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Recognizing Your Judgmental and Critical Reactions

Danica Joan June 16, 2022

Everyone has judgments from time to time. We learn quite early in our life to label things either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ – and to determine what is ‘easy’ or ‘hard’, ‘smart’ or ‘dumb’. It was pretty simple back then, however, as we mature most people begin to see that there is something between the two opposite poles of good and bad, right and wrong, perfect and worthless, etc. In other words that there is some gray between black and white; and, in fact, that middle ground is more of the reality.

To routinely blame, judge severely and find fault with others is a clear indication that you have a tendency toward judgmental and critical reactions. People can judge and evaluate each other on many different things, for instance: physical appearance or attractiveness, personality, intelligence, character, values, beliefs, spirituality, occupation, ambition, success, status, wealth, possessions, and behaviors. Judgment and criticism can, of course, be constructive, and may be very helpful. When it is negative, however, it can be very hurtful, harmful, and destructive.

Judgmental and Critical reaction can often be detected by such words as:

  • should
  • ought
  • must
  • don’t

and by phrases like:

  • in my opinion
  • I think….
  • this is what you should do

Those of us who have judgmental and critical reactions often put our beliefs, standards, or way of life on to others. We might see people and pass judgment based on their looks or actions and often our opinion is not completely objective. Frequently little effort is made to know the person or understand them either. It’s actually a self-identity (ego) thing. We want our point of view to directly influence other people, in order to give us some degree of control over our situation. The following is an example of a person who has severe judgmental and critical reactions leading to his difficulty with anger.

Lauren walks in the door smiling. “Oh, no,” James thinks to himself, “Something’s up.” James hasn’t even heard a word and he’s ready to protect himself. James is in a defensive and control mode without even knowing it. Almost certainly this isn’t the first time this has happened to James either, since he tends toward judgmental and critical reactions. His anger gets triggered mechanically on many occasions before he knows what’s going on. It really won’t matter much what Lauren says now. He’ll find something off beam with whatever it is. So, when she tells him about her promotion his mind collects only negative information that will justify his self identity. Lauren gets one partial sentence our of her mouth: “My boss just offered me a promotion and….” James doesn’t need to hear anything more. That’s more than enough bad news for James to trigger his judgmental and critical reaction. Along with his intense emotional reaction comes an old automatic thought: “She’s doing this to put me down.” It is that thought which really infuriates James, so much so he cannot even hear the rest of Lauren’s statement. So long to him being reasonable, rational, and logical as he is now functioning out of the primitive brain. Forget keeping things in perspective. Here comes the anger and aggression full force. People who display judgmental and critical reactions don’t really plan to get angry. They hardly ever take a time to consider their options. Instead, they charge ahead with some automatic action to support their self-identity.

It requires a certain amount of self-awareness to see our own judgmental and critical reactions. Assess yourself now using a scale from 1-10 with the following questions: (See Printout)

Do you assume the worst about others? _______

Do you stereotype others based on one sample of his/her behavior?_______

Do you tell yourself that you would never do something like that?_______

Do you either stay away or take it on yourself to correct others?_______

Total _______

Score: (30-40) Highly Judgmental and Critical

(20-29) Judgmental and Critical

(10-19) Somewhat Judgmental and Critical

( 0 – 9 ) Slightly Judgmental and Critical

Now take some time to list four ways in which Judgmental and Critical Reactions have possibly caused problems in your life? (See Printout)

Understanding judgmental and critical reaction

Judgmental and critical reactions take little account of feelings. As already mentioned these reactions condemn others because of their conduct or supposed false beliefs, wrong motives, or character. Judgmental and critical reactions are based on perception, without room for negotiation or understanding and are most often an evaluation and rejection of another person’s worth. Judgmental and critical reactions are especially destructive to all types of relationships.

Judgmental and critical reactions see to elevate one person above another. They can also include the characteristic of self-promotion and the purpose to be special. The reactions often attack the person rather than the behavior. Judgmental and critical reactions create massive difficulty with anger management problems.

When we pass judgment upon others, if we examine ourselves, we will find that the very thing on which we passed judgment is also present within our self to one degree or another. Judgemental or critical reactions are also moralistic. They are based on values, rules, standards, approval or disapproval, and encourage anger and resentment in the other person.

Discernment vs judgmental and critical reaction

There is a big difference between what we will call “discernment” (to recognize distinctions) and judgmental and critical reaction. In the evolved brain process of discernment, we make a distinction between what behaviors, thoughts, actions or reactions are productive, evolutionary, relationship enhancing, forward-thinking, and in general healthy versus those that are destructive, harmful, primitive, unhelpful to relationships, and generally unhealthy. For example, let’s consider someone who would regularly take supplies from their company office for their own personal use at home. They rationalize the behavior by convincing themselves that they are not being paid enough (which may be true), and so they are owed it. And they might feel they were ‘righting a wrong’ by taking the situation into their own hands. Now most reasonable people would agree that what this person is doing is nothing short of stealing. The point of this example is that in this situation there is no need to stereotype this person ‘a thief’ or ‘a bad person’. In other words, there’s no need for judgment and critical reaction. However, it does call for the use of discernment and recognition that the behavior is not appropriate, and could have serious consequences. It’s also dishonest, and overall not in anyone’s best interest. To recognize the behavior for what it is and to draw a boundary is not a judgmental and critical reaction but rather an attempt to draw a distinction, and perhaps change the behavior.

In another situation in the same office setting, and office assistant let it be known that she is having an affair with a married man. Soon the office is buzzing with gossip and condemnation of this woman. Many of the comments are aimed at labeling her as ‘a bad person’ with ‘no morals’. There our conversations describing her as ‘sinful’ and ‘slutty’ and generally denigrating her character. These two situations point out very clearly the difference between discernment and judgmental and critical reaction. In the first situation, there is recognition of destructive behavior and a setting of boundaries. The integrity of all persons concerned is maintained. In the second situation, the recognition of the poor behavior on the part of one person was matched by the equally destructive behavior of those judging her. In fact, their reactions. created a trail of blame, and criticism and did not contribute to the development of evolution of anyone.

The crucial point is this; we need not ever deny seeing reality. Of course it is not always so easy to discern reality especially with so many gray areas in how people live their lives, but we can always strive to make discernment the best we can. What we don’t know can hurt us. Our reactions which are judgmental, critical, labeling, blaming, hateful or cruel are never healthy. What we want to aim towards is discernment. We want to recognize poor behavior, reactions, and activity and set boundaries for ourselves without adding a new chain of judgmental and critical reactions. These are never helpful.