Learning how to stop judging emotions, whether it’s your own or others’ emotions, is a practice because this is such a common habit. If you find yourself judging emotions, please know this is understandable. Every person, from the time they were very little, has picked up messages about how they “should” feel to be acceptable and belong.
Of course, these messages and our personal judgments of emotions do impact our relationships so it’s important to look deeper at them.
The Messages You Have Picked Up About Emotions
The messages each person picks up are unique to them. They are unique to their families, cultures, and particular life experiences. For example, some families may believe that any expression of emotion is bad or “wrong” and expect a “stiff upper lip.” While in other families, explosive outbursts of anger may be seen as normal given that the culture or family is seen as just “passionate.”
These messages often have a gendered experience as well. Many women, for example, have learned it’s important to be nice to others and never express anger. Men, on the other hand, have often internalized that expressing pain or even physical discomfort is “weakness.”
Related: How to be a nice girl
What have you picked up about your emotions?
To begin to learn how to stop judging emotions, it’s valuable to notice what you learned about emotions. What emotions did you learn are “good” to feel? Are there emotions you learned are “bad” or “wrong” to feel? What ways of communicating did you learn are “good” and what ways of communicating are “bad” based on these messages?
These messages may differ depending on our cultures, the media, and our personal life experiences. While angry yelling may be unacceptable in some families, others find this way of communicating natural. Social media sometimes promote toxic positivity. In your personal life, the way partners and friends responded to your emotions also sent messages.
These messages about emotions aren’t facts
What you have learned about emotions and how you “should” express these feelings, impacts your sense of what feelings are valid and invalid. When you come across those emotions either in yourself or others you learned are invalid, or wrong, of course you will naturally judge them.
It is important to be compassionate and understanding towards yourself that your judgments about emotions make sense given your life history. At the same time, these messages about emotions are not usually based in fact or absolute truth.
All emotions are valid
You have had experiences which likely taught you some emotions are “bad.” This is especially true regarding the uncomfortable emotions such as jealousy, disappointment, or anger. Yet, the truth is all emotions are human and valid. There are no bad or wrong emotions.
Feelings are simply information regarding our current experience in the world. They help us become more self-aware. Each emotion has a gift as well. When the gift of each emotion is honored, we become more confidently authentic and have healthier relationships.
Behaviors can be problematic
Sometimes, when I explain that there are no “bad” emotions, clients challenge this. This confusion is completely understandable. However, the truth is that only our reactions to our emotions can be problematic, but this is not the fault of the emotion.
Of course, different emotions have a corresponding urge. You can see the urge of anger is to be destructive. Or the urge of fear is to avoid. However, as human beings we have the option to respond, rather than react to our emotions. We can develop healthy coping skills. This is true regardless of what we learned.
Growing up in my Italian American family, for example, I learned that you have the right to yell and scream if you’re angry. I carried this pattern into my early 30s. But then I realized, no matter what I’ve learned, I’m responsible to communicate kindly.
Judging Others’ Emotions
Depending on the messages you picked up about emotions, maybe you judge others when they feel anger. You may think they are too “intense.” Or you may judge others’ pain. You may think they are “weak” or need to get “tougher skin.” You may notice that when others express disappointment you want them to “suck it up” or stop complaining.
Whatever your judgments, they make sense. Yet, truly, their emotions are not a problem.
Their Emotions Aren’t the Real Problem
All these judgments are understandable. At the same time, they indicate one core relationship problem which is: You are lacking self-love.
You may think right now “How does judging others’ emotions indicate a problem with my self-love?” so please allow me to explain.
Have you ever heard you can’t love another person until you love yourself? I remember resenting whenever I was told this in my 20s while I was deeply struggling with depression, trauma symptoms, & codependency. Of course, I knew people meant well when they said it. I knew they were hoping I would stop looking for approval & gain enough self-respect to finally stop settling for crumbs in my relationships. But what I heard back then was an invalidation of my love for the man that I was dating. I thought, “How can you tell me my love for him isn’t real or valid just because I hate myself?!”
