Does Your Judgment Towards Others Actually Reveal How You Feel About Yourself?

According to scientific research conducted by Wake Forest University on August 3, 2010, “Your perceptions of others reveal so much about your own personality, and negative perceptions of others are linked to higher levels of narcissism and antisocial behaviour.”

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Participants of the study were given the instruction to think about three people and to identify their strengths and weaknesses. Researchers were able to determine that whenever a participant viewed another person in a negative light, he or she was more likely to demonstrate signs of depression or other personality disorders. In contrast, whenever a participant had a positive outlook towards another person, the positivity of his or her ratings “were found to be associated with the participant’s own characteristics.”

The research, which was featured in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, suggests that whenever you ask an individual to assess the personality traits of a coworker or friend, you might be able to learn just as much about the rater’s personality as the person they are rating.

Understanding the Correlation

So where does your judgment towards others stem from? It might be difficult to pinpoint why certain people tend to get on your nerves more than others, but if you can’t determine the problem, you’ll never find the solution. Rarely is a person is bothered by someone else without an underlying issue.

Judgment vs. Discernment

“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” ~Henry David Thoreau

Everyone judges and discerns, but there is a world of difference between the two. Discernment involves perceiving the way things are. For example, the world is round, sharks live in the ocean, etc. Judgment involves a sense of dissatisfaction about the way things are, and the desire for them to be different. So if your spouse never remembers your birthday, you might assume he or she doesn’t care about you and is forgetting on purpose. Your dissatisfaction about your spouse’s motivations might cause you to misjudge his or her actions, rather than properly discern them and identify a solution.  

Here are a few common reasons you might judge others:

1. You have a fear of the unknown.

While it’s true that opposites attract, if you don’t understand a person’s beliefs, behaviours, or actions, you might find yourself pushing him or her away through judgment. Your animal instincts subconsciously tell you that if you don’t understand something, it might be dangerous.

If you’re a dog owner, you probably know that until your dog gets used to a stranger’s presence, it will most likely seem standoffish for a period of time. Until your pet has had enough time to assess whether the stranger is a friend or foe, it could even demonstrate passive or aggressive characteristics in the meantime.

Humans aren’t much different: think about a person who has a mental disorder, someone with a different religion, or a co-worker who has an opposite personality. How do you feel when you’re around people who are different? Have you ever felt awkward around a person who has autism simply because you don’t know how you’re supposed to act? It’s much easier to judge someone who’s different rather than take the time to evaluate how to relate to him or her.

2. You have a fear of also being judged.

Have you ever tried to avoid a homeless person who’s asking you for money because you don’t want another person who’s walking down the street to judge you for not being charitable? Or have you ever joined in a conversation with a group of friends who were talking bad about someone else, even if you didn’t particularly agree with them? These are examples of why you might judge someone else in order to avoid being judged yourself.

3. You assume that everyone else has the same opinions.

This is the primary reason behind the numerous controversies surrounding differing religions or political views. If you identify yourself as a strong Democrat, yet one of your friends begins talking about why he or she is a hardcore Republican, you might find yourself becoming judgmental. Rather than trying to understand why your friend has a different point of view, it could be easier to assume he or she is simply wrong.

Healthy thinking allows everyone to develop their own beliefs and practice them freely. However, if you’ve ever criticized someone who believes the exact opposite, you most likely have an underlying fear in play. You could be afraid that you’re wrong or that someone else is, but it will be impossible to untangle your hidden thoughts without some intentional digging.

4. You feel out of control.

One of the most common complaints teenagers have about their parents is that they judge or misunderstand them. Many parents make the mistake of resorting to judgment whenever they feel their child has become unmanageable. For example, Tina might assume that her daughter Courtney is being lazy because she refuses to get a job or do her homework. However, Courtney could be demonstrating signs of anxiety, depression, or a learning disorder. Unless Tina spends time with her daughter and attempts to better understand her behaviors, her misguided fear of being out of control could begin to push her child away.

If you’ve ever judged your boss for being incompetent or for not doing things at the office the way you would, you might be judging him or her because you feel out of control. People have an inordinate need to have a say about their own lives, and whenever that need becomes threatened, they’ll often either become subdued or defiant. Judgment sometimes feels like an unobtrusive, safer way to fight back without causing a ruckus.

5. You secretly hate something you see inside yourself.

If you feel as though you could lose a few pounds, chances are you’ve found yourself judging a person who’s obese. Or if you have an assertive personality, you might find yourself clashing with people who are equally as opinionated as you are, especially if you disagree with them about something. The things that you refuse to accept or appreciate about yourself can quickly become the same things that you can’t stand about others. The key to avoiding this pitfall is to proactively begin to become more self-aware and to practice loving yourself for who you are.  

Why it Might Pay off to Work on Your Judgmental Patterns

So if everyone judges others to a degree, what’s the big deal? According to Dr. Cynthia Thaik in an article titled “Judgment Clouds the Mind,” published in the Huffington Post in August 2013, “When we begin harshly judging others or ourselves, our body and mind bears the brunt of this negativity. Self-criticism leads to negative thought patterns, self-doubt, and anxiety, which in turn can wreak havoc on the heart and the immune system, and prevent us from leading the lives that we truly deserve.”

You can begin eliminating your judgmental tendencies by becoming more aware of your hidden motivations and developing greater compassion towards others. Whenever you begin to struggle with criticising someone else, try to instead identify at least five positive traits you see about that person. Avoid spending too much time with others who are overly judgmental or critical as well, and you’ll discover that your entire attitude will shift.

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