Why Am I Being Judgmental

By Danni Peck |Updated April 5, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Kelly Kampf, LCSW

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.

Well, let’s first recognize that it’s 100% normal to judge. Making value judgments is how we learn, grow, date, and make just about any decision on a daily basis. While society commonly says that we “shouldn’t judge,” this is clearly a silly and untenable proposition.

If we are less literal, however, then we can understand this idea of “don’t judge” to really be “don’t be judgmental.” There’s quite a difference there.

Being judgmental implies judging excessively, to the point that it negatively impacts your happiness and that of the people around you. After all, it’s no fun to be around someone who constantly brings down others, and being judgmental isn’t good for your mental health either.

Read on to learn more about why you may be (excessively) judgmental, which may include reasons such as projection, and how you can change for the better.

Projection For Protection

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 may actually feel about ourselves.Projecting our own failings and insecurities onto others, especially those closest to us, can damage those relationships and lead to unnecessary conflict and dysfunction.

According to pioneering psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud,projection is a common defense mechanism employed to avoid discomfort to our psyches. To protect the individual from the recognition of their own negative attributes or undesirable traits, these traits were projected onto others.

This is the simple and partial version of Freud's theory. Studies (such as Holmes, 1978) suggest that the individual's recognition of negative traits is not within that individual's awareness. Rather, the projection is a means in which the individual acts out personal aggression on a more desirable target.

Let’s consider the following scenario to underscore how projection can be used as a protective mechanism.

Shelly’s Jealousy: A Scenario  Of Projection

Shelly is very insecure, and her primary desire is to have a boyfriend, settle down, and get married. She often expresses that this as an antiquated idea, but she feels deep down that the reason she has not had successful relationshipsis 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 conventionally beautiful. She has just recently 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 a surge in jealousy that she had secretly harbored for years 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 could never be submissive 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 them both. 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 over 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.

Discussion

While this may seem an exaggerated example of projection, those reading may well recognize someone they know or even themselves in Shelly. Shelly has projected all her insecurities onto her friend and simultaneously caused seriousand perhaps irreparable damage.

When individuals want something so badly for themselves, whether 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 truly 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 oftentimes 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.

Other Reasons For Being Judgmental

While projection, coming from deep insecurity, is a common reason for an excessively judgmental mentality, it is certainly not the only reason.

Here are some reasons why you or someone you know may find themselves grappling with a judgmental outlook.

  • Learned From Childhood  – We are social creatures, and we are also the “imitative animal,” to paraphrase Aristotle. For good and for bad, we tend to absorb and mimic the behaviors we see as children. If you grow up in a household with people, especially parent figures, who are judgmental, it is likely to pass on to you.
  • Feelings Of Inadequacy – As with projection, this too is closely related to insecurity, as are most reasons for a judgmental mentality. If someone feels inadequate about something, they are more likely to mock or belittle others who have a healthier—or simply different—approach. For example, someone who knows deep down that they don’t eat in a healthy way may be highly critical of someone who eats healthy and call them a “weird health freak.” This is essentially another form of projection.
  • They Feel Trapped – People who feel trapped may feel like their backed into a corner. This is a recipe for aggression. They may resent people who are doing things that they cannot picture themselves doing. For example, a stay-at-home mom with young kids may resent a young feminist who is traveling the world.
  • Different Standards – Whatever the reason, whether it’s a religious upbringing, growing up with or without money, or just simply a matter of a different temperament, judgmental people are often critical of things they can’t personally accept. This is similar to the above example. Someone may criticize young people for dressing a certain way simply because, in their eyes, it isn’t appropriate.
  • Jealousy – As we saw with the hypothetical scenario above, jealousy is a common cause of passing unnecessary judgment. Someone who secretly wants to get married may denigrate the entire idea of marriage simply because of jealousy.
  • Bias – Once again, this is related to many of the examples given above. For example, having different standards, a different upbringing, etc. is prone to give us certain biases. We then perceive our own way of thinking about the world as the only one that matters. This may lead a dog lover in the U.S. to pass judgment on certain cultures for eating dogs while failing to recognize the hypocrisy of eating other animals, including ones that are objectively more intelligent, such as pigs.

How To Become Less Judgmental

How can you become less judgmental? This is a great question, and the fact that you may simply be asking the question is a great first step, as it suggests that you’re beyond the denial stage.

Here are some ways that you can work on becoming less judgmental:

  • Work  On Self-awareness – Ultimately, taking stock of our own biases, limitations, and negative emotions can do wonders to help us limit our (negative) judgment of others. One tool that can be quite useful in this regard is meditation. Simply spending time quietly reflecting on your thoughts and why you have them can greatly improve self-awareness.
  • 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 can greatly help you understand—and work to diminish—your judgmental mindset.
  • Work On Empathy – Empathy, simply put, is about putting yourself in another person’s shoes. If you actively practice empathy, you will help reduce your impulse to pass negative judgments. For example, instead of thinking “Why doesn’t this homeless person just get a job?” you might instead imagine how cold it was for them on the street last night, or perhaps how they may have mental health concerns or substance use issues. Generally trying to see and understand the humanity of others will do wonders for diminishing a judgmental mindset.
  • Expand Your Horizons– Whether through travel or simply expanding your social circle, getting outside of your daily routine can do wonders for increasing your empathy, limiting your cultural biases, and better understanding your judgmental mindset.

Addressing undesirable traits within ourselves may be painful, but it is one of the most vital steps we can do toward living a healthier, happier life.

If you feel that you could benefit from discussing your judgmental mindset, or any other problems you might have, speaking with a licensed counselor may be the right move for you. You can easily find a counselor who’s right for you through a convenient online platform such as BetterHelp. Remember, there’s always room for improvement and you can definitely make the progress that you need to break free from patterns of unhealthy judgment.

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