Issue 17 June 2005

Judgment in Relationships

– and what to do about it

Part 1


Hal Stone PhD & Sidra L. Stone PhD


This article is about judgment and its effect on relationship. There are few things in relationship that are more painful than out-of-control judgment. Without question, relentless judgment damages relationship, sometimes irreparably.

When we look at family systems, we usually find one or more persons in a family carries judgment while other family members are on the receiving end. These judgments can be silent or they can be overtly expressed. In any case, when allowed to continue unchecked, judgment will do its damage and relationships suffer and deteriorate accordingly.

Many people don’t even know that they carry judgments. They have been judgmental for so long that they are totally identified with their judgments and consider them as a natural and necessary part of their personalities. These people don’t see their judgments as separate from themselves in any way. In the early days of psychology, psychologists referred to this identification with a thought or feeling as being egosyntonic.

Conversely, some people are raised in family systems where they are judged constantly. As they move into adulthood, they are so accustomed to being judged that they don’t even notice what is happening. They don’t realize that they are being beaten up constantly by other peoples’ judgments and by their own internal judgments (via their inner critics and inner patriarchs).

The Laws of the Psyche

In considering the meaning of judgment in relationship, there are four fundamental psychological laws that we will be discussing in this article.

Law #1: Whomever we judge or whatever we judge is an expression of one or more of our disowned selves.

Law #2: In addition to the disowned selves, underlying every judgment is an underlying vulnerability of which we are unconscious and/or unable to communicate.

Law #3: So long as these disowned selves remain in existence in the personality they will return to haunt us over and over again in one or more of our relationships. Relationship is the playground of the intelligence of the universe that ultimately forces us to embrace all of our selves.

Law #4: As a corollary to all of the above laws, we can say that the people or things or objects or ideas that we judge or hate the most have the possibility of becoming our most important teachers once we know how to work with our judgments.


Before we continue our discussion of judgment we would like to present some basic definitions for those readers who are new to the work on the Psychology of Selves. For those of you who are familiar with our work, they may clarify some points or answer some of your questions.

Primary Selves

In the growing up process all of us are creatures of conditioning and the personality that we develop is a function of this conditioning. We either identify with the ideas, emotional responses and psychological training that are given to us or we rebel against them. All of us are identified with our primary selves until we begin the process of separating from them. There is no escaping this reality, not for any of us. In Jungian terminology, the primary selves would determine the nature of the persona.

Disowned Selves

When we grow up in a family we identify with certain selves. This means that automatically we reject the opposite selves. Thus if a woman grows up identified with being a more giving and maternal kind of woman, then her disowned self will be the opposite energy, her more selfish and self serving interests. Disowned selves carry our repressed psychological and emotional content. They are the equal and opposite of our primary selves.

In Jungian terminology, the shadow would be the equivalent of the disowned selves, so long as it is understood that shadow refers to repressed content that can be either “light” or “dark”.


Unconscious contents in us are constantly jumping out of us and landing on other people, objects and ideas. You walk by a store that carries crystals. You see a magnificent crystal and you feel that you must have it, that it belongs to you, no matter how expensive it may be. You are filled with all kinds of new feelings as you gaze at it. You have projected an aspect of your own spiritual nature onto it. It may be a truly beautiful crystal, but the magic that you give it is the magic of your own unrealized spiritual/creative nature.

A very busy businessman buys a World War II Jeep and spends a fortune fixing it up. It drives terribly and is always breaking down and he has a love/hate relationship to it. What has compelled him to buy this jeep and spend a fortune trying to make it work for him? He has projected onto this jeep his disowned adventurer and his own playful child. His primary selves are the Pusher and all its allies. The jeep is no longer a jeep. It is, instead, a playground for the neglected playful and adventurous parts of   himself that have been buried for a good many years and that he is trying to contact by owning this Jeep. The problem is that it is still a World War II Jeep and not a playground and what he yearns for continues to live in projected form, outside of   himself.

A man falls in love with a spiritual woman who is a disciple of a well-known guru. He judges her constantly for her spirituality. She finally leaves and is bereft. He yearns for her. After a few months he enters into a new relationship with a woman who is part of the same spiritual community as his first partner. He is projecting his own disowned spiritual nature onto the women and he finds this irresistible, that is, until he begins to judge it. He will continue to do this until he is able to begin to integrate his own spiritual nature. Until then, the judgments will continue along with the intense attractions. Such projections are one of the key elements in keeping psychotherapists in business. With therapists, one projects positive emotional, intellectual and spiritual contents onto the therapist in the hope that ultimately these qualities will become a part of your own nature.

Projection is akin to a bridge that reaches from us to the other person or object. We are able to walk across this bridge and once we are on the other side we find not just the other person, but we also discover, often for the first time, our very own disowned selves.


Judgment is a reaction to someone or something that has a negative valence. When we judge, we feel that there is something wrong with the other person or thing. Judgments are connected to the autonomic nervous system and if you tune into your body, you can feel the level of emotionality that underlies the judgment. Judgments are always a function of the primary selves reacting against the threat of the disowned selves.


Discernment is an objective evaluation of someone or something that is not based on a disowned self. There is no negative valence to the evaluation or reaction. Judgments can be transformed into discernments by the procedures described in this article.

The Ego

The ego is the term developed at the turn of the century, primarily through psychoanalytical theory. It was originally described as the executive function of the psyche, the part of us that runs the ship. What we understand now with the psychology of selves is that the ego is simply the group of primary selves that is running the personality.

When spiritual seekers talk about “getting rid of the ego”, they are seeing the ego as essentially negative and they want to get rid of it because they feel it interferes with genuine spiritual development. In fact, the primary selves are very important to our well being and our ability to use power in the world. They have developed to help us to deal with life on this planet, and they do the best they can. The trick is to learn to not be identified with them. When you try to “get rid of the ego” you are in danger of becoming a victim and you may lose your ability to be effective in the world.

The Aware Ego

Whenever we separate from a way of thinking or acting we are no longer identified with that particular primary self. We now have an Aware Ego in relationship to that primary self. The Aware Ego is a process that develops as we unhook from and become aware of, and experience, our disowned selves. The Aware Ego process is always shifting and can be eliminated if a strong primary self takes over for some reason.

It is the Aware Ego process that begins to serve increasingly as a coordinating agency to regulate the different selves. In particular, it is what enables us to embrace opposites and learn to work with them in our relationships.

The Operating Ego

As we separate from the primary self system (or primary selves) we develop the ability to use the primary selves without being under their control. We begin to be in charge of the horses that pull the chariot instead of them being in charge of us. As this new ability develops there are still elements of the primary self system that direct our lives, usually without our knowledge. We call these continuing primary selves the “operating ego”. Thus the operating ego is the group of primary selves that continues to operate in us as our Aware Ego develops. It grows smaller as the Aware Ego grows stronger.

Psychological Boundaries

Psychological Boundaries refer to the ability to say “no” and “yes” appropriately. Ask yourself the basic questions: (1) “What are you doing that you don’t want to do?” and (2) “What aren’t you doing that you do want to do?”

If you are a responsible type of person and are always giving up your own time to help others, then you will suffer from a loss of boundaries because you are not making a real choice about what you are doing. Instead, it is the primary “Giver Self” that is making the choice for you. When we lose our boundaries, a judgmental self often emerges which judges the person we perceive as invading our boundaries. A lack of boundaries also opens us up, leaves us defenseless, and actually encourages the judgmental self of another person. Clear boundaries and real choices reduce the need for judgmental reactions.

In the next tips we explain in detail how to work with – and benefit from – judgment