i feel judged because i judge

July 15, 2013 | 37 Comments

Shannon making a heart shape with her hands

I used to think you were judgemental and I wasn’t.

I would interrupt myself during stories to say, “I know you’re judging me right now.” We’d laugh, but I knew it was true. It took me a long time to learn that my self-consciousness is a signal that I’m doing something I think you’ll frown upon. And I think you’ll frown upon it because it’s something I’ve frowned upon. I’d been taught via social norms or I’d decided on on my own that xyz was unacceptable.

During the draft stage of my most recent personal essay, I tweeted, “Guys, I’m writing about being judgemental AND I SOUND JUDGMENTAL. Fail.”

I hate being judgemental. I hate being judged. I hate listening to other people judge. We all do it. We’ll do it for all the evers. Maybe it’s baked into our DNA? Well, I demand a restrand!

Acknowledge that I could be you

Steve was hit by a car while cycling to work this month. He walked away with a few cuts, a frayed shoe lace, a gashed Nike wrist band, and a battered bike.

He’s handling it cucumber cool. It’s been kind of amazing to watch. One of the first things he said to the SUV driver who hit him—imagining how it might feel to hit a human body with your car—was, “Look, I’m not an asshole. We’ll figure this out and I’ll be honest about it.”

Full of compassion moments after an SUV made contact with flesh and bone.

Nutbonkers, right?

The day after the accident, he had an estimate from the bike shop. He told me the SUV driver balked at the cost and insisted Steve get a second quote. Without warning, I became the element on a burner set to high, merging cool black to angry red. I leaned forward in my chair and stabbed the air with my finger.

“The man hit your body. With his car, Steve.” Every word slow and measured, straddling hysteria. “He could have killed you dead. He should be thankful for the low price of one thousand dollars. A THOUSAND DOLLARS IS A STEAL.”

Steve pursed his lips and darted his scoldy eyes from me over to Emma and back to me. My burner switched off, returning firey red to calm black. I raised my arms in surrender.

“You’re right. You’re right! I’m sorry. Emma, my reaction isn’t helpful. I’m angry.”

I dropped it, but I let the SUV driver’s reaction to the quote fester and spent too much time imagining what could have happned, what we could have lost, and what we have lost. Steve’s bike was custom made. His billable hours—what’s keeping us fed right now—have been eaten away by phone calls, paperwork, and trips to the bike shop, sorting out the legalities of the accident. Emma seems reluctant to the idea of a bike ride any time soon.

Days later, I found myself wanting to sue.

“Shannon, do you know how many times I’ve made mistakes that could have ended up the same or worse? I’m lucky I’ve never hit anyone. It was truly an accident. If it gets bad and the driver turns out to be an asshole, we’ll revisit this conversation. For now, I wan’t to assume the best.”


A friend linked to a blog post by Erin Chrusch about leaning away from judgement and into compassion. The author was talking about parents losing their children to hyperthermia after forgetting them in a car on a hot day. Can you even imagine? It’s a horrific subject, but the post was so thoughtful and lovely.

“…none of us are immune from the unintentional consequences of our actions. Who among us parents hasn’t made a mistake that could have—but thankfully didn’t—have drastic consequences?”

It reminded me of what Steve said about not being better, just lucky. We’re all capable of anything given the right circumstances.

Find love

I don’t mean that we have to love everything people do. But I do think it helps to acknowledge that we don’t know the details of anyone’s story—even when we think we do.

Maybe that person who pulled up in a Hummer (EYE ROLL) watched their beloved die in a terrible accident, and that motherfucker of a vehicle makes them feel safe? Or maybe they were told they’d always be a nobody and driving a tank makes them feel like a somebody? Or maybe they really hate our planet and whaddyagunnado, man?

How many times have we found ourselves doing something we said we would NEVER EVER NEVER NEVER do? We know how a “good” person should act in a given situation. And we’re good people, right?

And then—suprise—the perfect storm hits and we suddenly find ourselves assholing it up in ways we believed we were absolutely not capable of.

“The distance between Me and Them shrinks a little bit.”

Parents get this. They get it goooood. I lost count of the things I said I’d NEVER EVER NEVER NEVER do before I met Emma. She came along in all her spawny glory, and BAM—I’m yelling like the monster I thought yellers were and cereal for supper five days in a row is probably saving her life.

“Humans, Hickling said, have a fundamental need to create and maintain a narrative for their lives in which the universe is not implacable and heartless, that terrible things do not happen at random, and that catastrophe can be avoided if you are vigilant and responsible.

In hyperthermia cases, he believes, the parents are demonized for much the same reasons. ‘We are vulnerable, but we don’t want to be reminded of that. We want to believe that the world is understandable and controllable and unthreatening, that if we follow the rules, we’ll be okay. So, when this kind of thing happens to other people, we need to put them in a different category from us. We don’t want to resemble them, and the fact that we might is too terrifying to deal with. So, they have to be monsters.'” –Gene Weingarten

“Except they’re not. Unless we all are.” As Erin pointed out.

Curb your judgementalism

I’ll probably be judgemental for all of time. It’s a reflex. Like anger and jealousy. But I don’t have to let it make me mean. Being aware of it puts me in charge. When I catch myself poo-pooing someone’s words, actions, circumstances, possessions, style, or existence, I’ve started the practice of asking myself three questions.

  1. Is it my business? Things like abuse and violence are my business. But it’s not my business that Kim and Kane named their baby North. How long or where your kid sleeps is not my business. Earth is my business, so it sucks that you drive a Hummer, don’t recycle, flick your cigarett butts on the street, and buy plastic water bottles, but that doesn’t make it my business.
  2. What would it take to arrive in that place? Smoking is stupid; there’s no way around that one. But smokers aren’t. And I don’t know their story or what it takes to stop. So I should just go ahead and fuck right off. And hey, raise your hand if you never do anything stupid?
  3. Is there something I could do to love instead of judge? Like not make someone feel badly about something they already beat themselves up for? Or how about be someone who sees a person’s worth? Can I offer the mom with the screaming kids a hand?

