Judging other people is mostly a subconscious behavior which you often don’t even notice. So if you want to know how to stop it, it shows that you’re growing in consciousness which is great. But even if you’re conscious about it, and realize how negatively it affects your life, it’s not always easy to stop it completely. But in this episode, I’ll help you do just that.
If you remember the episode titled “Don’t take anything personally”, I told you about my mother, and in this one, I’ll speak about my father to illustrate my point. Well, it’s not a coincidence that my mom and dad met, because they have to learn important life lessons from one another. The relationship dynamics is always like this: In one aspect they are very similar, while in another, they are diametrically opposite.
They are similar in that they both have low self-esteem, which affected all their children, including me. But they are different in how they cope with this problem. While my mom takes everything personally, my dad takes absolutely nothing personally, nothing is ever his fault. So when I suggested that you shouldn’t take anything personally, I didn’t mean that you should always blame, criticize and judge others for your own faults.
On the one hand, my mom is open and vulnerable, and judgments affect her a lot. On the other hand, my dad can’t deal with judgments at all, so he closes himself off completely, and denies his own feelings about himself. The world is a mirror, and only a strong personality is able to face himself as he is, to take constructive criticism, to deal with judgments, to reflect upon himself. For a weak ego, it’s painful to stand in front of the mirror, so it will either absorb or deflect everything.
When you don’t want to look at yourself, when you’re unable to reflect upon yourself, you crush the mirror of your own consciousness. You become unconscious, and you turn either to black or to white. A black material absorbs every other color, like a person who fears being judged because he takes it too easily on himself, and wants to hide away from the world in darkness.
In contrast, a white material deflects every other color, and a person who constantly judges every other person wants to be noticed and stand in the spotlight above everybody else. But you’re neither totally black nor white, you have both strengths and faults, but to be able to notice them, you have to be able to reflect upon yourself authentically.
So one hidden benefit of judging other people is that you can feel better about yourself. It’s not only that you can distract yourself from your mistakes, you can even elevate yourself in your own mind by focusing on others’ mistakes. You’re always comparing yourself to others, and instead of strenghtening your own self-esteem, you wish to pull down others’ self-image to the ground by your negative judgments and hurtful words, even if you do it just behind their backs.
My father is a perfect example of someone who criticizes nearly everybody and everything. His mind is now completely set to focus on the bad and disregard the good. He’s always looking for the faults in others, judging every event according to his own standards, searching for the weakness in every plan or idea, noticing the dangers and unable to see the opportunities.
Soon enough, this constant criticism backfired on himself. Although he used to be a successful businessman, he’s been staying at home unemployed for ten years, living off of his mother’s pension. He feels almost paralyzed, uncapable for anything, unable to change his unfortunate situation. Certainly, this lowered his self-esteem even more, so now he needs to criticize others even more harshly so he can feel superior to them. Now it would be even more painful to look at himself in the mirror, so this leads to a never-ending cycle of powerlessness and misery.
Another reason why you can’t stop judging people is that you’re too self-centered. You evaluate everything from your own point of view, whether it benefits or hinders you. If somebody doesn’t fall in line with your expectations, you immediately label his behavior as bad. If you don’t understand something, instead of admitting your ignorance, you label it as stupid. You always have to be right, otherwise your self-image gets hurt. Others always have to please you, otherwise you feel bad about yourself.
The third reason why you judge people too much is that you’re incredibly rigid and dogmatic. You think there’s only one right way to do things, and certainly it’s always your way. This is also connected to your self-centeredness: you’re unable to take another person’s perspective. You think the world revolves around you, or at least it should. You want to show everybody the right way of doing things, because the more people you convince that you are right, the more convinced you will be of your own rightness.
But what is right for you, may not be right for others. But you’re too afraid to see your life from other perspectives, because then you may glance at your mistakes. You’re unsure of yourself, and by doubting others, you can avoid doubting yourself. The more unsure you are, the more you cling to your views, the more rigidly you get stuck in your ways, and the more vehemently you dismiss every other option.
You can probably see by now, that the main issue behind judging others is your low self-esteem that you want to defend with the shield of criticism. So the real question is: what’s behind low self-esteem itself, and where does it come from? Most probably, it comes from your parents who had this issue themselves. They were also judged by their own parents, and each generation inherited the resulting low self-worth subsequently.
When you grow up as a child, there are certain traits and behaviors your parents label as either good or bad, according to their understanding and self-interest. By criticizing you over and over again, you learn to criticize yourself, too. You deny certain aspects of yourself to win their love and affection. These denied, disowned and rejected parts of yourself become your shadow.
Repressing the unwanted thoughts about your undesirable traits doesn’t make them go away. Instead, it just makes them stronger and hidden, controlling your behavior without you even noticing it. This gives rise to an unconsious behavior that psychologists refer to as projection. Projection is a tendency of denying certain qualities in yourself and attributing them to others while at the same time criticizing them for these qualities.
When you judge somebody, you actually judge yourself. So whenever you catch yourself criticizing others, ask yourself the following question, and be very honest with yourself: In what way am I doing the same thing? How am I similar to this person? How am I committing the same mistake?
First we are judged, then we judge ourselves, and finally we judge others. Our judgments are not really ours, they are just borrowed beliefs we internalized and then denied. My spiritual Master is an expert in these family dynamics. Whenever a new student comes to her, her first question is: “What irritates you about your parents?”
I also encourage you to pose this question to yourself, because this provides the first clue to solving the puzzle of your life, to discover your hidden motivations and to realize why and how you’re judging yourself and others, and to eventually stop doing both, and accepting yourself and everybody around you as they are, instead of how you’d like them to be.
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