Of all the worries that clients bring with them into the therapy room, fear of judgment is one of the greatest. Judgment is defined as; “an opinion or conclusion.” It sounds like such a harmless, simple word, yet the act of judging holds enormous sway over our hearts and minds.
In the Greek myth, The Judgment of Paris, Zeus gives Paris, a mortal man, the task of deciding which of three goddesses (Hera, Athena, Aphrodite) is the fairest. Hera promises him wealth and power if he chooses her. Athena offers victory in battle, glory and wisdom. Aphrodite promises him true love from a beautiful woman. Blinded by his passion, Paris chooses Aphrodite’s offer and awards her the title of fairest. An angry Hera then tricks Paris by giving to him a “clone” of the real woman he is to marry, but Paris, still blind with his desire, does not even notice.
The myth makes a point of telling the reader that Paris is “blinded” by the light and radiance of the goddesses before he judges them. It is obvious that Paris’ judgment is solely about his own profit. Objectively, there was not a correct answer for who was most beautiful, but subjectively there was a “right” answer for Paris himself. In that moment, he made the conclusion that true love was better to have than wisdom, victory, wealth or power. Paris is so blinded by his own opinion and conclusion (his judgment), that he does not even realize that his new wife is a figment of his imagination.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) teaches that judgment is a type of “labeling” events, others and ourselves that restricts our freedom and creates distress. Labeling something as “good,” “bad,” “ugly,” “pretty,” “worthy,” and “unworthy” creates rigidity and stuck-ness. Judgment creates distress because it puts us into boxes that are very difficult to get out of and it limits the possibilities in our lives.
Within the major religion’s doctrines, there can be found numerous passages warning about the act of judging. The Holy Bible reads; “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you (Matthew 7:12).”
Similarly, the Buddha said that humans make judgments in four ways, (1) according to outward appearance, (2) according to the opinion of others, (3) according to economic status and (4) according to reality. He too said, “Do not be a judge of others, do not judge others. Whoever judges others digs a pit for themselves (A. III, 351).
And finally, the Quran espouses that man is not fit to judge; “I am no bringer of new fangled doctrine among the apostles, nor do I know what will be done with me or with you. God is the ONLY one who can judge humans (46:9).
Yet, what does it mean not to judge? How can we live in a world without opinions and conclusions? Aren’t we forming opinions and conclusions all of the time?
DBT teaches that one way out of judgment is to observe the facts that we can see, hear, taste, touch and smell. You may notice that someone has arched eyebrows, curly brown hair and high cheekbones. All facts. It is when you label that person as “pretty” that you slip into the arena of judgment. Judgment creates distress because we begin to mistake it as truth. The phrase, “I feel sad” is very different from saying “I AM sad.” One is a fact (the feeling) and one is a judgment about our very character. It is much easier to move through feelings than it is to get unstuck from things we believe are true about ourselves.
Judgments only belong to the individual who has them. Remember, they are simply “opinions” not facts. Yet, I know of countless people who are distressed about other people’s judgments of them. When you allow others’ opinions to distress you, you are taking them on as you own. It is important to let go of your own judgments and also the judgments of others.
The first step is to notice your judgments. This week, observe your tendency to judge. Look for words and labels like, “fair,” “unfair,” “should,” “should not,” “right,” and “wrong.” Notice what events, people and attributes of yourself you tend to judge the most. Notice how attached you are to your judgments. Then ask yourself what it would be like to let go of some of those judgments. Practice observing and describing with facts instead of with judgments. Let your conclusions be open ended.
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