If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of someone else’s judgment or criticism, you probably remember how awful it was. Even if you don’t remember exactly what it was they said, you likely recall how it made you feel in that moment.
So why are some people judgmental while others are tolerant and accepting? What drives one person to be critical while another is supportive?
Let’s take a look at some of the psychological reasons why someone might be judgmental. They can go a long way to helping us understand where others are coming from with their behaviors.
1. They’re insecure and have low self-esteem.
As a general rule, the more insecure a person is about themselves, the more judgmental they’ll be toward others. This might be about personal appearance, social standing, achievement, fitness, health, age, or even behavior.
Those who judge others tend to draw from their own feelings, failings, and personal experiences. If they have been made to feel inferior, unvalued, unwanted, and disrespected in the past, they’ll turn around and display critical and demeaning behavior toward other people.
This is “projection as protection” at its finest.
Ultimately, it’s a sign that they’re coming from a place of suffering, and likely have some semblance of an inferiority complex and/or low self-esteem. Since they’re unhappy with aspects of themselves, they’ll target others to make themselves feel better.
Basically, they will cut others down so they seem taller and stronger in comparison.
2. Their upbringing was full of judgment and criticism.
A lot has to do with a person’s upbringing and past experiences. After all, plenty of people can feel insecure about aspects of themselves without putting others down.
Usually, those who have been raised with a great deal of judgment and criticism learn that kind of behavior in turn. If someone had really supportive parents, but they’re perfectionists who aren’t meeting their own expectations, they probably won’t turn around and judge other people for perceived shortcomings.
In contrast, those who were raised by parents who constantly judged, criticized, mocked, and berated them will develop similar behavioral patterns. Kids learn to mimic what they hear, and that kind of social mimicry can carry on well into adulthood.
3. They judge others to gloss over their own perceived flaws.
Many critical people hold incredibly high standards to adhere to, both for themselves and others. This is especially true for those who have overcome past hurts in order to achieve something they’re proud of.
You might see this in people who have either lost a ton of weight through strict diet and exercise, or quit a habit like alcohol or drug addiction. They’ll make demeaning comments about other people’s appearance and choices, and hold themselves up as paragons of the types of behavior that others can (and should) be able to do.
This often happens due to a sense of self-loathing, whether current or in retrospect. If we’re using the weight loss situation mentioned above as an example, the critical person may have truly hated how they looked and felt before. They might have deleted all past photos of themselves from social media, burned physical photographs, and refuse to even think about how they looked before.
When they see others who have a similar shape to the one they used to have, their former self-loathing is projected onto the other. As a result, they’ll express their anger in that direction.
This could manifest as outright insults, or unsolicited suggestions that are meant to be “helpful” such as recommending a diet and exercise regime.
4. They make comparisons that lead to feelings of inadequacy.
Some critical people seem to behave as though they feel superior to others, when in fact it’s the complete opposite. This stems from the previous comment about self-loathing.
Let’s say that person #1 isn’t very physically active, and spends a lot of time watching reality TV. If person #2 says that they don’t watch those kinds of shows, #1 might feel insecure about their own life choices. They’ll ask #2 what they like to watch, and then put down whatever their answer is. That way, they put themselves back into a position of perceived superiority so they no longer feel “bad.”
Same goes for physical fitness. They might mock someone who’s doing press-ups or weight training, calling them vain or asking why they would do that when there are so many other things they could be doing instead. Meanwhile, they know they couldn’t do the same actions. Their criticism and judgment is all about covering up their own hurt and feeling of inadequacy.
5. They confuse control with a sense of security.
When many aspects of a person’s life seem beyond their control, they often try to influence (or even manipulate) whatever they can so they don’t feel like they’re foundering in the waves.
This extends to needing a sense of reassurance that one’s life choices are the right ones. They might have chosen a career that they don’t actually like, or gotten married and had children before really knowing if that was something they truly wanted. As a result, they could either be dealing with imposter syndrome, or are insecure and unhappy with their life choices.
Instead of dealing with their own feelings of discomfort and feeling trapped, they attack others. They’ll defend their own lifestyle and choices fiercely because if they don’t, they might break down under the weight of their own unhappiness.
Many people do this. If they feel as though they’re not in control of their own lives – even if that’s a frustration with the seeming never-ending demands of small children, parents, or other family members – they’ll seek to dominate others.
This can manifest either in outright criticism and malice toward others, or some of the passive-aggressive behaviors mentioned later on.
