I think one of the most impactful changes I have made in my life was learning to avoid getting stuck in anger and resentment towards others. I used to just spend hours or even days just seething with resentment about how someone else was doing wrong, being wrong, mistreating me or someone else, or making the wrong decision. I was unable to see how they could be so misguided when the truth or right path was so obvious.
Sometimes I was right. More likely I was wrong. It didn’t matter though because either way I was spending a lot of time and energy on something that was not mine to decide. Whenever I go there, I give away my personal power, ability to be at peace and control of my mental faculties in exchange for feeling self-righteous and judgmental.
Granted, it’s a bit different if I had responsibility for the outcome of the situation and it was part of my job or role to take action. In that case, my opinion is germane and I have a responsibility to either learn about the others’ perspective and/or do something about it. Still, getting upset will not help me make a good decision about how to proceed.
But most of the time I’d get worked up about something that really wasn’t my business or my place to decide, even if it impacted me. For example, I might not like how my best friend makes decisions about her life. But it’s her life, even if the repercussions might have an impact on me eventually. In the past I might’ve spent a lot of time and energy trying to convince her of the ‘right thing to do.’ At best it’s a waste of time. At worst I can be giving bad advice (who am I to know how she should live her life?) and I could be harming our relationship by judging her or her actions.
So here’s what I try to do when I’m stuck in the Judging Others and Their Actions Mode:
- Calm down and get some emotional distance – If I’m emotional and overly invested in an outcome that’s none of my business, I’m not likely to be using my best judgment.
- Know what I actually have control over – Most of the time I only really have control over my own thoughts, feelings and actions. The less real control I have over a situation, the more I should let it go. Nagging someone else does not count as having control.
- Look for judgment – It’s easy to armchair quarterback someone else’s life but I don’t know what’s going on in their world, even if I think I do. They have a different view of the world and different values than I do. Those differences don’t make them wrong or bad, just because I don’t understand them.
- Assume they’re doing their best under the present circumstances – Imagine what kind of circumstances could lead them to these behaviors. It does not mean that you have to agree with their choices. It simply allows you to see how a reasonable person might make the same decision.
- Consider how you would want to be treated in this situation – I’m sure you don’t want to be judged or criticized if you are struggling with a similar situation. Perhaps a conversation is warranted to see how you can be supportive of them and their journey without encouraging or rewarding the behavior you dislike. This approach has the additional potential benefit of gaining a better understanding of their perspective.
- Know that bad situations are sometimes good things – Just like negative emotion sometimes spurs positive actions, so do bad situations. We sometimes judge situations to be bad, when they are sometimes opportunities for much needed change and growth. Keeping that in mind might help to ratchet down the emotion.
- If they’ve done something that negatively impacts you directly, forgive them for being human. You would want the same courtesy if you’re struggling with a bad situation. That does not mean, however, that you have to tolerate the behavior going forward. Knowing and enforcing your boundaries is not the same as judging.
If you don’t think this person deserves your effort to find a more forgiving and accepting perspective, consider that this accepting perspective is a gift you give yourself. If you are spending time and energy nurturing negative emotion, give yourself the gift of positive emotions such as tranquility, forgiveness and compassion. Your generosity will help you feel better, regain your peace, retain your personal power, and preserve or even enhance your relationship. If that isn’t a win-win-win, I don’t know what is.