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Where Are Your Judgmental Thoughts Coming From?

Have you ever noticed that sometimes when you see someone or hear about someone’s behavior, you have judgmental thoughts about them? You could have those thoughts about strangers – maybe about their choice of outfit or food – but you might also have such thoughts about yourself.

A lot of people have thoughts like this. And for those of us who’ve struggled with eating patterns and body image, the judgmental thoughts about ourselves can be particularly harsh.

But where do those thoughts come from? Are they actually what you believe, or are they learned from someone else?

Family influence

I started thinking about this after reading Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. Without giving too much away, a passage towards the end caught my attention.

Eleanor was taking the bus, and typically when she took the bus, she’d make a snap judgment about who to sit next to. This included avoiding anyone overweight, among other criteria.

But on this trip, someone she had decided to avoid (she judged him for not wearing socks) was kind to her, which she didn’t expect.

That’s when she had an ah-ha moment. “Eleanor, I said to myself, sometimes you’re too quick to judge people…. [You] can’t size someone up in a ten-second glance…. The way you try not to sit next to fat people, for example. There’s nothing wrong with being overweight, is there?” (p. 294)

That acknowledgment of being too quick to judge was important in and of itself, but her insight didn’t stop there.

“The voice in my own head – my own voice – was actually quite sensible and rational, I’d begun to realize. It was Mummy’s voice that had done all the judging, and encouraged me to do so too.” (p. 294)

Now, I certainly hope none of you have a mother like Eleanor’s (you’ll see why if you read the book), but I think many of us can relate to being influenced by how our parents – and sometimes grandparents or other family members – see the world.

And that makes perfect sense. If you hear someone being openly judgmental for long enough, you’ll start to internalize that voice. But if, like Eleanor, you can recognize where that judgment comes from, you can start to let go of that voice and find out what you think.

Societal influence

This type of influence isn’t limited to family members, either. You could also pick up ideas from society at large.

That certainly happened to me. While I internalized a certain amount of judgment from family members, it was heavily reinforced by society. After all, in the 1980s and 1990s, there wasn’t any kind of body positivity movement, and depictions of fat women on TV or in the movies were not encouraging, to say the least.

It’s only so much better now, but at least the needle has moved a little. These days, there’s at least a chance of seeing someone heavy shown positively, and many people will call out problematic depictions of fat people.

Finding the source

So, if you notice judgmental thoughts creeping in, see if you can identify where they’re coming from. Is this something you’ve heard a celebrity or family member say? Or maybe someone at work? Or perhaps it wasn’t what you heard so much as how people behaved.

Whatever it was, once you recognize where the thoughts came from, you can identify that source. Then, like Eleanor, you can listen for your thoughts and voice instead of having other people’s ideas drive you to unnecessary judgment.

This may take a while, and it’s not always easy, but it’s well worth doing – for yourself, and the other people in your life.


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