The semantic difference that makes a difference in relationships

People don’t like feeling judged, let alone being judged. It used to be that our society followed the cliché “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Today though, it seems our society has become judgmental of anything it disagrees with.


Think about this, if you judge someone, you are taking the position that you have enough information to determine truth about this person. This is where we get the phrase, “Who made you judge and jury?”


This is the one, I think, that people really don’t like. Being judgmental adds a negative attitude toward the person. This takes noticing that someone we aren’t fond of who is having a bad hair day to the level broadcasting it through gossip or public sarcasm.


A judgment is our determination about something, devoid of attitude. Is it cold outside? Ok, I better wear a coat. We make thousands of judgments a day; How to dress, whether to take an umbrella or get out the snow shovel, what route to drive to get from point A to B, what to order when eating out after figuring out how hungry we are, how to interpret what someone else does or says, and then how to respond to that other person.

Judgments require boundaries. Our judgments are not about others, they are about ourselves. Therefore the converse is true as well, that other people make judgments and decisions for their own reasons that have nothing to do with us. The judgments other people make are not personal to us, and aren’t to be taken as such. However, when another person is judgmental toward us, that is meant to be taken personally.

A particular client, a teenager, was hypersensitive to being judged by others. She hated it… probably because she was so judgmental with almost everyone, so she knew what the other person was doing or thinking. She was stuck on the words. Anything with “judg” in it was bad news in her book, although she was allowed to do so with others no problem. When we talked about this, I gave plenty of examples demonstrating the difference between making judgments and being judgmental. As we talked, she began to see the difference between noticing that someone is ‘having a bad hair day’ versus saying something negative about it. Her lack of boundaries had led her to say whatever came to her mind about others, and to take things personally that others had said that were not meant to hurt but were merely observational. This change in perception allowed her to change how she interacted with others.

Once these differences are realized, it can help change viewpoints. If someone is practicing good judgment, don’t take it personally or as them being judgmental.

We can’t live without making judgments. But we can certainly live without judgmental attitudes.


Todd has been a therapist for over 20 years in a variety of settings. An unconventional therapist who tells the truth, Todd has taught undergraduate and graduate level courses, and authored his first book, Simply Relate.

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