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.]
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:
- use of empathy: to understand where the other person is coming from
- values-frame dynamic: whose values are being used to frame the judgment and why?
- power dynamic: how much influence do your judgments potentially carry?
- person vs situation dynamic: is this a selfish person or a person being selfish in this particular situation?
- person vs act dynamic: distinguishing between the person and their actions
- open vs closed dynamic: are we open to changing our evaluation if new information arises?
- 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.” This is something I’ve encountered, as I have impaired speech as part of psychomotor retardation, a symptom of my depression. There have been plenty of times that I can tell people have tacked on that “therefore she must be stupid” to their observation that my speech is slow. It’s really, really frustrating.
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.
For me, there’s a difference between judgment that’s kept internal and judgment used as the basis for actions. I conceptualize an “inside my head voice,” which chatters away about all kinds of things. I don’t pay all that much attention to that sort of mindless chatter; it’s a kind of mental white noise. Judgements and observations coming from that voice often don’t get internalized any further. They also don’t usually get converted to outside my head voice. Outside my head voice changes the way I act or speak towards whoever it is that I’m judging; that may be through vocalization, actions. or both. That, I generally try to avoid.
Because I distinguish between inside my head voice and outside my head voice, I don’t tend to get annoyed with myself over the smaller judgments that spontaneously spring up. I also don’t jump to labelling myself as judgmental or any of the other negative labels that tend to go along with that, nor do I tend to go so far as labelling the other person.
Differentiating groups from individuals
One thing that I think is quite important is being able to keep judgments about a group to trickle down to become judgments applied to specific individuals. I live in a Pacific Rim city with a large population of new immigrants from China. China (along with many non-Western countries, for that matter) has different rules of the road than the largely rigid adherence to traffic laws that happens in North America. New immigrants from China don’t always adjust quickly to driving in Canada.
If I’m able to work through that in my head, I’m likely to be better able to stop myself from making the stereotyped generalization that anyone who looks Asian is a bad driver.
Accepting judgments will happen
We’re told that it’s bad to be judgmental. However, to simply dismiss it as something unacceptable takes away the opportunity to reflect and recognize greater nuances.
One of the judgment traps that I tend to fall into is 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.
We all judge, whether we want to admit it to ourselves or not. The more we admit and unpack our own judgementality, the more aware we can be of how our own perspective affects our behaviour and whether it’s helping or hindering us.
Do you think you’re judgmental? What tends to bring it out in you?
- Psychology Today: Who is Judgmental: Five Key Symptoms
The Psychology Corner has an overview of terms covered in the What Is… series, along with a collection of scientifically validated psychological tests.