We all form judgments, and our brains seem wired to automatically go there. How you show up in space, what you share or choose not to share, and your verbal and non-verbal behavior communicate a message.
It is important to be aware of your judgment and your intentions when meeting others for the first time and forming relationships. Using our judgment does have benefits such as making informed choices but being judgmental of other people can lead to rigid and unfair opinions, negatively impact mental health, and lead to comparisons. When important aspects feel questioned such as one’s decisions, character, or beliefs this can make one feel judged and put “in a box”.
When you are struggling with your mental health, you can feel vulnerable reaching out for help. For some people, reaching out to a therapist is a lot easier than reaching out to family or friends for support. While family and friends may have good intentions, they may also be full of unsolicited advice and lack empathetic listening. Therapy is meant to be a safe place, to process thoughts, feelings, and experiences without feeling judged. Rather than assuming thoughts, feelings, or experiences are “bad” or “good”, therapists are trained to observe, listen, explore, and help you process while being mindful of any countertransference.
Sometimes safe spaces do not always feel safe.
It can be very hard to be vulnerable again if you have opened up in a space that felt safe at the time (e.g., with a partner, parent, best friend, or past therapist) only to feel misunderstood, upset, and discouraged to continue opening up. I encourage you to not give up. For those who are in recovery or substance use or intensive outpatient or residential treatment programming for mental health, these concerns may come up in the treatment program or group support.
Exploring what you are feeling and what is experienced in the body, sharing your experience (e.g., journaling, support groups, the person you trust), and evaluating the next steps with trusted support can be helpful. This may include working to repair the relationship that was ruptured, ending the relationship, or giving new relationships a chance.
Sometimes the fear of judgment is perceived and does not match the facts of the situation.
For example, those who struggle with social-anxiety-disorder have an intense fear of being scrutinized and judged. These situations are either avoided or endured with significant distress. The fear is often out of proportion to the situation. Leaning into fear and learning strategies to cope can help.
Options can include seeing a therapist to treat social anxiety. A therapist can help work with your thoughts & feelings and work towards not caring as much about others’ opinions. A therapist can also help explore your perceptions of situations with the facts of the situation and work with fear.
Sometimes judgment is experienced in unhealthy environments and relationships.
Anyone who has experienced a toxic work environment knows that a negative environment creates a culture where your mental health is impacted by unhealthy relational dynamics such as office bullying, discrimination, or harsh criticism. There is a lack of emotional (and sometimes physical) safety for those who have been in abusive relational patterns..
Seeking advocacy support can be helpful to speak, get help, and evaluate options when you are in an unhealthy environment or have unhealthy relational patterns. You do not have to go through this alone. If you are in an unhealthy relationship, here is an excellent resource: https://www.thehotline.org/get-help/
Written By: Charlotte Johnson, MA, LPCC
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