But then, as I eventually cultivated self-love & self-respect, I finally understood the truth. It is completely possible to love another person if you don’t love yourself but the quality of the love you provide to another will only be able to match the love you have for yourself.
Your Emotions Aren’t a Problem
When you don’t fully love yourself, so much time is spent thinking about all the things that are “wrong” about you. It’s easy to focus on where you think you’re not enough or too much.
When you lack self-love, it’s common to judge, & criticize your thoughts, feelings, needs, wants, & actions. As a therapist for the last 11 years, I have learned that one of the most common things people judge & criticize is actually their own emotions.
It’s impossible to have such conditional acceptance of ourselves & magically provide an unconditionally loving & safe space for another human being. No matter how much we adore them.
Emotions are a key part of our humanity. We don’t choose them. They simply exist & act as information for us. Judging something as fundamental to our humanity as emotions, negatively impacts our relationships. You are less able to have empathy for others. A lack of empathy reduces connection & increases conflict. You are less able to fully love yourself as well.
Therefore, the first step towards a healthier relationship with your partner (or anyone else in your life) is to work on being less critical of yourself.
Judging Your Own Emotions Doesn’t Comfort You
I have done a lot of personal work and truly can say I love myself now. However, I still get stuck on thinking that my feelings must be in one box rather than mixed. This happened the night before I got married.
I couldn’t fall asleep due to feeling anxious. I was getting married the next day & was telling myself I “shouldn’t” be afraid since, in my bones, I knew this was the right step for me. Of course, telling myself I shouldn’t feel anxious didn’t comfort me – I was still wide awake…..& afraid.
Accepting Your Emotions
Then, I remembered self-validation which is simply expressing understanding for an emotion. I told myself, “Of course, you’re afraid. This is a big step in your life! However, courage is doing the important thing in the face of fear. You’re being courageous!”
I felt so much relief from simply honoring and validating my emotion. I was able to fall asleep shortly after. The wedding was magical by the way! I’m proud I have learned to be courageous (and self-validating).
Related: What is self-compassion?
How to Comfort Yourself & Your Emotions
I encourage you to start this simple practice for yourself of self-validation which simply looks like this:
- Notice when you’re judging your emotion “I shouldn’t feel this way,” “I should be over this,” or “I’m being stupid” etc.
- Take a deep breath
- Notice that given the situation & your life experience this emotion makes sense. It does make sense by the way. For example, it’s understandable you would be disappointed if someone cancels plans on you or angry if someone is running late.
- Tell yourself aloud or in your head “Of course I feel this way, it totally makes sense!” or “I understand why I feel this way”
- Repeat as needed
This process helps reduce your experience of self-judgment & criticism which helps you love & respect yourself more. It helps you be more accepting & understanding of your emotions which will allow you to provide more empathy to your partner (or anyone else in your life) when they are upset. Your ability to stay present & empathize with them rather than judging them & shutting them out has the profound ability to reduce conflict & increase connection.
I’m so excited for you to provide yourself & others more understanding & emotional acceptance. It’s so liberating!
About The Author
Krystal Mazzola Wood, LMFT is a practicing relationship therapist with over a decade of experience. Currently, Krystal sees clients at her private practice, The Healthy Relationship Foundation. She has dedicated her entire career to empowering people to heal from unhealthy relationship processes. She does this by teaching the skills and tools necessary to have a life filled with healthy and loving relationships.
This passion led her to write her best-selling books and create courses. Her books, The Codependency Recovery Plan: A 5-Step Guide to Understand, Accept, and Break Free from the Codependent Cycle and The Codependency Workbook: Simple Practices for Developing and Maintaining Your Independence have helped many people heal.
Her third book, Therapy Within Reach: Setting Boundaries, will be released September, 2023.
If you have any personal dating or relationship questions, Krystal is happy to provide advice using her expertise and compassion. If you feel comfortable, feel free to leave any questions in the comments of this post. Otherwise, you may send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or DM her on Instagram. Your name and any other identifying information will always be kept confidential.
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