Why You Should Stop Judging Your Friends and Their Life Decisions
Experts break down why this habit is so harmful — and how to break the cycle and foster empathy instead.
Judging others – and being judged ourselves – is part and parcel of life. And while we’d all like to think that we love our friends unconditionally and free from judgement, sometimes that simply isn’t the case.
I remember years ago a friend pulling me up on my judging her for repeatedly going back to her boyfriend. When I later found myself in a similar situation, it gave me some real food for thought over how I’d want to be treated had I been in her shoes.
Whichever way you want to look at it, we’re all susceptible to judging those around us, and that can sometimes include friends. Because, while we like to think that we accept and love our friends regardless of their behavior — and particularly if their actions don’t affect us directly — that often isn’t the case.
Whether your views differ when it comes to dating; or whether you’re of a different school of thinking when it comes to politics, or any number of nuanced subjects, friends can be just as prone to judgement — and sometimes more so — than simply a colleague who you don’t particularly like.
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“Fundamentally in a friendship you’re looking to feel seen, loved, safe and affirmed,” says Danielle Jackson, female friendship coach and founder of Better Female Friendship. “And, so, when you enter into a dynamic where a person is constantly making you aware that they don’t approve of your choices, then you’re not going to feel seen, safe, loved and affirmed.”
Your friend doesn’t need fixing
There’s a rhetoric when it comes to friendships that we should all feel safe and secure in bringing our full selves to the table. However, if we want to do something like “fix” a friend, or try to make her see that her choices are inadequate, it’s easy to see how the friendship may quickly deteriorate.
Jackson explains that “the definition of platonic intimacy is that you are allowed to be your full self without being fixed or changed, and that the other person is also allowed to do the same.”
So, when you try to criticize a friend by either being insulting, judging, or the more subtle but equally impactful habit of withdrawing affection, it shows the person you’re not OK with them being themselves.
For example, comments like, “Wow, I can’t believe you stayed the night at that guy’s house” or “I never would have taken that job if I were you” will make your friend feel the opposite of safe and secure in the friendship.
Your friendship dynamic may start to shift
If as a friend you find yourself in the habit of criticizing, questioning, suggesting, fixing, or trying to change your friend, you’ll likely see a dynamic that plays out in your friendship where your friend won’t feel like they can be themselves around you.
In turn, they may start to measure their words, withhold information, or withdraw, and will subsequently feel silenced, resentful, or will begin to pull away.
“It’s that simple,” says Jackson.
How to catch yourself as quickly as possible
If you do find yourself in a situation where you’re judging a friend, check in with yourself. Try to lean into why you feel judgmental and get to the source of why you’re finding this information agitating. Are you secretly envious of the new job your friend took? Of how liberated she may be when it comes to men?
Manuela Schmitten, psychologist at Inner Space Psychology, suggests looking inward at your own life experiences. Have you personally experienced pain or frustration as a result of similar actions? For example, if your friend is involved with a married person and you’ve been affected by cheating in the past, this may explain why you’re feeling hurt.
Get to the root of why you find their behavior upsetting, and have a frank, open conversation with your friend about your feelings, without passing judgement.
Foster empathy and compassion
Once you’ve noticed and accepted your thoughts, it’s time to take action to prevent these thoughts from leading to unfair judgements on your friend. Schmitten suggests that you practice empathy as a way to avoid judging those close to you.
“Practicing empathy is a good way to keep your judgments from becoming too negative,” Schmitten explains. “By being empathic, you’re focusing on the other person from their perspective, rather than your own.”