Why Am I Being Judgmental?

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
Updated May 5, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Have you ever wondered if you’re being too judgmental? Or perhaps you recognize that you are judgmental and you’re searching for the reasons why this is the case. It’s natural to assess the behavior and motivations of others, and it is part of how we learn, grow, and make decisions on a daily basis. 

However, making discernments about others is different from being judgmental—being judgmental often implies judging excessively, to the point that it negatively affects your happiness and that of the people around you. 

Read on to learn more about what can cause judgmental attitudes, plus some tips for becoming less judgmental.

Are you getting frustrated by your own judgmental thoughts?

Understanding judgmental attitudes

At its core, being judgmental involves making assessments or forming opinions about others, often without full knowledge of their circumstances or motivations. This process is a natural part of human cognition, aiding us in navigating social interactions and making decisions. However, when this tendency shifts from constructive evaluation to harsh, unwarranted criticism, it becomes problematic. 

Negative judgmental attitudes can stem from a variety of cognitive biases and mental shortcuts, such as stereotyping or the fundamental attribution error, where we attribute others' actions to their character rather than to external situations. These biases skew our perceptions, leading us to draw conclusions that are not only inaccurate but also unfair. 

While they may ultimately be harmful, negatively judging others can provide a degree of psychological comfort, such as a sense of superiority or a way to deflect attention from our own shortcomings. 

Healthy versus unhealthy judgment

Despite these underlying mechanisms, it's crucial to distinguish between necessary judgments that help us make informed decisions and unwarranted negativity that harms both our relationships and our own well-being.

Healthy judgment allows us to navigate through life safely and make discerning choices that align with our values and principles. For instance, assessing someone's reliability based on consistent past behavior is a form of healthy judgment that can protect us from potential harm or disappointment. 

Here are some characteristics of healthy judgment:

  • Used to make informed decisions: Based on reason, fairness, and a comprehensive understanding of situations.

  • Empathy-driven: Considers the feelings, circumstances, and backgrounds of others.

  • Adaptive: Open to changing opinions based on new information or perspectives.

  • Constructive: Aims to improve understanding, foster positive interactions, and make safe, value-aligned choices.

  • Self-reflective: Involves questioning one's own biases and assumptions to ensure fairness.

On the other hand, unhealthy judgment tends to lead to unfair or harsh evaluations of others. It can manifest as snap judgments based on superficial traits, such as appearance, without seeking to understand the person's background, circumstances, or reasons for their actions. 

Unhealthy judgments can be recognized by the following attributes:

  • Bias-driven: Arises from prejudice, stereotypes, or insufficient information, leading to unfair evaluations.

  • Lacks empathy: Ignores the complexities of others' lives and circumstances.

  • Rigid: Maintains negative evaluations despite new information or understanding.

  • Harmful: Causes discrimination or social exclusion, damages relationships, and fosters negativity.

  • Ego-centric: Often serves to boost the judger's ego by diminishing others, reflecting underlying insecurities or a need for superiority.

Root causes of judgmental attitudes

Root causes of judgmental attitudes can stem from a complex interplay of individual experiences and broader cultural influences. Here are a few key reasons to consider:

Insecurity and self-esteem issues

Judgmental attitudes often stem from an individual's own insecurities and low self-esteem. People may find it easier to criticize others as a way to deflect attention from their flaws. This behavior can serve as a coping mechanism, providing a false sense of superiority or control over their insecurities. 

Cultural and social influences

Our standards for what we consider acceptable are often shaped by the culture and society we live in. Societal norms, values, and media portrayals can shape our perceptions of what is acceptable or desirable, leading to biased judgments about those who don't conform. Stereotypes, in particular, can result in generalized and unfair judgments about entire groups of people.


For better or worse, children tend to mimic the behaviors they see in their caregivers. If you grew up in a household with people who are judgmental, that attitude may be passed on to you. 

We might also internalize the values of our parents, leading us to adopt similar standards as those we grew up with. For example, a person who grew up being taught that tattoos, piercings, or certain hairstyles were unacceptable or indicative of negative traits might carry these beliefs into adulthood, despite broader societal acceptance of such forms of self-expression. 


Envy is a common cause of passing unnecessary judgment. When we envy someone, it's usually because they have something we desire but lack—be it success, relationships, possessions, or attributes. This feeling of inadequacy or longing can sometimes manifest as negative judgments towards the person we envy, as a way to cope with our own feelings of insufficiency or dissatisfaction.

Cognitive biases

Cognitive biases significantly influence judgmental attitudes, leading to unfair assessments based on quick mental shortcuts. For example, the fundamental attribution error may make us blame others' actions on their character, ignoring external circumstances, while confirmation bias may reinforce existing prejudices by focusing only on confirming evidence. 

Lack of empathy or understanding

A fundamental lack of empathy and understanding towards others' feelings, backgrounds, and challenges is a key driver of judgmental attitudes. Failing to put oneself in another's shoes, consider the complexities of different life experiences, or search for a charitable interpretation for their actions can mean we default to negative judgments.

Fear of the unknown

Fear of the unknown or different can trigger judgmental reactions. This fear often arises from a lack of familiarity with or understanding of diverse cultures, lifestyles, or beliefs, leading to a defensive posture that manifests as judgmental behavior. 

Such reactions often echo and reinforce broader societal biases—when individuals encounter beliefs, practices, or lifestyles that diverge from their own, the immediate, often unconscious, response is often to evaluate these differences through a lens of suspicion or disapproval. This mechanism, deeply rooted in human psychology, served evolutionary purposes by favoring in-group cohesion and wariness of the "other." However, in our interconnected and multicultural world, these instincts can hinder mutual understanding and respect.


How to become less judgmental

If you believe you may be judgmental at times, you might try the following strategies for becoming less judgmental:

  1. Improve self-awareness

Taking stock of our own biases, limitations, and negative emotions may help us limit our judgment of others. One tool that can be useful in this regard is meditation. Simply spending time quietly reflecting on your thoughts and why you have them may greatly improve self-awareness.

  1. Recognize what causes your negative judgments

There may be certain things that frequently cause a surge of negativity. If you can recognize what these are and reflect on why they bother you so much, it may greatly help you understand—and work to diminish—your judgmental mindset.

  1. Cultivate empathy

Empathy is about putting yourself in another person’s shoes. If you actively practice empathy, you may reduce your impulse to pass negative judgments. Generally trying to see and understand the humanity of others may help to diminish a judgmental mindset.

  1. Expand your horizons

Whether through traveling or simply expanding your social circle, getting outside of your daily routine may increase your empathy and limit any biases you have.

Connect with a therapist 

If you feel that you could benefit from discussing a judgmental mindset or any other challenges you may be facing, speaking with a licensed counselor may be the right move for you. If you don’t like the idea of visiting a therapist’s office, you might try online therapy, which many studies have shown to be as effective as in-office therapy. 

You can find a counselor who’s right for you through a convenient online therapy platform, where you can meet with a therapist at a time that works with your schedule. With BetterHelp, you can connect with a therapist via phone, live chat, or videoconferencing—or a combination of all three options. You can also contact your therapist at any time via in-app messaging, and they’ll get back to you as soon as they can.


If you think you may be judgmental at times, know that you are not alone. Everyone can be judgmental in certain situations, but it’s something that can be addressed. You may find it helpful to work on self-awareness, question any biases you have, and continue expanding your horizons. You might also consider speaking with a licensed counselor. With online counseling, you can be matched with a therapist who has experience with your specific concerns and connect with them from the comfort of your own home. Take the first step toward personal growth in this area and reach out to BetterHelp today.
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