The Random Writings of Rachel: When Someone Judges You...

When Someone Judges You...

What's your response? Is it an instant, "Who are you? Who gave you any right to have an opinion on how I live?" accompanied by writing off the criticism, and maybe even the person, as without worth?

I believe that this is an inappropriate response. Why, as a society, have we come to the point where saying something like, "You're a strong and inspiring person and you have great hair" elicits a "Thank you!!!" followed by a dozen smiley face emojis, but a "You're not doing so hot in this department." receives a "How dare you? You can't judge me!"


How did "judging" become so taboo? Most of what is labeled judging in common conversation is simply that, making mental judgments about the quality or lack of quality in a certain area of someone's life. A compliment is also, technically, a value judgment, because it's a positive result of our mental assessment of someone's outfit, job performance, or other personal trait.

Positive judgments are always welcome, whether asked for or not, but very few seem willing to listen to negative judgments, no matter how warranted.

I firmly believe that the blanket decision to write off all criticism as inappropriate judging is only going to hurt you in the long run. Refusal to listen to unpleasant-sounding life advice just means that you're throwing out the good advice along with the bad.

I'm not claiming that being criticized is fun. It's something that our very soul revolts against--but if we're wise, we'll take our time when responding to criticism, and in some circumstances, we might find the initial, "How dare you tell me how to live my own life! I'll make my own mistakes, thank you very much!" may turn into, "Wow. Thanks for caring about my future enough to tell me the truth, even though it was uncomfortable for both of us."

I've received some negative judgments in my day--here are a few of the less personal examples that I can share with the world: When I was a teenager, I was frequently told, "You would be much prettier if you didn't have such short hair." I gradually started growing out my hair and experimenting with longer lengths.

They were right. I didn't want to have long hair, and enjoyed my no-effort boyish haircut very much at the time, but there's no question in my mind, looking back, their opinion that longer hair would be more flattering was 100% correct.

In more recent times, I've been told that I dress immodestly. My instant reaction could have been, "Why should I care what you think?"--but instead, I chose to examine the issue of modesty from different angles, and was able to realize that the culture I was raised in strongly impacted what styles I was comfortable wearing, but the culture I had moved to had very different standards regarding appropriate dress. I didn't end up drastically changing my general dressing habits, but understanding the cross-cultural situation I was dealing with helped me learn how to preserve relationships and respect in the face of differing opinions.

Once, I was told that I should remove a curse word from a blog post. I wanted to fight back, I wanted to stand up for journalistic freedom and state my case--that I pretty much never curse, that that particular curse word was witty and perfect right in that location, that I didn't want to remove it. Stating my reasons for including the curse word opened up a dialogue, and my "judger" was able to give me her reasons for suggesting that I remove the word, pointing out my motivation for that particular blog post to reach a wide audience, and that by including the curse word, I was potentially alienating a large sub-segment of the non-cursing population, and causing them to be unable to appreciate the larger message of my post because they were too distracted by the silly little curse. I may believe that people shouldn't discount the truth of a work of literature because of a rare curse, but I also agree that this is indeed what happens in the real world--I ended up taking the curse word out.

Now, in all of these situations, it would have been easy to hear what they said, and translate it into my mind as You're ugly. You dress like a harlot. Your blog is vulgar and crude. Let me assure you, my mind is just as dramatic as anyone else's. It would have been easy to just cry to Angel that people are being mean to me, tell them "YOU DON'T KNOW MY LIFE!", then suck it up, ignore them, and go about my merry way, not taking into account anyone who critiqued me. But instead, I chose the more difficult route of examining whether it was possible that their negative judgment had any element of truth in it, and taking action based on the results.

I'm not claiming that all judgment is accurate--but far more of it is accurate than we tend to believe. Here are a few warning signs alerting you to when you should really be sure to stop and pay attention to the criticism you're facing:

1. The criticism is coming from someone you respect or have a long-standing relationship with.

2. The person judging you is someone who 'practices what they preach'--their life shows the good results of following their own advice.

3. The person criticizing you shares the same value system that you do.

4. You've heard criticism on exactly the same area of your life from multiple different people.

One thing I've always admired about my husband is how teachable he is. Most of the time, he does take each criticism and judgment handed to him, cautiously examines it, and applies it to his life when it's needed. He's also fond of saying, "Let's bring judging back!" as his way of affirming the usefulness of being criticized.

