Sunday, 5 June 2011

Being judgmental and the misery of social comparison

Why are we often so judgemental?

The psychologist Jonathan Haidt says it is because this is part of the essential glue that holds us socially cohesive. He argues that ‘tit for tat’, or ‘do as you would be done by’, is the most successful way we have to work as an individual within a group; policing, or monitoring, this tension works through our common public judgement of each other. Because we assess and judge people, we hold them accountable and are in turn held accountable. We are constantly judging who is deserving of what reward or punishment, and we are naturally programmed to reciprocate like for like.

In his book Women are from Mars, Men are from Venus, John Gray talks about how we are doing this in relationships all the time, subconsciously awarding points to ourselves and our partner and we judge others through our own award system.

There are many different award systems associated to gender, personality, class, culture, age, and most especially beliefs and values. What you believe, what you most value, reflects and governs how you make sense of the world and therefore affects your judgement and can govern your emotions. We feel the world through what we value and we judge others through this veil of emotion. brilliant

Answer the following questions with a score of 1–10 to get an idea of how much you judge people.
  • How much do you feel let down by people?
  • How much do you criticise?
  • How much does it matter to you to be acknowledged?
  • How much do you believe only some people are worth spending time with?
  • How much do you look for praise?
Judging other people is one thing, judging yourself in reference to others is a first-class ticket to unhappiness.

  • How much do you worry about how much fun or success other people are having compared to yourself?
  • How much do you want other people to think you have an interesting or exciting life?
The new charity Action for Happiness has a wonderful poster that says it very neatly.
Notice if you are constantly evaluating yourself in respect to other people. Your social support is part of who you are and those around you can have a great influence on how you feel about yourself. Being dependent on the opinions of others affects your own self-regard which is then fed back into your relationships with other people.  
Comparing ourselves and judging others is only bad when it is done negatively or makes us feel bad. We all need to feel we belong and we all love to belong to a ‘tribe’ we identify with, who share similar outlooks, pleasures and activities. Belonging to a football club, church community, sharing a school or geography, life experience or social class is part of who we are, and people who share these things with us share a part of our identity and make us feel we belong and are connected.

What is your identity?
Wanting to have another identity from the one we ‘think’ we have is different from growing and developing an identity that is authentic and comfortable;  that incorporates who we have been into who we are and who we can be. Comparing yourself to others in a way that becomes unhealthy can develop from a belief that your identity comes only from external expression;- who we want to be seen to be by others. This can lead to a life of constant neediness and judgement.

Here are three ways to become less judgemental.

Be authentic rather than sincere
We are increasingly identified by our sincerity of belief, which is rewarded by outside approval of our adherence to the 'popular' or ‘right’ way to think or behave. You can be high-minded and sincerely so, but to be authentic you must also be rooted in reality, which can require restraint, compromise, and full responsibility to both yourself and other people.
·         Who are you when you are being sincere?
·         Who are you when you are being authentic?
·         How is this different?
Develop your self-regard.
Develop your self-regard through acceptance, love, curiosity, gratitude and fun. Learn to be and celebrate ALL that you are, your weaknesses and your strengths, and you will find yourself enjoying all your relationships better, especially with yourself.
Learning self-acceptance is part of growing your self-regard, the best way to reduce the misery of social comparison and being too judgmental.

Make friends who share your values
Choosing relationships and friends that complement rather than compete with your own abilities and strengths stops you being competitive and envious. Choosing partners and friends who have qualities and strengths you can admire and celebrate encourages reciprocal respect and admiration.

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