Dealing with judgmental people is never easy. When you’re constantly inundated with negativity from a person, it can wear you down on many levels.
If their judgment is directed toward you, your self-esteem may suffer from their constant, never-ending criticisms. Similarly, if they’re constantly judging and complaining about others, you may feel like you’re drowning in negativity all the time.
So how do you deal with people who are judgy and critical all the time? Do you just cut them out of your lives? Or try to work with them as they are?
Let’s take a look at your various options when dealing with judgmental people.
1. Choose not to be harmed by their words.
The great thing about emotional responses is that we can choose whether to feel a certain way or not. As the great Stoic Marcus Aurelius said, “choose not to be harmed and you won’t feel harmed.”
In simplest terms, a judgmental person’s behavior can only affect you if you allow it.
Let’s say you meet someone and they’re highly judgmental toward you, your family, your friends, etc. They might be critical of your appearance, or what you do for a living. Maybe they imply that your children are unattractive, or speak poorly about people you care about.
In most people, this would provoke an instant knee-jerk response of anger or offense. They’d immediately want to defend the people they love. They’d feel a need to counteract or contradict the other person’s judgment and criticism, and attack them for making them feel bad.
There’s a better option, and that’s to just not let their words affect you.
Think about what they’re saying, and ask yourself if you’d be this upset or offended if the same words came from a small child. If a five-year-old told you that you were ugly, would you be upset or offended? Or would you feel bemused and just laugh or shrug it off?
Same idea. Treat anything they have to say like water off a duck’s back. Keep your emotions in check, and don’t allow yourself to be unnerved or defensive about their opinions.
2. Avoid reacting to them or their words.
The first thing to do here is to ask yourself why you feel a need to respond to them at all. If a person is being judgmental toward you, it’s a projection of who they are and rarely has anything to do with you.
For example, a person who battles with their weight may condemn others for being fat, or those who subscribe to a particular religion might accuse those of others faiths of being stupid or “lost.”
If someone is being critical of you, the best thing you can do is to practice ambivalence. So what if they are? Do you need to respond to what their saying? Furthermore, are they behaving in a judgmental manner specifically to get a reaction out of you?
More often than not, the most effective thing you can do is not to give them any of your energy.
Display neutral body language and give others your attention instead of them. This shows the offender that their opinion simply doesn’t matter. This prevents your energy from being wasted in a useless back-and-forth exchange, and doesn’t dignify their spitefulness with a response.
In fact, instead of rising to whatever bait they’re waving at you, it’s better to show them that their opinion means absolutely nothing to you. Then play it by ear after that.
If they intensify their efforts to criticize you, or get louder in their judgment of others, get up and leave. Don’t explain to them why you’re leaving, as that acknowledges that they actually said something. Just remove yourself from that mess.
This is a perfect example of responding to a situation rather than reacting to it. With a reaction, you may lash out at a person who’s hurting you to either make it stop, or hurt them back. When you respond instead, you can take a few deep breaths, look at the situation from a distanced perspective, and either change the subject or leave.
3. Try to see them through neutral eyes.
This part is a bit more complicated, as there are many moving parts to the situation.
First and foremost, ascertain what kind of a person they are – both in that moment, and in general. Is this a person who’s usually quite kind, but is going through a rough patch? Are they feeling resentful toward another person or a situation, but can’t express that, so they’re venting in other directions?
For example, is this a normally devout and tolerant person who is suddenly being really awful to those of other religions? It could be that they’re having a crisis of faith and don’t know how to channel that. Similarly, are they hypocritically criticizing other people for behaviors they themselves display?
Secondly, try to determine why you feel slighted by their judgmental attitude. Are you feeling insecure about your appearance, career, life choices, or other subject that they’re being judgy about? If so, is your sensitivity causing a stronger emotional reaction than is warranted in that moment?
Let’s say that your long-term relationship or marriage is coming to an end, but you haven’t discussed it openly with anyone. If the judgmental person starts criticizing those who are divorced, that may push on one of your sore spots. Ordinarily you wouldn’t really care, but now it’s hurtful.
Things get a bit more complicated if you’re dealing with ignorance and gaslighting. Perhaps someone is calling you crazy or stupid for believing in something that is proven to be true, but they refuse to believe.
