Why Being Non-Judgmental Can Lead to Changed Behavior
Our brains judge naturally. It’s part of our brain’s natural process of gathering information about the world and trying to make sense of it. While there is a time and place for judgments, a lot of the judgments we have, cause dysregulation for us in our day-to-day lives. Our judgments of ourselves, others, and the situations we’re in will naturally increase the higher our emotions get. This perpetuates the emotions and causes us to stay stuck there. One of the toughest DBT skills to learn (in my opinion) is being nonjudgmental. That being said, practicing this skill has helped me decrease my self-judgment and shame. This has allowed me to instill actual effective behavioral changes, decrease my daily dysregulation, and improve my relationships. I hope to share with you my favorite way of practicing this skill to make behavioral changes so you can implement this in your daily life and hopefully see some improvements!
In DBT, we like to understand the function of our behaviors and why we do what we do. So, an important step for me to become less judgmental was to figure out what function my judgments were serving so I could get that need met more effectively. For me, I oftentimes think my self-judgments are an attempt to bully myself into changed behavior. The thought process here goes like this: If I’m mean to myself and call myself names, then I’ll be motivated to do better. I’ll be honest, sometimes this works. Realistically though, my self-judgments usually produce a lot of shame for me, which dysregulates me. I’ll need to cope with that shame, and I’m vulnerable to doing that in maladaptive ways (like avoiding).
Let me give you a real-life example
I’ve been trying to read this treatment manual for a while. I know it’s something I’m supposed to do and I genuinely do want to do it, but I haven’t made as much progress with it as I’d like. If I’m not being mindful, I’ll find myself feeling a lot of shame with this. I’ll start thinking to myself, “Why can’t I just do this?! It’s not that hard. I just need to stop being so lazy!” This was meant to bring attention to my laziness so I’d stop being lazy. The problem, though, is that I’m not a lazy person and this doesn’t offer me any actual solutions. I’ll have these thoughts, feel shame, become dysregulated, and self-soothe in some way, which might be avoiding the book I need to read. Once I’m regulated again, I might commit, “I’ll read tomorrow!” and try my best to do that. Except I didn’t examine what got in the way of my reading and thus, I didn’t problem-solve at all. So, more than likely, tomorrow will come and since I didn’t implement any problem-solving solutions, I won’t read again. That’ll prompt even more judgments and even reinforce my belief that I’m lazy. I’ll continue to get dysregulated and need to self-soothe in some way, and the cycle will continue. I’ll continue to feel bad about myself and my book will continue to go unread.
Now, instead, if I practiced being non-judgmental, this process would look a lot different. I might see my book and think, “Oh crap! I’m supposed to be reading that!” and notice the initial emotion of guilt come up. I feel guilty because this is something I committed to doing, it’s a value of mine to provide effective treatment to my clients so I need to read this, and I haven’t done it. I’ll use the emotion of guilt to motivate me to examine my behavior and implement some problem-solving steps. I’ll start by asking myself, “What got in the way of reading?” The problem initially was that I forgot I had to do it. Since I forgot about it, I decided to leave it out on my end table so I see it every day. I took it a step further and added it to my to-do list I make every weekend, for an additional reminder.
Now, let’s say next weekend comes and I leave my book out and reading has been added to the to-do list. The weekend comes and the weekend goes and I still don’t read my book. More judgments might arise at this point, but I’m practicing being nonjudgmental so I go back to assessing the problem. I left the book out and it was added to my to-do list, so what got in the way? Well, let’s say it was a really busy weekend and I just didn’t find time to do it and when I thought about it, I was either not home or it was too late at night for such reading. Ah, there’s the problem. A new problem requires a new solution! The next step I would take, then, would be to look at my schedule, choose a time that would be effective for me (like when I’ll be home, not tired, not doing other things, etc.), and block out a specific time to read, let’s say Sunday at 7 pm. Because I’m liable to forget again, even though it’s written down, I would add a reminder on my phone to go off on Sunday at 7 pm to remind me to read. I’ll take this a step further and preemptively troubleshoot this too. How will I read if something comes up? Like what if I’m tired, not at home on Sunday like I’m planning to be, busy, sick, whatever, how will I still get my reading done? I now make an internal commitment that, if my alarm goes off on Sunday and I can’t read my book, I’ll snooze the alarm if appropriate, or I’ll look at my schedule for Monday and block off that time, with a new reminder. Now I’m even more likely to get my reading done. If next weekend comes and goes and I still haven’t read, I’ll do the process again, continuing to explore what is getting in the way of my reading.
With this example, the judgments were not doing what I needed them to do and were just dysregulating me and hampering my progress on this task. Instead of bullying myself “to just do better,” I took a step back, examined the issue by asking myself, “What’s getting in my way?” and then implemented some problem-solving steps. You’ll notice that, as is often in life, this was not a one-and-done type of situation. I had to go back and refine my problem-solving strategies as the need arose. The solutions to not reading my book will depend on what the barrier is. In this example, forgetting and time management were getting in the way so my solutions were centered around remembering to do it and making time. If I had time, knew I had to do it, but just didn’t want to my solutions would be centered around increasing my motivation for doing the thing. Learning how to analyze your behavior is such an effective way to implement actual change in your life. Therapy can be a really helpful way to do this as well, especially for more complicated situations. If this is a journey you’d like to embark on, I’d be happy to join you!
About the Author
Maria Mangione (she/her), M.A., LPCC is a licensed clinical counselor that specializes in dialectical behavior therapy. Maria works to help people develop the tools they need to develop trust in themselves and build their life worth living. Maria believes in having meaningful connections with her clients and believes that therapy and healing can be fun. Click Here to learn more about Maria’s experience and therapeutic style.