6. They get embarrassed due to personal standards of behavior.
Imagine person A (who’s immensely shy) getting horribly embarrassed if one of their friends (person B) leaps up on a pub table and starts dancing to a song being played. Their friend might be having a lot of fun, but person A is absolutely mortified.
Since they would never feel comfortable doing that sort of thing, they judge their friend for their actions.
Alternatively, person A might join in on judging person B for an entirely different reason. Let’s say A takes part in a certain type of behavior, but when they’re in a group with other people and person B does the same thing, they’ll mock them for it.
Person A might feel embarrassed and fiercely self-conscious because they suddenly feel as though they’ve been doing something wrong or “stupid.” They’ll then transform that feeling into anger and revulsion and express that at B with both barrels.
Again, this kind of judgmental behavior is to make themselves feel better. It’s like a soothing balm for a raw wound.
7. They are envious of others.
This sounds like a rather lame excuse, but it does carry some weight.
Do you remember running to your mum and crying because someone hurt your feelings, only to have her respond with the pithy response, “Oh, they’re just jealous!”? That might not have helped in the moment, and may have even felt hollow or ridiculous. After all, what could that person be jealous of? Especially if it was a popular student making fun of you for something?
The fact of the matter is that we never know what’s going on inside someone else’s heart and mind. For instance, that student might have never been allowed to choose clothing for themselves, and thus were never permitted to express their own personal tastes via their appearance.
If your wardrobe was chosen by you, with love and creativity, they might have felt immense resentment about it. That manifested in judgmental, critical, and mocking behavior. They may have even tried to lasso other friends into helping to make fun of you so they felt better about themselves.
Even though they appeared to be in a place of “superiority,” they were in fact quite wounded and – yes indeed – envious.
8. They are attached to their opinions and feelings rather than neutral observations.
Not sure if you’ve noticed, but a lot of people are highly opinionated these days, especially online. Furthermore, they’re keen to express how offended they are if anyone’s opinion goes contrary to their own.
Some people even go so far as to claim that they’ve been personally injured or “attacked” by those who hold different opinions. They might also try to rally their social circle to silence or doxx the person who dared to make them feel bad.
This kind of behavior is incredibly unhealthy, as it doesn’t allow any room for rational debate. Instead of just thinking “okay, this is what I believe, and that’s what you believe, and both of these have merit even if we disagree,” people get incredibly attached to – and emotionally invested in – their ideology.
Then they get defensive and aggressive if others disagree with their stance. It’s as though they can’t separate who they are from what they think or feel. Thus, when someone questions them, or makes a valid argument about their opinion on a subject, it’s seen as an attack against them personally. And if they are being judged for their opinion, they sure as hell are going to judge back.
9. They follow a tribe mentality: xenophobia and self-righteousness.
In general, people like to feel that they’re part of something. This can be a social group, a religion, a political movement, or even a moral stance on a particular subject.
As a result, they usually hold very strong feelings about the organization or mindset that they’re part of. They feel that what they’re involved in is “right” and “true,” and will often look down upon others who don’t believe the same way they do.
Instead of acknowledging that others aren’t lesser beings for having different stances and beliefs than they do, those others are judged as being stupid, immoral, or inferior. This can manifest as racism, or looking down upon others who make different health-related choices, for example.
Ultimately, this behavior stems from the desire to feel a sense of unity and belonging amongst one’s peers. It can manifest in those who felt left out or otherwise ostracized when they were younger, so they adapt to a sort of “mob mentality” so they’re not left out again, even if they don’t fully believe in what they’re preaching.
There’s a good reason why banishment and exile are such effective punishments. We cannot exist without others, and banding together for a common cause (even if that’s banding together against the “other”) still means being part of a team.
It means that they don’t feel alone.
If you’ve read Robert Greene’s 48 Laws of Power, you may remember his comments on “courtier” behavior. When we’re dealing with the unknown, we display “reactive attack” behavior. Those who find themselves in unfamiliar territory, where they don’t know what their status is, tend to try to “work” the room around them so they’re on firmer ground.
You’ll see this in workplaces and social functions, and even family gatherings. They thrust and parry, trying to gain higher ground with one another. There will be criticism and “playful” insults, all in an attempt to understand the hierarchy.
And you’ll know who the most insecure folks are by how judgmental they’re being.
You may also like:
- 12 Things All Judgmental People Do
- How To Deal With Judgmental People: 6 No Bullsh*t Tips!
- How To Be Less Judgmental And Stop Judging People (And Yourself) So Harshly
- The 6 Ways We Judge People When We First Meet Them
- 15 Truths To Help You Overcome Your Fear Of Being Judged