Despite your best attempts to be compassionate or accepting, you will inevitably encounter judgmental people. You can typically tell if someone is judgmental early on during your interaction. They tend to be negative and sarcastic. They are also often demeaning towards others, whether to their face or behind their back.
When you’re around a judgmental person, you may feel anxious, annoyed, or insecure in their presence. You might even take extra steps to impress them, hoping that your efforts will change their tune.
Here’s how you can cope:
Remember, Their Attitude Isn’t About You
Judgmental people tend to be globally judgmental. That means that they are critical and harsh toward many people and things. In addition, they are also often cruel to themselves.
In other words, try to remind yourself to avoid taking their attitude personally. Their actions are in response to their projections.
If you’re spending time with someone who isn’t normally judgmental, you should consider their current situation. Are they, for example, under more stress right now? Are they feeling particularly sensitive about a certain issue? Are they spending more time with people who tend to be judgmental? Any of these environmental triggers can affect someone’s worldview and actions.
Avoid Stooping to Their Level
Spending time with judgmental people can trick you into thinking their behavior is acceptable.
This is especially true if you admire or like the person. You may justify their actions and rationalize that it’s okay. Or, you might even convince yourself they’re being rightfully judgmental, particularly if you also feel judgmental towards the person or issue they’re venting about.
But try to embrace being the bigger person in this situation. If you join in on the judging, you inadvertently signal that you find their behavior acceptable. You also might leave the interaction feeling guilty, embarrassed, or annoyed by your actions.
Be Mindful Of Your Own Judgmental Tendencies
Let’s face it- research shows that we are wired to make snap judgments. These judgments are rooted in evolution and represent part of our survival tendencies.
But relying on these judgments is harmful. When we assume we know something about someone, we don’t take the time to understand the situation fully. As a result, we may come across as dismissive or condescending. On a more serious level, judgment creates massive problems with racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination.
If you recognize that you’re too judgmental, try not to be too hard on yourself. You’re only human. We live in a competitive society that tends to thrive on being divisive on certain issues.
But the next time you find yourself becoming judgmental, ask yourself these questions:
- Am I judging something because I don’t understand it?
- Am I judging something because I’m afraid of it?
- Am I judging something because I don’t like it?
If you answer yes to any of these questions, try to embrace a more reflective approach. If you don’t understand something, how can you educate yourself about it? If you’re afraid of something, what might help you feel more comfortable with that fear? And if you don’t like something, what might help you move towards more of a place of acceptance?
Don’t Get Defensive
It may be tempting to combat someone else’s judgment towards you with your judgment, but this strategy rarely works. Having a defensive or childish reaction often causes them to double down on their efforts. This can exacerbate conflict. And you may be left feeling even more drained, insecure, or resentful.
Let’s take the following example. Your mother comes over for dinner and says, “I don’t know how you can find anything in this house! It’s such a mess.”
Your initial reaction might be to respond with sarcasm, “That’s weird, I never have a problem finding anything. Maybe you should get your eyes checked again.” Or, you might want to lash out and say, “Nothing is ever good enough for you, is it?”
But these defensive responses only signal the start of a vicious argument. Instead, consider remaining calm and responding with a statement like, “I don’t appreciate your comments about my house. If you keep complaining about it, I will ask you to leave.” Or, you could simply say, “I like my house the way it is.”
Consider Their Upbringing and Environment
It’s easy to get upset with someone for being so judgmental. It’s also easy to judge them for being judgmental (which really causes the issue to go full circle).
Instead of getting swept into your emotions, you may find it more helpful to try to understand the origin of their behavior. Do they, perhaps, struggle with very low self-esteem? Did they grow up in an abusive household where their parents were cruel and punitive? Have they been reinforced by others to bully?
Understanding why someone does what they do doesn’t mean they’re off the hook. You certainly don’t have to enable or like problematic behavior. But it can help soften the intensity of how reactive you get when you’re around them.
Limit the Time You Spend Together
You are ultimately in control of your life, especially when it comes to your relationships. You don’t have to choose to spend your time with people who drain you emotionally. In fact, doing so often perpetuates more suffering.
If you can’t avoid someone altogether (i.e., they’re your next-door neighbor or coworker), you can still set boundaries and reconsider the context of your relationship. For example, you might decide to avoid telling your coworker anything about your personal life. Or, you might walk your dog at a time when you know your next-door neighbor is at work.
