We all feel pressure to be perfect sometimes. It’s easy to feel judged for our appearance, age, preferences, or anything else under the sun. But there are healthy ways to deal with a fear of others people’s perceptions, and even allow it to make us stronger and more resilient. We asked three experts about how to stop feeling judged and they had some surprising insights.
Meet the panel
- Kristen Lee, LICSW, author of Worth the Risk, is a behavioral science expert and psychotherapist. More at KristenLee.com and @TheRealDrKris on social media.
- Jill Weber, PhD, psychologist and author of Be Calm: Proven Techniques to Stop Anxiety Now, is in private practice in Washington, D.C. More at DrJillWeber.com.
- Susan Whitbourne, PhD, author of The Search for Fulfillment, is a professor emerita of psychology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
Fear of judgment is often caused by measuring ourselves against others, observes expert Kristen Lee, explaining that perfectionism has risen by 33 percent over the past decade, with social comparison being the major driving force. “Judgment is so jarring because women are already managing inhuman demands,” she says. “The key is to try to let go of the guilt we feel for not meeting the unrealistic standards we’re trying to live up to.” To do just that, she recommends celebrating progress, not perfection, by making a list of your small “wins” each day.
Get curious about hurt.
Often when we feel judged, it cuts deeply because an old insecurity is triggered, notes expert Jill Weber, PhD, who adds that it helps to get curious about what’s making something sting. For example, if you feel judged for being “opinionated” or for speaking up in a meeting, it may be because you were told to keep quiet as a kid. “Tell yourself, ‘This is my old insecurity talking’; it’s not true, and remember that though this moment feels intense, it’s temporary. Shifting your perspective helps you move on stronger.”
Forgive for yourself.
Most people aren’t even aware when they’ve struck a nerve or hurt our feelings. “All humans can be judgmental without realizing it, and it’s okay to give yourself permission to let it go,” says Weber. She suggests you reframe the situation by reminding yourself that the judgmental person is likely projecting their own insecurities onto you. “Forgiveness is something you do for yourself to keep others’ criticism from impacting your happiness.”
Tap your support network.
“We build confidence by surrounding ourselves with people with whom we can be our full selves — who not only accept our imperfections but also celebrate our strengths,” assures Lee, who explains that people who cheer us on help us see ourselves in a more compassionate light. Our loved ones also help us laugh at the absurdities of the judgments placed on us, she says. “Humor and not taking ourselves too seriously are the keys to resilience.”
Savor your strengths.
The criticism of others can easily turn into self-criticism if we don’t challenge these beliefs, notes expert Susan Whitbourne, PhD. Notice what you’re doing well every day, from admiring the flowers you planted to patting yourself on the back for being a good friend. “Being judged hurts because when our competence is challenged, we feel demoralized — the best antidote is to remind ourselves how capable we are.”
Take ‘micro’ risks.
Focus on one tiny area of your life where you can grow courage and resist judgment, urges Lee. Perhaps that means unapologetically taking time for yourself, if you’ve felt judged for doing so in the past. Or telling your nosy aunt, ‘Yes, I’m single and proud of it!’ Says Lee, “One step at a time, you can learn to say ‘no’ to outside expectations and ‘yes’ to a more assured you.”
This article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.