One evening we were going to sleep, and Angel was reflecting on how he wasn't impressed with his own behavior that day. He said, "I feel like such a bad person."

I said, "You are."

His response? To start laughing and say, "I'm so glad I married you! What other wife would say such a thing?"

My 2-word sentence of advice in that moment came from a position of a long-standing relationship (Point #1) and from our shared value system in which we believe in the fundamental depravity of humanity (Point #3). He said later that he was expecting my response to be something along the lines of, "You're not so bad, you're in a tough situation and I know you're trying to do the right thing!"--but he found my truthful, and admittedly negative, response to be actually more useful.

Right now, Angel and I are in the position of being oldest siblings and cousins to a large population of teenagers getting ready for college. We have the relationship and we have the experience behind us of graduating from college successfully and without crippling debt. We are tireless in our advice-giving: Don't start college if you think there's a strong chance you won't be able to finish--instead, consider a trade school or another, non-college option. Getting a degree in something interesting that you won't be able to get a job in is stupid. Don't take on debt without a foolproof plan for paying it off. Don't get into debt in the first place for an obviously low-paying career. Consider community colleges.

Such advice could be considered nosy and needless. It could be construed as "judging" by passionate young teens who just want to get $120,000 B.A.'s in Philosophy. These young people we love so very much have the option to totally ignore our advice, or take it, and whether they do take it or not probably depends on whether they share our no-debt value system. In the end, whether or not they listen, we've given them a wider opportunity by simply by saying the unpleasant truth that if you go to college for the fun experience, you're setting yourself up for a financially frustrating future.

Decide right now not to write off any and all negative comments wholesale. Keep in mind the 4 points I mentioned above, but also be aware that it's possible, though less likely, to get legitimate, actionable criticism from a source and situation that doesn't match any of the criteria.

I'm not perfect. I need input into my life. I desperately need people to love me enough to say "You messed up" and "I don't think that's a good decision for you." And so do you.

34 comments:

  1. This is such a thoughtful (and well written!) post. It's hard for me when I feel judged, because I instantly take it personally. But you're right, if we want to improve and better ourselves, criticism is a necessary part of it.

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  2. Great post, Rachel....would love to hear more about the practicalities of your 'no-debt' philosophy....[ Totally unrelated - and slightly weird to pair this in the same comment as the previous sentence! - but I love your fucsia Converse in your Instagram feed ;) ]

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    1. Thank you, those Converse are my all time favorite shoes! :) I will put the idea for a post about money philosophy meets daily life into the blogging queue, thanks!

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  3. Love this post. I struggle along with the masses with criticism, particularly when they are spot on! It is so easy to forget that we are called to correct and be corrected, as long as it is in a spirit of gentleness. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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  4. I love this post. It can be so frustrating when that happens.
    Melanie @ meandmr.com

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  5. This is awesome! I think you did a great job on the 4 points on discerning sources of useful judgments.

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  6. Yes, yes, yes! Somewhere along the line we stopped being able to discern someone just being "judgmental" or negative for the sake of it from "constructive criticism" or someone genuinely wanting to help you with something, and we've lumped it all together into one pile and determined that any comment that does anything less than call us wonderful and perfect should be summarily dismissed . I've always struggled with taking things too personally, but even so I know when someone corrects me on something and they are right on, and I hope to never be the kind of person that can't take correction and grow from it! Wonderful wonderful post!

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  7. This is awesome! So true. I think I am definitely quick to want to defend myself against criticism and not actually listen to it.

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  8. Hello from a new reader! ^_^ I just found your blog and I find it absolutely awesome and will be stalking you from now on!
    About the judging problem, I agree on most points, especially the 4 warning signs. When I started blogging I desperately needed feedback. My boyfriend is my harshest critic and I really appreciate it, but he wasn't enough. All my friends and people I knew were always like "Yaaay, it's super cool and pretty and perfect", but I wanted constructive criticsm on how I can make it better. So yes, criticism is important in your self growth and success.
    What I don't like though is people interfiring into my life, when they don't even remotely know me or when they're miserable and give me advice on how I SHOULD live my life. Example: "You should start thinking about kids", "You should get a job, all you do whole day is stare at the ceilling", "You should take acting courses,not Japanese" (I go to Japanese courses). I don't like it and I will never listen to such blatant advice, from someone who has no idea how the world works or what kind of a person I am.