These questions don’t stop my judgy twitch from showing up, but they keep it from becoming three-headed.

Zen Habits suggests the DUAL method to avoid being judgemental:

  1. Don’t: This step reminds me of this video—Stop It!
  2. Understand: Either ask or imagine someone’s story. We’re already making assumptions about other people, so why not make ones that  replace our disdain with compassion?
  3. Accept: Accept their humanity, their right to choose, and that we can’t change other people.
  4. Love: My fave! Love, love, love.

I’m thankful for the people in my life choosing to love me when it would be so easy to judge me. I’d like to show up this way for the world. I’m working on it.

Join the Truthfully gang on Facebook. We’ll fight this judgemental beast together.

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Join the conversation

  • http://cynk.wordpress.com that cynking feeling

    I like that you admit that you will continue to be judgmental. I think you are asking something reasonable/realistic of all your readers: don’t vow to give it up entirely, but vow to lessen the effects.

    • Shannon

      I think I used to believe I could do away with all my icky feelings with enough practice. I’ve come to learn that ick is just part of humanity. I’m glad you’re here. :)

  • http://www.mamamzungu.com Kim at Mama Mzungu

    Great post and I like your 1,2,3s here. I have mixed feelings about being judgmental. Yes. We all do it. Maybe because we see our interconnectedness and ourselves in others and WE would never do what THEY are doing. If we didn’t care we could be all zen and removed. Also, some things SHOULD be judged. Like it’s fine if you want to feed your kid snickers one morning to stave a tantrum but NOT fine to hit them or lock them in the basement. But I think your list pretty much gets us to how to handle all these feelings, which, like you said, are like a reflex. Anyway, glad I stopped by! It’s been a while… ; )

    • Shannon

      Abuse is definitely our business. Everything else… I just dunno, man! ZEN.

      Now I want a snickers. :)

  • http://robin2go.net Robin2go

    You caught me. I was thinking about how non-judgmental I was and then you were describing Steve getting hit and the driver not being happy about the first quote and suddenly I found myself RIGHT. THERE. WITH. YOU.


    Thank you for this post. Thank you for the reminder that none of us are immune from the unintentional consequences of our actions. It just depends on a perfect storm hitting good people. It’s a reminder we all could use. So, you know, thanks.

    • Shannon

      Oh man. I was so pissed, Robin. I’m glad I wasn’t alone with that one. Thanks for reading, friend. xo

  • http://www.michellelongo.blogspot.com Michelle Longo

    I know that I judge people. Sometimes I think it’s not so bad because I don’t say it out loud. But then it eats at me, like you, it’s burning in me. I love your suggestions and your take on this. Great post.

    • Shannon

      Oh we’re all always judging. On our bike ride today we passed a couple walking a purse dog that had little red booties on every paw. “NOT JUDGING!” I yelled ahead to Steve once we’d passed them. A few seconds later, I said, “You know when I say I’m not judging it means I’m judging.” HA.

      But I also had a conversation with myself about it. Like who fucking cares if someone wants to put booties on their dog? They help make the world more interesting, and I’m super thankful for that.

  • http://www.collaborativelead.com Stacey

    You always rock the wordsmithing! Great post.
    Interesting point that we demonise others because we are afraid to admit we could have just as easily made a similar mistake. Accidents do happen and I know I try to safeguard myself against all kinds of bad situations but I just end up working myself into a fraidy-cat tizzy. I think perfection and judgement are close cousins. I am trying to figure them both out.
    Kudos to your Steve for believing the best in people. That’s beautiful optimism.
    ps: lovin the hair too!

    • Shannon

      Well… Steve did. I DIDN’T STACEY. I wanted to face punch. :)

  • http://www.momparadigm.com Lee-Anne Ekland

    Bang on again as usual. I love your insight on this topic. I often want to say to people who say,’ I don’t judge,’ to give their heads a shake.

    We all do it as you say, it’s what we do with it afterwards that matters the most. Most of the time, the person we are judging is ourselves through the other person, and the other person usually has no idea the degree to which we are doing it. And of course, we have no idea half the time we are judging ourselves so harshly.

    On another note: I love Zen Habits too. Such wisdom there. And here. It’s a good fit. :)

    • Shannon

      Zen and I should hook up, is what you’re saying? I’ll meditate on it. :P

  • http://discombobula.blogspot.com Sue

    Man, how much of a problem is this, demonising and projecting outwards what we don’t want to deal with inwards? I find it a fascinating process to watch myself doing this. Well, fascinating, but unbelievably painful at the same time.

    I really like your take on “I do this but I’m trying to not do this” because it’s so real. And being real is sexy :)

    • Shannon

      I’m too sexy for this blog. :)

  • http://50peach.com Peach

    I’d say you’re showing up pretty damn well for the world, Shannon.

    Why do we say that we “learn to judge right from wrong”? Because to some extent, judgment is required in our lives to be able to make the right choices. But as you say, when it gets to the point of judging just to be judgy or mean, it’s time to take a step back and realize that not everyone is the same. We all have our own stories.

    Lovely post.

    • Shannon

      OH PEACH. I JUST LOVE YOU. For sure judgement is required, but not the kind that tears people down. Only the kind that keeps us safe.


      I think I ate something weird tonight.

  • http://joybukowski.blogspot.com Joy McCoy Bukowski

    True words girl, thank you so much for sharing the video too!! Bwaaahahaha

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