a) the process of forming an opinion or evaluation by discerning and comparing
b: an opinion or estimate so formed¹
We have all fallen into the judgement trap. Either we judge ourselves or others, or our judgement of a given situation is flawed. You don’t need to suffer from an anxiety disorder for this to occur.
But as I began to research the link between judgement and anxiety, I was surprised (or was I really?) to learn that people who suffer from anxiety are more likely to experience negative self-judgement.
A study in Mindfulness magazine in 2010 showed that people who are self-aware, more mindful, and who don’t feel the need to label and describe situations suffer from less anxiety and depression. ²
And, of course, the opposite is true. In an effort to feel “safe” or “comfortable”, people who suffer from anxiety are more likely to feel that they need to control a situation, label it right or wrong, jump to conclusions, or create scenarios to explain it, instead of simply observing and accepting the situation as it is.
And while they are performing these controlling measures, they are often aware that they are doing it, and start asking themselves questions like “Am I overreacting?”, “Am I being difficult?”, “Am I wrong? Stupid? Too much?”, and so on and so forth. (I know I did, and sometimes still do.)
In an effort to become less judgmental, an anxious person may decide that they will become more positive in their thinking, and search for the silver lining or lesson in a difficult situation. But this is not what it means to be non-judgmental. Letting go of judgement means to accept the reality of a situation as it is, and just stick to the facts. But is it possible to always just stick to the facts? Can we always view things rationally? Did you read the last chapter about those pesky vivid imaginations?
So what’s a judgmental person to do?
Mindfulness is a buzzword for our age, and for good reason. It works. Taking the time to be aware of our thoughts before forming judgements can lead us to a calmer, less judgmental life. 20 minutes of meditation a day can be a real balm for an anxious mind, but really, moments of mindfulness throughout the day can be equally beneficial.
Washing the dishes? Think about what you’re doing while you’re doing it. How does the water feel on your hands? Can you smell the fragrance of the dish soap?
Going for a walk? How does your body feel while walking? Is there a breeze? What sounds can you hear?
Eating a meal? How does the food feel in your mouth? Smooth? Chewy? How does it taste? Is it sweet? Sour? Spicy?
And how does thinking about your dishes help to rein in a judgmental mind? How does it help with anxiety? Well, it’s practice. Practice for those times when we are in a difficult situation and want to rush to judgement. Times when our brain wants to lead us down a familiar path of trying to control everything and everyone around us. Being mindful throughout the day helps us to take a step back before we journey down a rabbit hole of judgement and discontent.
As well, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have found that anxiety can mess with certain neurons in our brains that affect our executive functions such as long-term planning, calculating risk and reward consequences, regulating emotions, problem-solving, and decision-making. Anxiety influences our perceptions, beliefs, reasoning, and ultimately our choices. So, an anxious person may be more likely to make “bad” decisions, especially when they are in conflict or are distracted. ³
I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not be known as the girl who can’t be counted on to make rational decisions.
So, maybe mindfulness is worth a try. And, as I’ve said before, working with a psychotherapist is always a good thing. Cognitive Behavior Therapy, EMDR (more on this later), and talk therapy can get you on the right path to dealing with your judgmental brain.
If you do the work and master these techniques, will you never have a judgmental thought again? I highly doubt it. I still catch myself thinking bad thoughts about myself and others in stressful situations, (sometimes even non-stressful situations). I would still love for my husband to do things my way, (aka the right way), but after 27 years, I’ve come to accept (almost) that this is not going to happen.
So, I’ll keep working at letting go of that control, aiming instead for balance and a healthy internal life. Well, at least most of the time. After all, what fun would it be if I had it all figured out?