Here Comes the Judge
Keeping a romantic bond close and positive is hard. With the rigors of daily stresses and partner differences a satisfying connection gets tested constantly. How partners define a good-enough bond varies with each individual. While the need to couple up is universally human, nearly equal is the fear of getting too close. Opening up to another comes with risks which threaten individuality and personal adequacy. Pushing away hurts partners who prefer greater closeness. Fearful partners who are uncomfortable with too much closeness use many distancing techniques to insure self-protection.
Judgement is one common method. It is an intellectually-based defensive strategy. Sometimes subtle, other times obvious, judgement often goes undetected as a hurtful distancing mechanism. Why does the use of judgement rarely get identified as defensive tactic? Because once a judgement is expressed, the recipient’s intellectual faculties are engaged, effectively pulling his or her attention away from feelings. The partner is distracted when the push away occurs.
As an intellectual ability judgement is highly useful in the right situations, but destructive if misapplied or used in the wrong ones. When used within non-emotional, non-relationship settings, such as problem-solving, judgement is essential and positive; it does no harm. But within love relationships where maintaining a positive warm bond is characteristic of a couples success, judgement severs the bond. Judgement is evaluation regarding value, worthiness or goodness. Yet from a perspective of love our being can only be worthy. To be judged always diminishes our worth. It hurts. The list is long of intellectual gymnastics that make-up judgement-based processes: a focus on accuracy, insistence on being reasonable, intellectualization, rationalization, deflection, criticism, minimization, invalidation, evaluation, discrimination, categorization, comparing, diagnosing and ultimately, negating. When utilized deftly, these practices take the focus of a connection away from the experiential and emotional.
When partner experience is shared and understood, connection is strengthened. The many forms of judgement challenge the personal experience and call into question it’s validity. Judgmental people frequently employ a “reasonable test” by which ideas, perspectives and others are evaluated to determine if acceptance or rejection will be offered. Another form of judging is an insistence on accuracy instead of on understanding. Judgement typically includes some form of negativity, yet no amount of negativity will produce a positive relationship. Judgement trumpets the intellect as a superior method. It rejects the value of the emotional process, but it is through the heart and emotions that couples build a bond and relate. Intellect does not love. By responding with judgement instead of compassionately receiving a partner’s internal, emotional experience, an opportunity is missed to build connection. Judgement brings the head, but closes the heart.
Judgement and intellectual exercises in general temporarily provides self-protection from painful feelings. Placing our awareness in the head, the location of our thinking by fleeing the physical location of our feelings, lower in the body, judging creates distance from discomfort we feel when facing something that is unappealing, unattractive, threatening or distasteful. But more than that when when judging others and their opinions and ideas, the “judge” always places him or herself in the higher, “safer” position, effectively lowering the other. A soothing fantasy of being elevated, of being higher or better than others is created. Two lovers can only connect when they live together on the same level.
Judgement reduces a person from a complete being to a quality or characteristic, evaluated and determined as worthy of acceptance or rejection. It hurts. On the surface, it appears to be intelligent, but dig a little deeper and it’s real motivation, an attempt to avoid closeness and discomfort, is uncovered. In the end judgement is ineffective at the goal of self-protection and avoidance of pain because it does not eliminate discomfort but only shifts its location into what becomes a disconnected, disappointing and dissatisfying relationship. Judgment is closed whereas love needs openness. Loving with the heart is effective where loving with the head just won’t do. Andrew Aaron, LICSW