The First How Skill of Mindfulness: Adopting a Non-Judgemental Stance

The following is a synopsis of a weekly Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) group lesson, based on the work of Marsha Linehan out of the University of Washington. This week’s lesson is actually outside of the normal DBT content, it is solely based on the codependency literature, specifically the work of a wonderful fellowship called CODA.

New Disclaimer: I LOVE doing this, I think it is desperately needed, and I WANT to do it. However, I have zero time to do it so, while I am committed to giving it my all, I may fall behind or skip a week or two. I apologize in advance for that, and for the fact that I will not be spell checking, fixing formatting, or doing a read through before I post. No offense, but I gotta draw the line somewhere!

The First How Skill of Mindfulness: Adopting a Non-Judgemental Stance

So we have  defined Mindfulness (Being fully aware of the present), and we determined that Mindfulness is the way to be centered, in Wise Mind. This is what we all seek, to be calm, peaceful, joyful, comforted, and free. Centered, in Wise Mind and content to just BE, in whatever reality is. No need to fix it, change it, force it, or fight it. WHAT we do to be mindful is:

Observe, Describe, and Participate…FULLY….IN THE MOMENT….

So now the question is, HOW do we do all that?? Well the answer to how starts with the second most important skill that we learn in DBT. Adopting a NON-JUDGMENTAL stance.

Adopting a Non-Judgemental Stance: It is our nature as human beings, to judge. We judge ourselves, the world, others….we judge EVERYTHING and EVERYONE. This is normal. This is natural. And, this is great, and horrible at the same time. It’s a dialectic. What’s good about judging is that it is a shortcut to making sense of our world. If I judge that coffee is good and tea is bad, then I can make a very simple decision. Drink coffee = be happy.  I don’t like tea so I don’t buy tea. Judgments make it easier for me to live my life and to know what to do.

However there is a down side. Judgments do more damage then good. If I judge tea as bad and coffee as good, that’s a short cut to knowing what beverage to drink. But is it true? Yes and no. Coffee is very tasty and it wakes me up, and it’s fun to try different ones and it’s fairly cheap and easy to make. But is it ALL good? No it is not all good, it is also high in caffeine, which is not very good for our health. It can also be very expensive to try different coffees, and it’s a hassle to clean the coffee pot, or to stop and get a coffee. i also find it very difficult to make a GOOD cup of coffee, and a really BAD cup of coffee makes me want to heave.

And what’s the cost of believing that tea is a “bad” drink? Well this belief keeps me from enjoying something that could be very self soothing, relaxing, and enjoyable. It may be lower in caffeine, just as tasty, and just as fun finding ones I like. It also may be fairly cheap and easy to make tea, but I may never find out because I have decided that I like coffee and I don’t like tea. Passing judgement about things, people, or ourselves shuts those things out of our world, and closes doors to growth, relationships, opportunities, etc. If I try to be nonjudgmental, I can remain open to all possibilities and options, without deciding that something is above me, or beneath me. This is true for something as simple as a tasty beverage, so just consider the ramifications of judging ourselves and others. What are the benefits and consequences of judging ourselves and others?

Assumptions vs. Facts

If my friend doesn’t text me back after I tell her that I need help and I am struggling. I might judge her as selfish, lazy, or busy. The type of judgment I assign to my friend will likely be the result of an assumption. So what’s so bad about assumptions? As the cornet old saying goes, They make an ASS out of U and ME! If my friend doesn’t text me back, all I know is that. She didn’t text me back. I have NO idea WHY. But I can guess. I can guess that she’s too busy. Or that she thinks my problems are stupid. Or that she doesn’t care. Or that she is texting her other friends instead. and on and on and on. There are endless assumptions I can make, and none of them are facts, they are all guesses. So why guess? Why not wait until I get the facts. If I assume that my friend didn’t text me because she is too busy, then it is safe to assume that she is too busy because she is helping another friend, which must then mean that she likes her better than she likes me. This is clearly because she is a bad friend, because she is very thoughtless and selfish, and thereby a bad person and I need to never speak to her again. All because I decided my assumptions must be true, rather than sticking to the facts.

Facts are things that come through our 5 senses. Things we see, smell, hear, taste, and touch are reality. Assumptions are not. Are there exceptions to this? sure. Sometimes we can’t trust our senses. I may think I hear a door open, but I didn’t actually hear it. I also may make an assumption and have it be right. But for the most part, facts are reliable data that is true and real, and assumptions are not. So to practice being nonjudgmental, we need to stick with the facts, and stay out of the assumptions. The fact is that I SEE no text from her. That is all I know, end of story. Notice how much less energy this takes? I may feel sad because I dont have a text, or worried, or I may wonder if she cares of not….BUT, I don’t need to spend energy and time on these feelings or thoughts, because I have no facts to support my ideas or feelings, so I can put it on a shelf, and deal with it when i get more data. When I SEE my friend calling me and HEAR her voice telling me that she is worried about me, then my senses have given me facts that I can deal with, whereas assumptions don’t need to be dealt with, as they are not reality, and can lead us down the path to bad decision making.

Judging Others

What are the consequences to judging others? Ask yourself this, “Do you like being judged?” Most people do not like to be judged, and avoid it at all costs. On the other hand, if I do not feel judged by a person, I am inclined to feel happy, peaceful, relaxed, and maybe even loved. I will want to be around someone who is non-judgmental, and if someone is judging me, it will put a huge wedge between us, and creates an air of mistrust.

Judging Ourselves

Similarly, if I judge myself as better than others, I will believe that others are beneath me, need my guidance, need me to control them, or that I am so superior that I cannot associate with them. If I judge myself as better than another person, this is not reality,a s we are all human beings and I am not better than anyone. Similarly, if I think that I am worse than another human, this is not reality either, and creates a cycle of shame that is not grounded in reality. If I hate myself, I will treat myself badly, and then hate myself more. The reality is that we deserve kindness and compassion just like everyone else. We are no better or worse than others, and THAT is reality.

How to be Non-Judgmental

  1. See but don’t evaluate. Take a nonjudgmental stance by taking in all of the data, .Just the facts.
  2. Focus on the “what”, not the “good” or the “bad”, the “terrible” or the “wonderful”, the “should” or the “should not.”
  3. Unglue your opinions from the facts, from the “who, what, when and where.”. Having an opinion is not bad in and of itself. But when we are practicing nonjudgmental, we need to notice our opinion, and stay in the facts, rather than reacting to our opinions, or letting our opinions take us over.
  4. Accept each moment, each event as a blanket spread out on the lawn accepts both rain and sun, each leaf that falls upon it.
  5. Acknowledge the helpful, the wholesome, but don’t judge it. Acknowledge the harmful, the unwholesome, but don’t judge it. It is not a bad thing to know that something is unsafe, or unhealthy, or hurtful. It is simply taking in data and making sense of our world. If it is dangerous to get in a car with someone we don’t know, acknowledge that. If it is safe to avoid an impulsive friend, acknowledge that. This is not judgmental, it is taking inventory of the facts.
  6. When you find yourself judging, don’t judge your judging. Because what is the point? If we are practicing nonjudgmental, we want to simply notice when we are judging and when we are not. Practice avoiding judgmental words, phrases, or behaviors, but mostly just know when you are judging and when you are not. Then if you notice you are judging, just stop. Put your attention on something else. Shaming yourself for being human puts you right back in the judgement.

So there it is. Non-judgmental is the way to be. It takes practice, and work, and it takes time to get there, but the less judgmental you are towards yourself and others, the more balanced and centered we can be.

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