Oct. 17, 2013 at 12:45 PM ET
We know we should give our friends the benefit of the doubt but sometimes it’s difficult not to pass judgment when we see her doing something dubious. “When you are extremely judgmental about a friend, most likely you are extremely judgmental about yourself,” says Barbara Neitlich, a Beverly Hills psychotherapist.
When a friend starts gaining or losing lbs it’s easy to criticize her. “Weight is always a touchy issue among female friends,” says Neitlich. “Try your best to not get caught up in the fact that she is losing or gaining weight. Rather, reframe your thoughts by imagining your friend is at her healthiest weight and feeling great. If she is going through a tough time and has gained or lost weight, try to understand that perhaps this is a coping strategy for her during a difficult time.”
It’s a major bummer when a good friend dates someone you don’t like and even more disheartening when she decides to make it official. “We often have the fantasy that we are going to love whoever our friends choose to date or even marry,” says Neitlich. “Instead of judging your friend for her decision, do your best to find and appreciate the positive qualities of the person they are with. Use affirmations such as ‘although this isn’t the person I would have chosen for her, I am so glad that she is happy.’”
You might be thinking: OMG, she’s not really going to eat THAT? But do your best to withhold judgment when it comes to your BFF’s plate. “You may not agree with your friend’s eating or drinking habits, however, instead of becoming frustrated and judgmental, reframe your thoughts by being hopeful for her rather than judgmental,” says Neitlich. “Imagine her out dinner with you making the choices that you wish she would make. When you are in a state of hope, you are in a state of love, caring and empathy and you are out of the mind frame of judgment.”
Whether we’re green with envy or green with sickness at a friend’s slovenly ways, it’s best to turn your gaze inward. “It’s easy to judge someone else’s living space, mainly because you don’t have to live there,” says Neitlich. “Rather than judging a friend’s space for being too messy, too neat, too cheap or too expensive, shift your tendency to judge by relinquishing control within yourself. Try affirmations such as ‘I have total control over the state of my living space, but not over my friend’s living space’ or ‘I understand and accept that my friend and I differ on the topic of being neat, but I fully respect her choices as her own.’"
If we see a friend constantly whipping out her credit card, it’s tempting to want to get all Suze Orman on her. “Each of us has a different relationship with money so it’s easy to pass judgment on a friend,” says Irene S. Levine, Ph.D., Friendship Expert and Professor of Psychiatry, NYU School of Medicine. “Bear in mind that you don’t know everything about your friend’s financial situation other values.”
When a friend starts hanging out with someone you don’t like, you might end up feeling cheated on and that’s usually when the trash-talking starts. “It’s easy to be critical of someone’s relationship with her friends but every relationship has a back story that you aren’t privy to,” says Levine. “If the relationship works for them, what business is it of yours?”
If a friend is getting it on with the pool boy, it’s easy to judge. But the experts say you shouldn’t necessarily jump to conclusions. “You never know what life is like behind someone’s closed doors. You also don’t know what arrangement the husband and wife have with each other,” says Levine. “If your friend is cheating, it is between her and her husband. It’s best if you stay out of the picture.”
Because we’re sometimes privy to our friends’ family dynamics, it’s also easy to compare their actions to our own. “This is another sticky wicket,” says Levine. “Family dynamics are very complex and hard to understand from the outside. Don’t judge your friend’s relationship with her parents by looking at yours. Different people are involved.”
When we listen to our friends complain about work it’s hard not to form an opinion. “A woman may feel that her friend is a push-over and unable to take care of herself,” says Jessica LeRoy, psychotherapist and founder of Center for the Psychology of Women. “She can reframe this to say that her friend is doing the best that she can and that she is there for her if she needs advice or encouragement.”
Before you start rating your friend’s function as if she were a contestant on a reality show, remember that her resources—and her taste level—may differ from yours! “It can be easy to judge someone else on the quality of their wedding or party, but remember that it is their wedding or party,” says LeRoy. “You may do it differently if it was yours but it is not, this is how she wants it to be.”
It’s one of those touchy subjects that friends can sometimes talk about. But what should you do when you friend’s beliefs differ from your own? “This is a very personal decision and it can be easy to judge especially if she converts for a partner,” says LeRoy. “You need to respect her choice. She may have deeper reasons for wanting to practice a particular faith.”
If your friend looks like fashion road kill instead of judging, remember that there have probably been times when you haven’t been a perfect fashionista. “Look we’ve all had off days where we are not looking our best so it’s always good to remember that,” says LeRoy. “Don’t judge friends for their off days. Besides, maybe she thinks she looks fantastic and isn’t that what counts?”
If your friend buys a Justin Bieber album you may feel like snickering, but you could try introducing her to some of the tunes you think really rock. “It’s easy to judge someone when they have different tastes in entertainment but remember that even her bad taste makes her who she is, and you like her as a person and a friend,” says LeRoy.
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.