Why Am I Being Judgmental

By: Danni Peck

Updated February 20, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Kelly Kampf

From time to time, we all find ourselves feeling judgmental of others for their actions, or our perceptions of their actions. Often, these perceptions are based upon our own experiences, or our own failings. When we make judgments based upon our experiences, our feelings, or our own failings, we are projecting onto the other individual those things we find least desirable in ourselves (Baumeister, Dale, & Sommer, 1998). Often, the words we say about others are what we actually feel about ourselves. Projecting our own failings and insecurities onto others, especially those closest to us, is damaging to those relationships and can lead to unnecessary conflict and dysfunction.

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Projection for Protection

To revisit Freud, projection is a common defense mechanism employed to avoid discomfort to our psyches ("Defense Mechanisms | Simply Psychology," n.d.). To protect the individual from the recognition of his or her own negative attributes, or undesirable traits, these traits were projected onto others. This is the simple and partial version of Freud's theory. Studies (Holmes, 1978) suggest that the individual's recognition of negative traits is not within that individual's awareness, that the projection is in fact a means in which the individual is able to act out personal aggression on a more desirable target.


Shelly is very insecure and her primary desire is to have a boyfriend, settle down, and get married. She often voices this as an antiquated idea, but she feels deep inside, that the reason she has not had successful relationships, is due to her lack of attractiveness. Shelly is slightly overweight, and rather than diet and exercise, she camouflages the weight with poor fitting clothing.

Shelly's best friend since high school, Janie, on the other hand is supermodel beautiful. She has also just gotten engaged and has asked Shelly to be her maid of honor. Shelly accepted, even though she was consumed with jealousy over her friend's engagement. This caused rise to years of jealousy she secretly housed towards her friend for her beauty and popularity.

While shopping for wedding gowns, Shelly began making some very marked commentary about marriage, how old-fashioned it is, how she herself never wishes to be a doormat to any man. At first the comments seemed benign, but as the day wore on, Janie become increasingly uncomfortable. By the time Janie tried on the fourth dress, each one drawing sharp criticism from Shelly, she was in tears. She could not understand how her friend could be so hurtful on what should have been a fun and happy occasion for both of them. Not only had Shelly put down the idea of marriage, insulted Janie's relationship with her fiancé, but had also made her feel ugly, and ashamed of her excitement in trying on wedding dresses.

Janie ended up telling Shelly she had changed her mind about her choice, and that her fiancé's sister would serve as maid of honor instead. After this, Shelly began furiously attacking her friend on social media, disparaging her for wanting to be married, and making fun of her and her choice of husband in general.

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Needless to say, Shelly lost a good many friends through her behavior.


This may seem an exaggerated example of projection, but those reading may well see someone they know or even themselves in Shelly. Shelly has projected all her insecurities onto her friend, and has caused seriously and perhaps irreparable damage.

When individuals want something so badly for themselves, a new job, a promotion, new car, or home, and this is achieved by someone else, there is a tendency to put down these opportunities for the one who has achieved them. The projection does more to save face than to actually protect the individual from disappointment. When individuals react this way, it is the cliché, "I did not want to work all those extra hours anyway" response, and most people do see through that.

When we pass judgment, we are actually passing off our own insecurities, fears, and disappointments onto others. It is uncomfortable both for the one doing the judging and for those judged (Stevens & Reitz, 1970). This type of behavior can ruin friendships and cause conflict in personal as well as professional relationships.

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Addressing undesirable traits within ourselves is a painful, but necessary step in the attainment of mental health. For many, talking to friends, family, and colleagues may help. While having someone listen is cathartic, feedback received may not always be constructive. For an ear to listen coupled by constructive feedback, and resources to help develop better coping skills, visit BetterHelp.com. At BetterHelp there is a network of licensed mental health professionals available via email, chat, or video to help you be your best you.


Baumeister, R. F., Dale, K., & Sommer, K. L. (1998). Freudian defense mechanisms and empirical findings in modern social psychology: Reaction formation, projection, displacement, undoing, isolation, sublimation, and denial. Journal of Personality, 66(6), 1081-1124.

Defense Mechanisms | Simply Psychology. (n.d.). Retrieved May 19, 2017, from https://www.simplypsychology.org/defense-mechanisms.html

Holmes, D. S. (1978). Projection as a defense mechanism. Psychological Bulletin, 85(4), 677-688.

Stevens, H. A., & Reitz, W. E. (1970). An experimental investigation of projection as a defense mechanism. Journal Of Clinical Psychology, 26(2), 152-154.

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