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Unhelpful Thinking Patterns 10/11 - Judgements & Labelling

Updated: May 9

A courtroom scene with a stern looking judge illustrating the cognitive distortion of judgements and labelling

This is the tenth part of a series looking at common unhelpful thinking habits.

These are patterns of thinking that our minds can slip into as a way of coping with challenging situations. You can read more about this in my earlier post here.

Escaping the Traps of Judgemental Thinking

Everyone makes judgement about things, other people, and themselves (it’s a natural thing to do!), but there are times when it can take you into the territory of an unhelpful thinking pattern if it is starting to impact on your life.

How a Single Event Shapes Our Perception

This thinking habit is when we form an opinion of ourselves (or other people) based on a single data point; for example holding the opinion “I’m a failure” when we failed just a single test, or “they’re incompetent” when in reality they made just a single mistake.

This thinking habit has some cross over with the emotional reasoning style of thinking.

We can fall into a habit of defining the individual (ourselves or others) based on our emotional reaction to a single event, rather than seeing it as a thing (i.e. a behaviour) that someone did.

Pitfalls of Snap Judgements

This style of thinking also has similarities with the black and white thinking habit because the labels we apply offer no room for manoeuvre outside of the narrow, restrictive opinion that we're holding.

For example, we might have a difficult interaction with someone and label them as "being a bit of an idiot", but then we continue to judge them in all subsequent interactions through that same lens regardless of what they are doing.

This will obviously influence how we respond to them, potentially causing even more difficulties further down the line...and perhaps those difficulties will further reinforce our biased opinion of them.

Another example could be where we make a faux pas in public and then label ourselves as socially inadequate, which will then potentially cause us to feel more anxious in future social situations.

That anxiety leads to more feelings of discomfort for us, the avoidance of which may in turn precipitate another faux pas and reinforce the label we've given ourselves.

Impact of Judgements on Our Self Image

Applying labels to ourselves can lead to us feeling anxious, depressed and sometimes even ashamed.

Applying labels to others can lead to us feeling frustrated, angry and even sometimes disgust.

In this thinking pattern we are using highly emotional (and often inaccurate and unreasonable) language to describe a person in a global sense:

I am stupid” as opposed to “I did a stupid thing

He’s selfish” rather than “He did something selfish

There is an element of the mental filter about this thinking pattern, because once we have applied the label we then tend to filter out any contradictory information; which then makes the label seem all the more believable to us!

Overcoming Judgemental Habits: Objectivity in Self and Others

There is a simple way of working to overcome this thinking pattern, which is to notice and objectively describe the behaviour that we observe in ourselves or the other person:

"I am late to work on this occasion"

"She failed this test"

"He spoke to me brusquely on this occasion"

In doing this we avoid making a global assessment of our/their character.

By using this objective language, stating facts rather than emotionally fueled opinions, we can find that fewer negatives are triggered for us and we can feel a greater sense of resilience to manage whatever the challenging situation is that we are facing at the time.

Resilience in Action: Forgiving and Learning from Slip-Ups

Remember, we can’t always get it right all of the time; but resilience grows as we embrace our mistakes in a kind and compassionate way, and recognise that these are opportunities for growth.


It is important to develop a kind and compassionate stance towards ourselves and others because this enables us to acknowledge the mistake for the single event that it is.

Stepping back from harsh judgements gives us space for personal and interpersonal growth and each slip-up then becomes a valuable lesson rather than a permanent derogatory label.


And be sure to acknowledge and celebrate the times when it goes well! You can read here about the big impact even small celebrations can have.

As I mentioned above, this post is part of a series about the unhelpful thinking habits that we can fall into. You can find the other posts here:

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