Focus on filling your time with people who inspire you and make you feel good about yourself. That’s not to say someone can’t ever be judgmental. But emotionally healthy people have good self-esteem. They don’t need to put others down to feel better about themselves.
Reframe Their Judgments
Sometimes we take a person’s judgments personally. Let’s say, for example, a friend off-handedly comments, “Wow, you’re still driving that same car? I’m surprised it’s still running after all these years! Do you even think it’s safe anymore?”
Your first instinct might be a shame response. The shame happens because part of you might agree with your friend’s harsh comment. You might feel embarrassed by your car and embarrassed that you don’t have money to replace it.
But it doesn’t help your friend (or you) to feed the negativity. Judgmental people thrive on tearing other people down to validate themselves. If you accept their statements as facts, you reinforce their behavior and feel worse about yourself. It’s a lose-lose situation.
Instead, try to challenge your thinking. For example, you might validate yourself by saying, “I do feel a little embarrassed about driving this car. But I take great care of it, the mechanic says it’s perfectly safe, and I’m saving money to replace it in a year or two. I’m proud of myself for being responsible with my money.”
You can also reframe judgments by asking yourself:
- What evidence do I have that proves their statement is completely true?
- What’s another way I can look at this situation?
- If another friend were in my shoes right now, what would I tell them?
- How helpful is having this thought right now?
Changing your thoughts might not automatically change how you feel. But learning to shift your perspective can drastically reduce the intensity of your reactions. Over time, this can help you feel calmer (and more confident) when you’re around judgmental people.
Suggested Reading: 9 Signs of Poor Boundaries (And What to Do Instead)
Call Them Out Directly
You don’t need to take a backseat to someone’s snarkiness. In fact, saying nothing (or pretending that you’re unfazed) enables judgmental behavior.
Instead, consider being upfront with your response:
- “Your comment about ___ made me feel hurt/angry/sad.”
- “I don’t appreciate you gossipping about ____.”
- “I don’t feel safe talking about this topic right now.”
- “I am not going to participate in talking badly about ____.”
- “I hear what you’re saying, but I disagree.”
- “You’re entitled to think that way. I see it otherwise.”
- “That’s your opinion, and I respect it.”
Remember that tone is everything. Aim to be calm and neutral in your response. This shows that you have a sense of control over your reactions.
Be mindful of the tendency to engage in passive-aggressive behavior. Don’t resort to eye-rolling, silent treatment, or responding with short, one-word statements. Remember that nobody can truly read your mind, so it’s much better to be assertive about how you feel.
Acknowledge Your Own Issues With Judgment
Do you find it hard to accept feedback?
Do you feel like people are always judging you?
If so, you might be jumping to conclusions when someone simply offers a suggestion. Or, you might assume that any feedback- even when it’s from a genuine and loving place- is a form of contemptuous criticism.
People who struggle with accepting feedback often have unresolved emotional baggage.
For example, maybe you feel insecure about your physical appearance, so any comment- positive or negative- triggers you to assume someone else is criticizing you. Or, perhaps you grew up with a parent who frequently called you dumb or stupid. If, as an adult, your partner tries to offer you advice, you might automatically assume they believe you’re incompetent.
Work On Your Emotional Triggers
An emotional trigger can include any person, situation, or feeling that exacerbates a stress response. Many people find that their triggers have a pattern to them.
Let’s go back to the example of feeling insecure about your appearance. Maybe you’ve always struggled with how you look. No matter what you wear or how you take care of yourself, you still don’t feel good enough. A friend comments, “Wow, that dress really hugs your curves. I could never pull it off, but it totally works with your body type.”
The comment itself feels passive-aggressive and confusing, and you may wonder if it’s a backhanded compliment. Someone who hasn’t worked on this specific emotional trigger might automatically tell themselves, “She’s obviously calling me fat. This looks terrible on me.”
Someone who has worked on their emotional triggers might be able to tell themselves, “I’m not really sure what she means by this statement. It feels somewhat passive-aggressive, although she might be complimenting me. Regardless, I really like this dress, and her opinion doesn’t make anything inherently true or false.”
You can work on your emotional triggers by:
- Practicing more self-compassion in your daily life
- Engaging in self-care
- Practicing healthy coping responses when you feel emotionally activated
- Meeting with a professional therapist to work on mental health issues
Judgmental people are everywhere, and you might even be one of those people yourself! But instead of trying to fix or change everyone else, focus on what is in your control: your responses and actions. The more you can dial those in, the less you will feel affected by other people.