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The Importance of Non-judgment in Recovery

Non-judgment is an important skill to learn in recovery. This applies to everything–to your circumstances, to other people, and especially to yourself.

First, we tend to make judgments automatically, so automatically we don’t even realize we’re doing it. An automatic judgment feels like objective reality. If something happens we don’t like, we automatically say it’s bad and can’t see it any other way. Most of the time, events and people are not inherently good or bad but judging them as bad makes us react as if they are inherently bad.

This is both unproductive and stressful. Making an automatic judgment, especially if we don’t realize it’s an automatic judgment, blinds us to the opportunity or benefit in a given situation. It also adds pain to the part of the situation that affects us negatively. We tend to think things like, “This is awful,” or “this is unfair.” This is sometimes called the second arrow. The first arrow is the misfortune and the second arrow is being angry about the misfortune.

What’s more, our judgments tend to be egocentric. When we judge something as bad, we mean it’s bad for us. Most of the things other people do that are bad for us aren’t malicious; they just happen to be contrary to our interests. Judging everything only by how it affects you is a good way to create resentments. In recovery, you want to resolve resentments, not make more of them. This means accepting not everything is about you. That becomes more difficult when you automatically make judgments based on your ego.

Much of recovery is about supporting others in recovery. When you go to group therapy or meetings, you will probably hear things that strike you as awful. Then it’s especially important to suspend judgment. For one thing, the person sharing already knows she did something awful and that’s why she sought help. Also, judging someone else is often a defense mechanism we use to rationalize our own mistakes. “I may have messed up, but at least I didn’t do that.” Suspending judgment allows us to examine our own mistakes more critically while supporting others, who need our understanding more than our judgment.

The habit of being judgmental can easily run amok. It’s a way to feel in control and morally superior. The problem is it’s not very helpful. This is particularly true when we start judging ourselves. Beating yourself up is an easy way to avoid making meaningful change. It allows you to say, “Yes, I know I haven’t made a serious effort to stop drinking, but I constantly tell myself what a stupid jerk I am, so you don’t need to do it.” Often, our judgments aren’t even our own, but judgments of our parents, teachers, coaches, or whomever else, that we’ve internalized.

The first step in becoming less judgmental is noticing when you make a judgment. Make a mental note every time you think, “He’s such an idiot,” or “I’m no good.” Don’t beat yourself up; just notice that you’re doing it. Then push back a little. Is he really an idiot? Always? Haven’t I done some things well? Eventually you can learn to judge less.

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, Gardens Wellness Center can help you detox safely and decide on a treatment strategy. Call us today at 844-828-1050 or email us at to learn more.