Do you walk around with a monologue running in your head that constantly tells you what is wrong with everyone you see? Do you fixate on how you have failed or are not living up to your expectations? Do you criticize (out loud or just in your head) everything you see, hear, or say? Believe it or not, you might be letting judgment rule your life.

Critical thinking has its place. Healthy discernment helps us choose food, experiences, companions, and situations that are beneficial and supportive for us. But a judgmental attitude is like a gray cloud that blocks the light of day. It keeps us from seeing the positive aspects of life and spins us into negative loops of comparison, disappointment, anger, depression, and discord.

But it is possible to break the grip of judgment, once we understand what it is actually trying to tell us.

Understanding Judgment

The first step to breaking free of judgment is to understand its purpose and causes. Judgment is a protective mechanism. We have it to help us make decisions about what to bring into our lives and what to avoid. Judgment only becomes unhealthy when we let assumptions, comparisons, or biases influence our understanding.

When we make up stories about our own or other peoples worthiness, guilt, or relative value, then we are caught in the grip of unhealthy judgment. Once we have made these judgments, we tend to look for evidence to support our mindsets, so we can prove ourselves right. Then a simple thing like how a person is dressed or their attitude that day turns into a label of who he or she is as a person. Then we can fall into punishing and rewarding ourselves and other people based on these notions of who is good, better, bad, or worse.

The dangerous part of judgment is that we often base our beliefs and actions on limited information. Then we are acting from a place of belligerent ignorance not knowing the truth, but refusing to admit that we do no know.

So instead of creating safety in our lives, judgment actually hurts us by creating limitations and problems where they otherwise might not exist. It separates us, promoting fear, anxiety, and the sense of isolation. It also disempowers us, as when we label someone we give away our power to that person or situation. Rather than taking responsibility for our feelings and experiences, we make our feelings the other persons fault, or we blame the situation we have labeled as bad.

Pausing the Mind

When judgment starts to spin the mind in to a negative loop, we need to hit the pause button and pay attention to what is really happening in that moment. When you feel a judgment, recognize that the problem is not in the other person or circumstance. Rather, the experience is all happening inside you. Instead of blaming, shunning, or trying to change someone or something, examine how you are creating the feeling inside you.

Let judgment be a warning sign that you are having an emotional reaction. Take a deep breath, and explore what might be underneath the judgment. Do you feel scared, annoyed, sad, angry, unfulfilled, or just unheard? Often we seek to criticize ourselves or others as a way of avoiding a deeper, more uncomfortable emotional experience.

Begin to transform judgmental patterns by opening up to the beauty of not knowing. Allow for a space of inquiry. When you feel yourself make a decision, criticize, or place a label on something or someone, pause and ask yourself a few questions:

  • What do I actually know about this person, event, or place?
  • Is my perception based on facts or assumptions?
  • How can I find out more about this person, thing, or situation?
  • What am I really feeling in this moment?
  • How are my feelings affecting my perception?
  • What change would I like to experience in this moment?
  • How do I want to relate to this person or situation?

Breaking Free

Like with many other mental patterns, mindfulness is the key to releasing judgment. Practicing mindfulness means noticing everything that arises in a given moment without labeling or reacting to anything. We do our best to perceive our feelings and situations with clarity, gratitude, and forgiveness. The work is to see everything and everyone as they actually are, without our filters of comparison, criticism, attachment, desire, or dislike.

Once you have been able to pause the judgmental inner voice and find a space between your thoughts, shift your perception. Choose to see yourself and everyone around you as an interconnected web of beings, all doing the best we can in this crazy world. Send thoughts of lovingkindness, the wish for health, happiness, and joy to yourself and anyone else you might be judging. Eventually, practicing mindfulness will give you more space, clarity, and the ability to see the truth of life. Gradually the layers of judgment will fall off you, as you open up and reveal your pure essence.