Do you have a friend, relative or co-worker who always seems to make you feel bad?
Or perhaps a lover that is constantly assuming the worst about you? If so, they may be judgemental.
Read this article to find out the commonly used phrases of judgemental people.
You can also learn how to avoid accidentally using this kind of language and what to say instead.
1) “You should/n’t be doing that”
The world of shoulds and shouldn’ts. So tempting to say at times but so… judgemental!
While some things are really true (e.g. he shouldn’t be playing on the train tracks, or she shouldn’t be overworking to the point of burnout), a lot of times they are simply opinion-based, and using personal judgments to make opinions sound like facts.
Examples of judgemental shoulds and shouldn’ts:
“You should have known better than to make such a foolish decision.”
(Who is to say what is a foolish decision? And who has the right to condemn others for it?)
“You should be ashamed of yourself for behaving that way in public.”
(Heaping on the shame for behaving a certain way, is a cruel judgment.)
“You shouldn’t waste your time on such pointless hobbies. You should focus on something more productive.”
(The speaker assumes that they have the right to determine which hobbies are and are not pointless, and that they are allowed to dictate what the other person does.)
2) “I would never do/say that”
This phrase shows that the person is holding themself up as the moral compass. Just because they wouldn’t say or do something, doesn’t mean that somebody else cannot.
The flip side of this sentence is:
3) “That’s just wrong because [I would do this]”
This is a moralizing statement that assumes that the person has the right to decide what is right or wrong, and bases it on what they would do.
Let’s take it one step further:
4) “You don’t have any morals”
Unless you’re a psychopath, (and if you are reading this because you care, then you almost certainly aren’t!), you definitely do have morals.
So why would someone say this to you? It means that they are projecting their own opinion of what the ‘right’ morals to have are.
This is also a very generalized statement, and very unkind, and (whilst I don’t want to sound judgemental!), someone that says this to you may well be trying to manipulate you.
5) “He’s a bad person”
Again this phrase is an example of moralizing, and it’s also condemning someone.
Even if we don’t like someone’s behavior or actions, it doesn’t mean we have to judge the person. To say that someone is a bad person without considering the context, is essentializing them.
What is essentializing? If someone essentializes a person or even a group of people, they are taking a limited set of behaviors and then trying to define them entirely by those behaviors.
In the field of behavioral ethics, this is known as a ‘fundamental attribution error’.
Of course there are some things that are so shocking and awful that we may be justified in saying this.
But for the most part, it’s just another opinion stated as fact.
6) “You are always [late/disorganized/stupid/uncaring/lazy]”
Once again we see an example of essentializing, stating opinions as facts, and generalizing.
A teacher friend of mine told me how he reframes dialogue around students who are perceived as ‘lazy’, instead viewing them as “low on conscientiousness”.
Why? Doing this allows for more empathy. It encourages teachers to aid the students to change their behavior, become more productive, improve their grades or achieve their goals.
It also means that the student doesn’t feel judged, ending up being conditioned to take on limiting beliefs.
7) “Why would anyone think/do/say that?”
The speaker is unable to put themselves in the position of another and see why they might say or do something. So they leap to the conclusion that the behavior is morally wrong.
8) “That’s wrong because it goes against the teachings of [guru’s name here”
Now this is a controversial one, since many people’s beliefs will involve a particular set of morals, usually attributed to a religious figure or guru.
However there are many religious or spiritual people that are able to follow a set of morals from a teacher or divine figure, without imposing them on others.
Have you heard of existentialist philosopher Jean Paul Sartre? He challenged the moralizing beliefs of his time.
While many people and religious doctrines would say that cheating on someone is ALWAYS bad, Sartre told us a little story that goes a bit like this:
He asked us to imagine an unhappily married couple.
Let’s call them Étienne and Camille.
In the ‘moral’ version of the story, the couple stay together because they are married and that’s what you ‘should’ do. They both live a long and unhappy life, ultimately ending their days miserable and unfulfilled.
(Till death do us part, anyone?)
In the ‘immoral’ version of the story, Étienne meets another woman and begins dating her. Things go really well, and Étienne ends up leaving his wife Camille, for the new woman.
Camille, who was also secretly unhappy in the relationship, is at first shocked and hurt. But then she meets a new partner who is much more suited to her. He encourages Camille to explore her artistic talents.
In this version of the story, Camille and Étienne find happiness and fulfillment, despite breaking cultural and moral norms.
This example serves to show us the nuances in life, and why an absolute moral code doesn’t make sense.
9) “Did you hear about what s/he just did?”
This seemingly innocent phase, may in fact be innocent, or it may be what comes before a judgment.
I don’t think that gossiping is always wrong, (that would be rather judgemental of me!). But it’s usually not for the best when it’s about finding the negative in people’s actions and then pronouncing them as good or bad.
On the other hand, gossip without negative intent can actually indicate interest in another person. In some cultures, such as in Botswana, talking about others (without malice) is actually regarded as a sign of care. And ignoring what others do is seen as individualist and self-focused.
Another interesting perspective on gossip comes from social psychologist Frank McAndrew, who sees gossip as “a social skill that evolved to help our ancestors become socially successful”.
So feel free to gossip but just keep the judgements in check!
10) “You’re just like [negative stereotype]!”
This phrase is moralistic and makes the mistake of comparing one person to another. As we have seen from Sartre’s story, there is no one moral code that governs every situation.
If we assign a negative stereotype to someone, we are imposing our moral beliefs as facts, in a way that is hurtful and often damaging.
11) “I told you so”
Unless you’re a complete angel, you’ve probably said this at some point. I know I have!
But resisting the temptation to say it is not only good because it’s annoying to hear, but also because it makes the speaker seem smug and self satisfied.
And it is another sneaky judgement – that your ideas are always right.
12) “You’ll never change”
This pernicious little statement imposes limiting beliefs on others, and is just another statement that is based on opinion rather than fact.
13) “That’s just stupid/ridiculous/pointless or You’re overreacting”
Both of these statements diminish the other person by belittling them. It can be a form of gaslighting since it is actually denying the reality of another person.
Who is the speaker to say what feels meaningful or a big deal to another?
How to recognise judgemental phrases – the takeaway
All of these phrases have certain things in common. They are based in opinion and perception, they are biased, and they lean towards the negative.
It’s ok for someone to offer us feedback if we ask for it, but the giver should not become attached to their idea. Instead they can offer it with kindness, and be open to changing their minds if we feel it is incorrect.
We can also take note of these examples for ourselves, to avoid accidentally sounding judgemental.
How? By not making blanket statements, avoiding moralistic fault-finding, recognising what is our perception of things, and how that may differ from another person’s point of view.
Remember, context is key with all of these phrases! Some of them are not inherently good or bad if used in a particular way.
That said, if someone is saying these things frequently, there is a good chance they are a judgemental person.
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