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Exploring our own judgemental thoughts

By Catriona Morten

I remember when I was doing my social worker training and being told we had to be non-judgemental. We all agreed and then all agreed that none of us were judgemental anyway, we were all going to be really good social workers. I couldn’t help noticing however, that I found several people in my group to be very judgemental, they just didn’t seem to be aware of it. We weren’t actually taught what that really meant or how to work on it, just that it was a bad thing.

As I began working I realised that I myself had judgements and it was ridiculous to pretend that I didn’t. I tried to be as aware of them as I could, especially when making decisions. In my later therapeutic trainings I learnt way more about my judgements, where they had come from and how much they actually affected me. I realised the only way of really working on this was by being truly honest about them, pretending was not going to be helpful if I wanted to learn and develop. It proved essential and invaluable for my clinical work, enabling me to take myself out of the equation and be fully empathic and really able to listen.

As with any kind of growth, change, development or healing, whichever journey you are on, it’s not a linear process. It has many layers which reveal themselves the more work we do on ourselves. When it comes to being judgemental, whether they are judgements about ourselves or others, they can be very limiting. They can be so ingrained in us they can be hard to spot let alone challenge.

This year has been really tough and completely mad in a lot of ways. Everything has changed, we could never have imagined any of this. I realised my motivation was slipping a bit and I was feeling a little jaded and more negative than I wanted to be. I did grounding work and energy work and tried to be kinder to myself, but it wasn’t really working so I thought I would try an experiment. I decided that I would try and catch myself every time I had a negative thought about myself or about other people. I would be curious about it, ask myself why I thought that and try and reframe it into something more positive, less judgemental and kinder.

I became really surprised at how many times I would tell myself off for forgetting things, not doing things or how often I called myself a muppet. I had to keep checking in with myself in the beginning so I could really observe what I was saying to myself. As I did it that, it became easier and I noticed them more and more each time, wondering why I had said or thought that and what would be kinder.

What really surprised me was how many times when I was just going about my daily life, going to the shop, going out for a walk, driving my car, I was having negative or judgemental thoughts about people. Usually just little things, like why would no-one let me out of a junction, how rude and selfish that was because I’d been waiting ages (especially in London)! Another would be, wondering why a person walking in a field was wearing a mask, what did they think they would catch? I caught each judgemental thought, reflected on it and asked myself why this thing bothered me so much. Then I reframed it into something different like, maybe they were all in a rush, they probably didn’t even see me. Maybe the mask-wearing field walker felt much safer with the mask on.

I actually enjoyed my experiment! As in the true nature of setting an experiment, I had no expectations, set no goals, but just allowed myself to be curious about it. What I didn’t expect was what a difference it made to how I felt. How much my mood improved, how my outlook on life and my motivation was different. Because I was observing myself more and being really curious, it really helped me be more present and engaged with everything I was doing. I looked at things with genuine joy, noticing how fab spring is, and I wanted to be out in the world more. I realised, (obvious with hindsight) that the less I judged myself and others, the less I feared their judgement. The more we judge, the more we assume others do the same and judge us, it’s very limiting. It’s so much more freeing the other way round.

When I thought about writing this, my first thought was that maybe I shouldn’t put this out, therapists are supposed to have all of these things totally sorted, what would people think of me? I then caught that and realised that was just my self-judgement and the projection that others will do the same. I told myself it was more important to embrace being a normal human and all that goes with that, we can’t have growth without honesty.

What started as an experiment has now become something I love. I want to keep growing and developing in this positive direction. I accept that things will make me mad and expletives will be necessary sometimes, like when it snows in the middle of April, that’s just a step too far, but this is a journey I’m now really excited to take. I encourage you to now try the same, try it and see what happens!

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