.
Why am I writing about being judgmental? Because ongoing judgments will keep you in a state of agitation. The adverse effects on your body’s chemistry increases your physical and mental pain4 with the additional ongoing pain being even more upsetting.
You don’t have a choice about being judgmental and suppression is even worse. You do have a choice of becoming aware and learning strategies to separate from and process it. As you move forward, it builds on itself, and positively affects your close relationships. Becoming aware is the one contribution each of us must offer to the human experience to move it to the next level.
Judgements of others reflect our internal view of ourselves. It unavoidable, as we must make endless assessments to remain alive. Most judgments are negative and are disruptive to our capacity to enjoy our day. By trying not to be this way worsens the situation in that suppression of thoughts activates your threat physiology even more.
So, what can you do? Just becoming aware of your inherent judgmental nature, will open up your thinking to endless possibilities. Then you can proceed along your healing journey. The definitive answer for chronic pain is embracing joy. Again, you must break loose from your established reactive patterns in order to move forward.
Questions and considerations
- Self-awareness is challenging because thoughts are suppressed for a reason. Many of them are extremely unpleasant and don’t fit the image of who we want to be. They are there and are playing havoc with your body’s neurochemistry.
- Suppression is a conscious effort to keep thoughts at bay and repression is an unconscious automatic process. Both require specific stepwise approaches in order to become aware of them and assimilate these unpleasant repetitive thoughts into your daily life.
- Expressive writing is the one mandatory step to begin the separation process so you can head in the direction you choose. Healing occurs with moving forward, not with “fixing.”
- Have you considered that positive judgments also block true awareness? They consume a lot of energy that detracts from you just living your life.
- Feldman Barrett, Lisa. How Emotions are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain. Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt Publishing, New York, New York. 2017.
- DeMello, Anthony. The Way to Love. Bantam, Doubleday, Dell. NY, New York, 1995.
- Lebell, Sharon. The Art of Living: Epictetus. Harper Collins, NY, New York, 1994.
- Chen X, et al. Stress enhances muscle nociceptor activity in the rat. Neuroscience (2011); 185: 166–173.