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  9. LOVED this! Reposted on my FB and Twitter pages. Well written, and thought provoking. Great post Rachel : )

    bisous
    Suzanne
    http://www.suzannecarillo.com

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  10. I love this post! I think a lot of times my pride gets in the way when other people give me criticism or corrects me. I take things too personally as well. In the past few years, however, I've learned to use that criticism to grow and become a better person. Living with four roommates this year has been such a blessing and a great learning experience. We all have helped each other grow and become better people. We need criticism because otherwise we would never want to change or see our own faults/bad habits.

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  11. There is so much wisdom here Rachel and I couldn't agree more. I think that wisdom, when kindly spoken, is often what we need and ought to be received with humility. Thanks for writing this!

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  12. thanks for sharing this! I think criticism can be really difficult to deal with, esp the negative kind, but I think when it comes from a good place and from someone who cares for you, it's easier to accept and grow from because you know it's coming from a place of concern and love and not just a thoughtless judgment from a stranger or someone who doesn't necessarily talk the talk. great post ♥

    http://storybookapothecary.com | stop by and chat :)

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  13. this is such a thoughtful post! i often catch myself being quick to judge, so these are all good reminders. :)

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  14. I have been judged all my life and now that I live thousands of miles away from those people who judged me, I am still being judged and in all honesty spied on . It never seems to end. :(

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  15. THANK YOU FOR THE REMINDER!!!!!!!! I was just telling my husband that I need to judge less and worry about me, not others more.

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  16. Great post! I think that it is important to be honest and when you take the time to consider what that person is saying than you will either agree or disagree with their criticism! You also have to be able to figure the difference between someone who is trying to be honest from the ones who are just trying to be mean! When I was younger my mothers friend used to always say things to me and I thought she was just rude and annoying! Now that I think about it she was just being honest, she told me I look better in tighter jeans, I used to wear really baggy pants....she was right!!! So if we take a step back and ignore our initial feelings we can understand where the criticism is needed and accept it as advise!...not always tho! Thanks for sharing!

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  17. Wow, I really enjoyed this post. It really gives me a lot to think about! I never really thought about our like that before. Sometimes I take the high road like you and handle constructive criticism well, but sometimes I get really defensive. Thanks so much for sharing!

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  18. I love your tips for knowing when to accept criticism! When I worked at a treatment center, we were always taught to make sure you have a relationship with the student before you try to discipline or give advice. I think it's important to think about that stuff in the real world too if you really want to help someone.

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  19. Very interesting perspective on something we all truly struggle with. It's human nature to judge....and I find it to be a defense mechanism in the deepest, most subconscious ways (don't go near the guy who looks dangerous, reach out to the person who looks like they need help - these are judgement in the simplest form). I have a hard time, however, inappropriately casting judgement on people. I once thought a woman who posted pictures of herself all over FB, but none of her daughter, was a self-involved mom who was giving her daughter the wrong idea about what it means to be a woman. Turns out, the lady had given her child up for adoption because she knew she couldn't care for her...and I can only imagine how difficult such a decision must've been and how ultimately selfless it is to make a choice like that. I think the key to this is your list of characteristics to take into consideration when deciding whether or not to take someone's judgement to heart. I'm glad I never said anything to the girl on FB, but I feel awful that I've shared my feelings about her to others. If it ever got back to her I'm hopeful she would look at your post and realize I had no idea what I was talking about. The same can be said of those who've judged me (my marriage has always been a hot topic as my husband had a very public affair four years ago). I value the opinions of those who truly know me and nothing more.

    Thank you for another insightful and thought-provoking post.

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  20. I 100% agree. There's a whole "haters gonna hate" mentality out there that just drives me crazy. Sometimes people are completely off base, but sometimes they have very valid points. It doesn't mean they hate you and that you should cut them out of your life.

