Mind Matters – The rush to judge

Beings, being in lockdown

As we come to the end of the first week in lockdown my work as a psychotherapist reminds me that no two people’s experience is ever the same. We might have one pandemic, one set of guidelines, one US election but how everyone feels about them is unique and people are struggling to understand each other.

Our being in the world is always expressed in a unique way. Yes there are things we share, but how we are is never exactly the same as anyone else. The reason why this seems to have such importance right now is that change and uncertainty has a way of heightening our emotional responses and when this happens our behaviours can also become more pronounced.

Relationships are particularly strained at the moment as differing emotional responses translate into differing opinions and behaviours. There are people who want guidelines and rules and people who don’t, people who want to wear masks and people who don’t, people on differing ends of approach to risk, people who seem constantly emotional, possibly unhappy or angry. Yet tolerating others is so vital and yet so challenging right now.

It is often said that a crisis brings out the best and the worst in people. The problem with that saying is it allows and perpetuates a very dangerous assumption that judgement is helpful. Our rush to judge comes from a time when we needed to act fast to avoid being eaten by predators, however it is not of the same value in our modern society.

With the stress and pressures of the current situation it is inevitable that we will not only focus more on the behaviours of others but also behave rather differently ourselves. Feelings of fear, anxiety, nervousness, frustration – in other words negative emotions that can easily arise – do naturally result in us having negative thoughts and that can lead to us behaving in an unhelpful way.
For example, you see someone in a shop without a mask, it startles you, you feel annoyed and you think “that person is selfish”, you push past them and glare at them. They glare back and you feel more annoyed and you absorb into your experience the view that people who do not wear masks are bad people. You carry this with you, tell your friends and family, read newspaper articles about people not wearing masks, post and read comments on twitter etc and form a pretty solid view that the world is full of selfish people.

Now you might have been right about that person but do you think it is at all possible they could fit within any of the categories of people who are exempt from wearing masks? Do you even know the exemptions? Even if they ought to have been wearing a mask are there not any other possibilities than they are selfish? Don’t you ever forget things? Make mistakes?

If the person was innocent then your encounter wouldn’t have been pleasant for them but maybe the main person hurt here is you? You are now potentially carrying around a negatively skewed view of people and the world, one which will in itself bring more negative feelings and thoughts. Probably the one thing that you might find helpful right now is to feel hopeful, see the good in other people, feel a sense of camaraderie.

What we need right now is to build in extra time to relax, challenge our responses and the way we think about things, ask ourselves whether we have really thought through all the possibilities and also think about how others might be experiencing us right now. Just how might we be misunderstood at the moment? You probably know how your behaviour changes when you are under pressure but it is easy to forget that those around us might not.

The range of experiences in relation to our current situation is on a vast spectrum, from people feeling happier and less stressed to helpless and hopeless so now more than ever it is important to really listen and attend to others, to try and suspend judgement because that way we can respond more easily with kindness whilst feeling greater optimism in our fellow beings.

Nicholas Rose
Psychotherapist, Counsellor, Couples Counsellor and Coach

UKCP registrant, MBACP (accred), UKRCP
PGDip, MA, Adv Dip Ex Psych

Nicholas Rose & Associates
Counselling, psychotherapy and coaching for children, adults, couples and families.


Read more blogs by Nicholas Rose

Read the next in the series – Mind Matters: Bullying and what to do about it

Read the previous one – Mind Matters: Back where we started?

See all Nicholas’s Mind Matters blogs here

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