In this series, I dig a little deeper into the meaning of psychological terms. This week’s term is judgementality.
[As a quick spelling geek comment, judgementality is spelled with an e after the g, while judgmental is more commonly spelled without an e. I also had to look up what the noun version of the adjective judgmental would be, because I really didn’t know.]
According to Psychology Today, being judgmental involves getting satisfaction out of making negative moral assessments of other people. This serves to increase the judgmental person’s sense of self-worth by establishing that they are better than others. The judgmental person may quickly leap to conclusions, and move from an assessment that actions are wrong to a view that the person as a whole is flawed.
Humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers recognized the negative impact of judgementality, which was why he believed therapists should demonstrate unconditional positive regard.
We all consider the world through an evaluative lens. Psychology Today suggests several factors in determining whether this is being done in a constructive or destructive way:
- the use of empathy: to understand where the other person is coming from
- the values-frame dynamic: whose values are being used to frame the judgment and why?
- the power dynamic: how much influence do your judgments potentially carry?
- the person vs situation dynamic: is this a selfish person or a person being selfish in this particular situation?
- the person vs act dynamic: distinguishing between the person and their actions
- the open vs closed dynamic: are we open to changing our evaluation if new information arises?
- the shallow vs expert knowledge dynamic: a strong evaluation shouldn’t be based on limited knowledge
Another Psychology Today article points out the distinction between making an observation such as “he talks very slowly” and adding a judgmental conclusion to the observation “he talks very slowly, therefore he must be stupid.”
The inevitability of some judgementality
Being judgmental isn’t generally seen as desirable, but we all do it to a greater or lesser extent. I think mental illness makes us particularly likely to pass judgment on ourselves, but perhaps it makes us less likely to be judgmental about the challenges that others are facing.
I see a difference between judgment that’s kept internal and judgment used as the basis for actions. A lot of the judgments I make remain inside my head and don’t spill over into my interactions with people. I also try separate general observations of broad groups from specific individuals (e.g. in the case of racial stereotypes about bad driving).
Contexts for judgment
If I think someone is batshit-crazy (in very much a non-psychiatric sense) for their religious or political beliefs, I try to keep in mind that it is only part of who they are and don’t extrapolate to them being batshit-crazy full stop.
I struggle with passing judgment on others’ intelligence (or more specifically, lack thereof). I’m a fairly intelligent person, and there are a lot of stupid people out there in the world. I sometimes feel kind of guilty about this, since it seems so snobbish, and I’m not always sure where the line lies between making a realistic observation and being critical.
In my work as a mental health nurse, I probably struggle the most with judgementality when it comes to people with antisocial personality disorder. My clinical approach is to give a very controlled, matter-of-fact non-reaction when they talk about their criminal and other assorted nasty behaviour, but on the inside, I’m thinking damn, this dude is a scumbag. So much for empathy.
It can be useful to give some thought to our own flavour of judgementality and whether it’s helping or hindering. What are some of the contexts in which you find yourself passing judgment on others?
- Psychology Today: Who is Judgmental: Five Key Symptoms
The Psychology Corner page includes an index of the terms that have been covered in the What Is… (Insights into Psychology) series, as well as a collection of scientifically validated psychological tests.