Why Our Definition Of “Judgmental” Can Affect Our Experience Of The World

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated April 3, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Your definition of the word “judgmental” may affect your experience of the world. This word is often used to describe a particular attitude, person, or type of error, and in life, we typically make many judgments on a daily basis. It may be possible to lessen your judgments of others by being open to new experiences, exercising compassion, and reserving judgment for as long as possible. In addition, you might make better judgments by seeking out accurate information, avoiding overgeneralizations, being self-aware, recognizing the complexity of people and situations, and not rushing to judgment. If judgment (either yours or someone else’s) is negatively impacting your life, you may benefit from online therapy.

Why does it matter how you define judgmental?

How you define the word “judgmental” can make a difference, and everyone may have different beliefs about what makes a person judgmental. For example, if you define judgmental as a word to describe unreasonable and harsh opinions, you might be quick to assume the worst in others. You may also find it more difficult to take their perspectives and opinions into consideration. Similarly, you might beat yourself up when you feel you’ve been too hard on another person or judged them unfairly.

Understanding the “judgmental” definition, meaning, and connotation can be beneficial to your well-being.

However, if you think of being judgmental as making sound, reasoned assessments based on incomplete details, you may find it easier to be understanding of others, even when you don’t agree with them or their choices. More importantly, you may own your power to make decisions that you are confident in and can fully stand behind.

Ways to define judgmental

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines judgmental in two ways:

  1. Of, relating to, or involving judgment
  2. Characterized by a tendency to judge harshly

The subtle meanings we place on the word “judgmental” often seem to indicate that being judgmental is about the kind of judgments that are formed, rather than the simple fact that we’re making judgments. In many societies, being judgmental carries negative connotations, which is why some people may avoid expressing strong opinions on certain topics. One of the most popular ways to define judgmental can be “judging harshly,” as in, “I wish you wouldn’t be so judgmental about the way I dress!” It can also mean “having a habit of judging harshly,” as in, “They are a very judgmental person.”

There can be another way to use the word “judgmental,” although this usage tends to be less common. In this case, it can mean “to make a judgment.” This use of the word can refer to a much less emotionally charged concept. Rather than making a harsh or unfair judgment, you may have simply concluded something or made a decision. 

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Is judgment holding you back from the life you desire?

Ways to use judgmental

People can use the word “judgmental” in a variety of ways. Even the dictionary, both an American English and a Spanish English dictionary, provide more than one definition for the word judgmental. The way you use the word may say a lot about your intentions behind using it and what you think of the person who’s making the judgments. 

Judgmental people

When we talk about judgmental people, we’re usually discussing someone who has judged us or someone we love in a harsh manner. We may think that people who are judgmental love nothing better than to tear others down. We may see them as uncaring people with superior attitudes.

Judgmental attitude

Adopting a judgmental attitude is often considered a negative thing. Because we rarely use this phrase except in its connotation of “judging harshly,” it can make sense that we would want to avoid it.

We may like or love a person very much, but still see that there are certain times when they adopt a judgmental attitude. Examples include a person being very accepting of most people, but having a judgmental attitude when meeting people who aren’t well-dressed, or jumping to conclusions about someone based on their job or social status.

Our loved one’s judgmental attitude may be unreasonable, especially if they only know the person in question in their job as an auto mechanic, for instance. In such situations, our judgmental attitude can have more to do with our past experiences than with what is happening in the here and now.

Judgmental error

If we don’t consider a question thoughtfully, we may make an error in judgment or a “judgmental error.” Because there are very few situations in life where we know every important detail and are guaranteed of a certain outcome, we’re all likely to make judgmental errors sometimes. There can be several ways to reduce the uncertainty, though.

What can happen when you label others as judgmental

When you decide that you can no longer have anything to do with someone because they’re too judgmental, your decision can affect your life. It may improve your life dramatically by removing people who can be emotionally harmful due to their judgmental nature. 

On the other hand, your judgment may come with a price. You might eliminate your chances for experiences that you’ll only have if you’re in contact with that person. It’s also possible you might think that someone with good intentions is acting judgmentally when they believe they are offering you helpful advice. This decision can be a judgment call, so it may be a good idea to think it over before you decide either way.

The importance of judgment

We tend to make judgments all the time. What’s more, we may even elect people to make judgments for us concerning criminal punishments and civil court cases. Therefore, it can be important to be judgmental sometimes. In some circumstances, decisions must be made, and it can be better to be consciously judgmental than to let whatever is going to happen play out.

Being judgmental can also help you cope with difficult situations. For example, if you’re being pressured to do something but know it doesn’t align with your values, you might decide more confidently based on your judgments. You might weigh the pros and cons and consider how you might feel if you were to give in to the pressure. Judgment can serve the purpose of holding us accountable for our values, morals, and beliefs.

