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Judgy Face

Lesson 14 in RO-DBT mindfulness teaches awareness of harsh judgments and encourages us to notice our judgmental social signal towards self and others. It asks questions like, “How do I express my harsh judgmental thoughts about others? For example, do I exhibit a flat face, scowl, look away, laugh or chuckle, seek agreement from others, tell them it’s for their own good, stare, puff out my chest, talk faster, adopt a commanding voice, roll my eyes, pout, go silent, act disgusted, behave as if I’m not bothered or they are unimportant, begin planning revenge, or smile while giving backhanded praise?” (The Skills Training Manual for RO-DBT, pg 301).

As I’ve reflected on this lesson, I can see myself having a slight lip curl, flat voice, and sometimes looking disinterested when judging. So okay, new rule: “never show disgust/judgment signals. No more lip curls, raised nose, eye rolls, or puffing out my chest.” Whoops, that’s not exactly context dependent now is it? In the therapy world there can be an emphasis on being non-judgmental, and as a self identified OC person I can be prone to overcorrection when I receive criticism that I’m doing something wrong. So slowing down and actually considering the function of judgment signals have really helped me think about how to apply the principle rather than a rule.

Judgment signals towards others are often disgust expressions and they communicate some kind of message like, “there is something wrong with you or your behavior.” They function to elicit shame in the other person and even can trigger feelings of rejection. It’s kind of like they say, “I may kick you out of the tribe for what you are doing or how you are.” Since disgust as an emotion tells us a message about contamination and it leads to urges to cleanse, in a social situation it may actually say, “I’m washing my hands of you.” In essence judgment signals aren’t really fun to be on the receiving end of, and if we receive a lot of them from a person, we may tend to avoid that person altogether. Sometimes I have noticed that I accidentally send this message to others and if I truly consider the signal, it doesn’t fit with my values. I am embarrassed to admit a time that I asked my husband, “what are you watching on the T.V.?” He responded, “ a horror movie about a haunted………” (This is when I stop listening to the description). And then I noticed the left side of my lips go up while I slightly sneered and said in a flat sarcastic voice, ”oh, cool.”. In reflection, I think “oh crap” he was just sharing his preferences and my signal communicated that there was something wrong with it or with him for liking it. So I try to be mindful to make sure my face doesn’t signal judgment when people I care about are sharing preferences that may be different from mine. After all there is no “right” breed of dog to like (despite my personal bias towards border collies), or “right” taste in movies or music, or “right” hobby. Hell, when I really think about it, I love that we have different preferences and passions. It would be really boring if everyone liked that same thing anyway, and people definitely aren’t doing anything wrong by having different preferences than mine.

Now to consider when it would fit with my values to show my “judgy” face. Well for egregious behaviors, I do value signalling judgment and the possible result of it pushing the other person away. For example, I think that egregious behaviors would be someone mistreating their pet or screaming and berating a child that made a small mistake. In those moments my face sends a message I intend which is “that behavior is not okay and outside the norm.” Or if I’m at a bar with a friend and someone is being very pushy about asking for our phone numbers or to come to a party with him despite us kindly saying no, my face signalling disgust may communicate more clearly than my words “leave us alone” and without it the other person could get a mixed message. Remembering that generally people believe body language more than words, if I say “no, thanks” while smiling, nodding, and looking interested in what he is saying, I may find that the other person doesn’t back off. After all, I don’t have to be nice all the time.

So I guess this is really just a self reminder about the principle to keep myself from overcorrecting (sharing a self reminder publicly is a bit funny). So, hey Jamie, remember to notice with curiosity if judgmental body language or tone fits with my values (without assuming it does or doesn’t) and ask myself, “Do I want to communicate to the other person that they should feel shame or do I want to push them away?” When I really think about it, sometimes there are moments I do want to push people away and that’s okay. I just don’t want to accidentally push away people I really care for and want to stay close.


About the Author: Jamie Martin, M.Ed. Ed.S. LPC

Jamie is a therapist that specializes in working with personality disorders in Greenville, South Carolina. She implements the evidenced based therapies of standard DBT and RO DBT to help those with too little or too much self control. She is passionate about learning to appreciate the benefits and challenges of each personality style.