Logically, presenting that person with evidence proving your point should, in theory, validate your stance. But if you’re dealing with someone who chooses ignorance and spite, they won’t acknowledge anything you have to say. This can be immensely frustrating, especially for someone who really values truth.
In cases like this, it’s best not to engage. If they’re judgmental about something, just be dismissive of what they’re saying, and once again, either change the subject, or leave.
4. Ask if there is a lesson to be learned in their words.
If you can disengage emotionally so you’re not in immediate wrath mode, take a moment to consider what they have to say, and whether they have a point.
For instance, are they making judgmental comments about how messy your house is? Take a look around and see if they have grounds for criticism. If your place looks like a tornado tore through it, then there may be a truth here that you’ve just been ignoring.
Acknowledging that can suck, as it’s a hit to the ego when someone judges something about us that we know we need to work on. But it can also be a learning opportunity.
While you’re being introspective, try not to fall down the rabbit hole of seeking their flaws and hypocrisies in turn. If you’re feeling hurt by them telling you that your house is a mess, your natural response might be an “oh yeah? Well, you smell like you haven’t bathed in a year” retort. They hurt you, so you may want to hurt them back.
That doesn’t help anything, and will likely just escalate the situation.
Remember that this person is likely frustrated and seeking catharsis and emotional feedback. If you get into a conflict cycle with them, it’ll just feed them on some level and continue the cycle.
5. Look beyond their judgments to the person underneath.
If you love this person – either because they’re a family member or a close friend – you might seek to understand where their behavior stems from. Maybe even help them move past what’s making them so judgmental so they’re happier and healthier overall.
This is where we show measured kindness to the enemy, so to speak. The best way to neutralize judgmental behavior is often through love. Not in a sappy, mushy fashion but rather to show them (and onlookers) grace and kindness.
The worst thing to do to negative or sniping comments is respond with anger or the first insult that comes to mind. It’s likely that the other person has been brewing over small imagined slights for some time and has whole conversations ready in their heads.
By being genuinely kind, you disarm them and neutralize their poison on all levels. Furthermore, if you’re both kind and playful, they won’t know how to react to you and will often go silent as a result.
Don’t play their game, and don’t answer their rudeness in turn. It’ll utterly deactivate their attack if you don’t allow their harsh demeanor to destroy your peace of mind.
What’s even more important is that this person will look weak, over-emotional, and petty to any intelligent onlookers nearby. They’ll witness scathing, judgmental attacks met by a chuckle and a shake of the head, and realize who’s in the wrong
If your goal is to continue a relationship with this individual, either because you feel they’re worthwhile or they’re inextricably bound to you, then let them blow up. You just calmly disengage and walk off, then call or text them a few days later to see if they’d like to discuss things again.
If they’re willing to discuss what happened openly, then you can take appropriate steps from there. Alternatively, if they launch into judgments once again, you can distance yourself again. After a few back and forth exchanges, you can determine whether they’re capable of healthy conversation as two adults, or merely bouncing from drama to drama for something to do.
Then decide how much time you want to devote to having this person in your life, if any.
6. Make yourself clear, but walk away if all else fails.
As mentioned before, you can protect your own energy and sovereignty by creating physical distance, if necessary. If the person doesn’t get the hint that you keep leaving the room when they go on a judgy tirade, however, you may have to clarify things to them.
The next time you’re overwhelmed by their ire and feel the need to withdraw, tell them very clearly that you have no desire to listen to their judgmental criticisms. You can say that you’re prepared to spend time with them if and when they can talk about something decent. Same goes for phone conversations, texts, etc.
Keep doing that, like training a small child or a puppy. Eventually they’ll learn the lesson that you won’t tolerate that kind of nonsense from them. In turn, they’ll either stop spewing judgmental stuff in your direction, or they’ll stop talking to you because you’re not enabling them.
Either way, win-win.
Engaging with judgmental folks is usually a huge waste of time and energy. After all, you could instead be doing all manner of fun and productive things instead of raging about some passing word a relative said after one too many glasses of wine. By knowing yourself and seeing them as they are, you’ll be in the best possible position to decide how to proceed.
Ultimately, the best way to deal with judgmental people is to live your life as carefree as possible. Showing joy in the face of their ire often negates the harsh judgment, and makes them realize that their words have no effect on you.
Recognize that their judgment has nothing to do with you, and everything to do with them, and it’ll stop affecting you at all.
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