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What can happen when you’re judgmental

There can be both consequences and benefits to being judgmental.

Consequences

Here are some potential consequences of being overly and harshly judgmental:

  • You might hurt other people unnecessarily.
  • You may have fewer friends.
  • You might decrease the diversity of your social network.
  • You may spend more effort judging others than working toward your goals.

Benefits

When it comes to making sound judgmental decisions, there can be benefits as well:

  • You may gain power by moving deliberately towards your goals.
  • You can make the choices that make you the happiest.
  • You may avoid being hurt by abusive people.
  • You can feel more confident in your decisions.

If you or a loved one is experiencing abuse, contact the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Support is available 24/7.

If you are experiencing trauma, support is available. Please see our Get Help Now page for more resources.

What can I do to be less judgmental of others?

Some people choose a word of the day, or a word of the year, from value-based word lists to focus their intentions of becoming a better person. They often begin by learning the meaning of the word, looking it up in an English dictionary and spending time fully understanding the definition, meaning, and connotation of the word. Learning the definition of judgmental may help people use this attribute to their advantage.

It can be easy to judge people too much and too harshly, especially if they’re different from you. Anyone has the potential to become a critic, disparaging others for trivial reasons and shunning them for minor faults. If you’re concerned about being too judgmental of others, you might consider making the following changes:

  • Be more open to new experiences. When you’re open to new experiences, it may be easier to be more accepting of others. The excitement that comes with exploring our world tends to make us less fearful. By decreasing your fear, you may decrease the feeling that you need to be overly judgmental.
  • Develop your sense of compassion. If you often find yourself being too judgmental of others, you might need to work on developing compassion and showing empathy for others in need. You might listen without judging them and let them know you are there for them. If you don’t recognize the need for empathy with your friends, another option could be to volunteer with a local charity. Your experiences there may help you become more aware of what others are going through and learn the best ways to show them compassion.
  • Reserve judgment for as long as you can. Learning to reserve your judgments for a greater amount of time can help you become less judgmental. Rather than making a snap decision regarding what you think of someone, you might let your understanding of them unfold over time.

How to make wiser judgments

How can you judge without being too judgmental? The following tips can help you make wiser judgments:

  • Look for the most accurate information. It can be difficult to assess whether information is reliable, but there are certain sources you may want to avoid. For instance, the gossip you heard at work might not be accurate. A first impression may only tell one moment’s story. You might take time to gather information before making a decision.
  • Avoid over-generalizing. When you overgeneralize, you typically make specific judgments based on what you know about a broad category. One problem with this when judging people is that you may not know how to categorize them until you’ve already made a few judgments. Besides that, many of the categories we tend to put people into may have nothing to do with the reality of who they are as an individual.
  • Be More self-aware. Knowing your prejudices and preferences can help you see people more accurately. By being self-aware, people usually become less judgmental. You might consider the person not just from the perspective of who you are, but also try to see them as they appear to others.
  • Recognize the complexity of the person or issue. It’s unlikely that any person is all good or all bad. People and situations tend to be much more complex. When you recognize how many parts of an issue or person there are to consider, you might be inclined to take longer in drawing a conclusion.
  • Don’t rush to judgment. Rushing to judgment isn’t usually necessary. Of course, in an urgent situation, you may have no choice. When you can, though, you might choose to take your time. In the end, you may decide that there’s no benefit in labeling someone or writing them off. Taking your time can give you the opportunity to learn as much as you can, see different perspectives, and think things through.
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Is judgment holding you back from the life you desire?

Online therapy may help you release judgment

If you find that your judgments are negatively impacting your life, you may wish to seek help through therapy. Whether you choose traditional or online therapy may be completely up to you, but one benefit of selecting online therapy is that you can get the guidance you deserve from the comfort of your own home or anywhere you have a reliable internet connection.

The efficacy of online counseling

Online therapy can be utilized to recover from and cope with several different mental health concerns. One study found that online CBT was as effective as in-person CBT in reducing symptoms of various mental health conditions. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an approach that works by teaching people to replace their unhelpful thoughts with more positive, realistic ones. CBT may help you reframe your thoughts to be more compassionate, empathetic, and accepting if you're having difficulty being judgmental of yourself or others.

Takeaway

Life can be thought of as a group of choices that we must grapple with every day. Our judgments can influence how we make decisions and interact with others, so it can be important to remain cognizant of how we’re perceiving the world. When you understand the most optimal ways to be judgmental, you can live a healthier, more purposeful life. If you’re concerned that your judgments are too harsh or find that they’re affecting your life negatively, participating in online therapy may help you shift your mindset to be more constructive.
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