I’m sure we’ve all encountered people who think the way they live their life is the “right” way. According to these people, everyone who lives life according to values that don’t align with their own needs to conform. They tend to spend more time judging and criticizing how others live their lives, rather than paying attention to their own lives.
Value judgments are one of the easiest ways to destroy relationships with people, whether it be romantic relationships, or with family or friends. The judgments often come in the form of unsolicited advice, and often use sentences starting with, “You need to…”, or, “You should…”
These people are the ones who tell you how to handle your relationships — they may tell you when it’s time to leave your relationship, or tell you when you need to be angry at your partner, or question why you allow your partner to do or not do certain things, or even tell you the kind of person you need to be with, etc.
This person could also be the partner who tries to change you, telling you how you need to live your life, rather than accepting who you are, or finding someone else who better suits them.
Or, they could be friends or family telling you the type of job or career you need to have or not have, or what you should be doing in your spare time, or telling you how to parent your children, etc.
The reason value judgments ruin relationships is because people who are critical of others’ values invalidate and dismiss the personal meaning behind how people choose to live their lives.
Why do people do this?
Essentially, people who judge how others live their lives are projecting insecurities about the way they live their own lives. Basically: “if other people follow the same values I do, then I know I’m doing things right, or at least not wrong.”
The problem comes when people don’t do what they do. When this happens there isn’t room for more than one “right” way of living. This is generally due to all-or-nothing thinking (also known as “black-and-white thinking”). The underlying thought is if they were to allow room for other people to have their own (different) values and experiences, then it would indicate their own values and experiences are wrong. According to this thinking, there can’t be more than one right way to live.
So, with all-or-nothing thinking, if other people’s value systems are acceptable, then it would destroy the legitimacy of their own value system. The idea of this is threatening to the ego, and therefore must be guarded at all costs — usually with projection, defensiveness, judgments, etc. The grey area is overlooked, and, thus, blocks the concept of more than one way of living being acceptable.
How to handle this:
If you are someone who tends to do this (and I’m sure we have all been guilty of a value judgment at one point or another in our lives), a good solution is to work on finding the grey area. Know that your values are values you believe in, and that other peoples’ values are values they believe in. One doesn’t override or negate the other. There’s room for more than one view, and there’s more than one way to live life. Therapy is a good place to work on developing this ability.
If you’re someone dealing with judgments from others, sometimes just moving on and living your life is the best solution. Direct communication and confrontations generally don’t improve these situations because it can be too threatening for the person to allow that grey area in, subconsciously knowing the ego damage it could do. If you’re happy with your values and how you live your life, it isn’t necessary to convince anyone. Learning to be okay with who you are, regardless of what others think, is the key to this. Therapy can also be helpful here.
Either way, both sides have a role — one needs to accept the grey area, and the other needs to be able to receive validation from within themselves. But notice that both of these things focus on improving ourselves, and not on the destruction of the other. We can only control what we do, not how someone else behaves towards us. If you stick to your part, your relationships will benefit.