Judgment is a significant aspect of overall mental wellness that is often overlooked. The judgment that we place upon our experiences in our everyday lives can color how we feel about those experiences as well as how we react to any given situation. Noting and defusing judgments can reduce emotional reactivity as well as improve our ability to sit with and respond appropriately to stress.
Taking a nonjudgmental stance is a mindfulness term coined by Marsha Linehan founder of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy or DBT. Marsha Linehan believed that reducing judgment involved three separate steps: Observing (paying attention to ourselves or our environment), Describing (putting what we’ve observed into words), and Participating (being fully present in whatever it is we are experiencing in that given moment).
It is difficult to fully participate, or be present, during experiences upon which we have placed judgment, especially negative judgments. The key to reducing judgment exists in how we describe our experiences. If we describe our experiences based solely upon our thoughts and emotions rather than just “what is” in any given moment we can fall into a negative judgment very easily, which in turn may cause us to feel even worse about whatever it is we are experiencing in that given moment.
Let’s take for example a missed connection in which you attempt to call a friend to talk about a bad day you had and your friend does not answer. What we can observe in that situation is that a phone call was made, but could not be completed which was disappointing. How we might describe that situation through negative judgments could result in a number of ways including:
1) This person isn’t really a good friend or they would have answered my phone call
2) My friend doesn’t care about me
3) I’m so worthless my own friend doesn’t want to talk to me
If any of the above named judgments are made this could easily leave you feeling abandoned, lonely, or sad on top of your already bad day which could potentially lead to a mental health spiral. Consider instead if you placed no judgment at all in describing this situation as follows: I tried to call my friend and they didn’t answer. I felt disappointed as a result. Even though this feeling is uncomfortable, it will pass, and it’s understandable to be disappointed in that situation.
In the above situation taking a nonjudgmental stance leaves you only with your first experienced emotion, disappointment. In describing what is and only what is in that moment, you are able to participate fully in your disappointment and manage that emotion without additional difficult emotions on top.
Taking a nonjudgmental stance takes significant practice and requires daily practice. You can begin this habit by noting the descriptions that you make about your experiences and practicing changing these descriptions from either “good or bad” to simply what is happening during those experiences. Journaling is an effective tool for noting and changing the judgments that we place upon our experiences.