Are You Too Judgmental for Your Own Good?By Steve Calechman
We all like to think that we’re open-minded, but then we find ourselves in a certain place or situation and, suddenly, our minds start sizing everything and everyone up. Whether it’s the service at a restaurant or the behavior of someone at the gym, there’s no shortage of things to judge. While the opinions can be helpful and occasionally even funny, many times they’re just barbed and critical.
In those moments, we wish that we wouldn’t get fixated on stuff that has no bearing in our life. Before we beat ourselves up too much, though, keep in mind that the act of forming opinions will not disappear. “Judgments are thoughts like anything else” says Jill A. Stoddard, Ph.D., a psychologist in San Diego and author of Be Mighty. “We can’t control them. They just pop in.”
And the judgments will more likely be negative than positive. “It’s the old survival mechanism,” says Laura Silberstein-Tirch, Psy.D., a New York City-based psychologist. “It was more important to know where the poisonous berries were than the beautiful flowers.” Yet judging still serves a purpose, and not all of it bad. Someone’s work ethic or tennis ability can be a benchmark and source of motivation. “Everyone needs comparisons,” says Jason Rose, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at the University of Toledo. They also make life easier. Every day is filled with decisions, and “we can’t take the time to work through every detail,” he says.
But along with providing inspiration and efficiency, making harsh criticisms can also be about keeping up socially. Sometimes, it’s about whether your ways are best. When it comes to decisions like how to parent or what to eat, there is rarely universal agreement. That lack of definitiveness can cause insecurity. We want to feel like we’ve chosen the best path; but with no clear answer, our inner critic jumps out to resolve the dissonance, says Stoddard. And, as it turns out, the release of an impulsive, judgmental comment comes with a payoff: Research has shown that gossiping gives a boost of oxytocin, the feel-good hormone. However, while it may feel good to voice your unsolicited opinion, that happy f