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  21. You know, I've never thought of compliments as positive "judging" before. If we listen to that and are willing to consider it, we should probably also be willing to listen to criticism as well. If you want more practice getting and listening to criticism, starting a blog is a good start. For the really advanced, you can allow anonymous comments. :)

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  22. I think this is a very interesting post. As a teacher, we are trained and encouraged to use the 4:1 ratio...4 good things to one bad thing...we are "judging" our students--their behavior, their academics, their character. So, we try to show them the good with the bad because they are still young and don't necessarily respond well to constructive criticism.

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  23. Great topic Rachel! So all points you listed are valid and I do feel as a society, we've grown too sensitive to LOTS of things - especially criticism/judgement. I'm sensitive to it at times because the family I was raised in would use that utility for negative NOT constructive so I am still learning to decipher when something is to my advantage and accurate versus damaging/insulting. It's fine-tuning listening skills and interpretation is all. I agree 100% that we are too sensitive and I myself am guilty but it's human nature; most of us aren't trained to take things in a positive light but more negative. I'm trying to instill this very factor into my son that when something is wrong, it's not a reflection of him as a person just a mistake and to take it, fix it, and move on. Just do better. I am just as honest with my bf and he is with me and if we're in an argument and he makes 'judgments' it may take me a bit longer and some fighting to realize he may be on to something. I'm also just very stubborn :P I could ramble on about this topic but very well written Rachel! Take Care -Iva

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  24. Excellent post, and so true, Rachel! While we obviously can't (and shouldn't) take everyone's advice, we should at least listen and politely respond to the advice others give out of the kindness of their hearts.

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  25. Interesting perspective! I think there is a lot of truth with being able to take in criticism, objectively consider it, and maybe even make changes. Proverbs in the Bible has a lot to say about listening to the wise counsel of others. :) Being a youth minister's wife, we encounter a lot of criticism and "suggestions" (my husband more so than I do). It can be frustrating, but when we step back and consider their perspective, we often unearth a lot of truth and can move forward more productively. A lot of people's emotional reactions come from criticism that is blunt or aggressive. I think we get through so much better when we are straight forward, yet loving.

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  26. There is a very fine line though because we are called to love first and love our neighbors as ourselves.If we wouldn't want something said to us then we shouldn't say it to someone else. If it is something that we would want to be said that we should say it. Yahshua only judged the hypocritical Pharisees that was all, throughout his gospel he didn't judge the sinners just healed them and told them to sin no more. Basically hypocrites should be judged.So I am finding it hard to understand why people suddenly think it is all right to start judging everyone again. We really are suppose to judge ourselves the most. And if we do give judgement it is suppose to be righteous judgement which is biblical judgement not petty or vain judgement and only if we know all the details because we can misjudge situations and actions. It should be done thoughtfully and prayerfully "Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. 3 And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? " Matthew 7:1-4

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    2. I just want to add correction and judging are a bit different. If we look at the root of the words we can find the deeper meanings in passages and find a deeper understanding.I think correction is important and should be done in love :) A problem is many of us including myself, have a Greek mindset but Yahweh is going to change it into a Hebrew Mindset because all things will be revealed and what is broken will be fixed. Blessings to you! and Shalom!

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  27. It's so hard to take someones judgement and see the positive, especially because I'm so defensive. It all depends on who it comes from and how its said as well.

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  28. Amen!

    I'm so glad you wrote this. Here are my thoughts on judging:

    1. The Bible talks a lot about it. In fact it says it is better to receive a corrective word. That is in Proverbs somewhere.
    2. The Bible says we are to judge. I know most people don't agree with that but it says we should judge and that however we judge we will be held to those same standards. That scares me.
    3. It is hard to humble ourselves and accept constructive criticism / judgment. It is a choice to listen or to harden your heart and walk away.

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  29. There is truth in what you have written. One of the most abused verses in the Bible is the "judge not" one.

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  30. It's such a great post, but it's sometimes so hard to go against our nature and fight back all the time.

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  31. Thank you for this post, Rachel! It is so honest and on point. Sometimes we hear the saying "Only God can judge me", and though I think we should refrain from HASTY judgement or just being too judgmental in general, I think it is completely valid to judge one another about certain things. Fearing how loved ones will judge our actions, I believe, is one thing that keeps us in line. There are a ton of bad choices I would have made (in addition to the bad choices I actually DID make) had I not cared about what certain people thought of me.

    Love your perspective on this subject :)

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