DBT Skills to Know - Non-Judgmental Stance

Developing a non-judgmental way of thinking is a critical component of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) skills training, and falls under the Mindfulness module. Mindfulness helps teach participants to observe their own behavior, thoughts and feelings, and to stay grounded and present in the moment. Learning how to do this is the first step in developing new behaviors and making healthy changes. 

The Mindfulness module of DBT focuses on our need to improve self-observation and awareness through an ability to stay grounded in the moment, but also detach from the present situation in order to observe and analyze it non-judgmentally. 

What Is A Non-Judgmental Stance? 

The Non-Judgmental stance described in DBT refers to the ability to judge circumstances, people, behaviors and experiences as neither good or bad, and to focus simply on the facts at hand. In fact, judgment of others, ourselves, and our experiences is a way of trying to enforce our preferences and wants, most often on situations we can’t control. Judgments are almost instinctual, and often reflect inaccurate or biased interpretations of our experience which in turn can lead to negative emotions driven by our judgmental thought patterns. 

Almost all judgments reflect preference, and its easy to forget that our judgments don’t reflect fact, but simply our own opinions and desires based on personal experience. The spontaneity of our judgments can make it difficult to step back and interrupt the process, but mindfully dissociating in order to create distance and avoid passing judgment is the first step in reducing our emotional reactivity when things don’t go the way we prefer. 

In times of intense stress, emotional distress, or crisis, we are more likely to follow a judgmental through process through key words and triggers such as “unfair, shouldn’t, stupid, bad, terrible, wrong,” etc. and being mindful of these words and patterns can help us to recognize the slippery judgmental slope we are on, and take a step back to analyze non-judgmentally instead. 

What Is A Judgmental Stance?

Judgments, while hard to recognize at first, become easier over time. The better you get at recognizing judgmental thinking, the better you’ll be at eliminating it. 

Example 1: 

  1. Observation: I notice that I am angry at something my partner did/said. 
  2. Observation/Description: I notice that my eyebrows are furrowed, I feel hot, my jaw muscles are tense. 
  3. Judgment: Anger is a bad emotion. Anger means I’m bad. Something is wrong with me because I feel angry. 
  4. Nonjudgmental Stance: Anger is a normal emotion. It is not good or bad. Being angry doesn’t mean I’m a bad person, and experiencing anger isn’t a good or bad thing. It is okay to be angry, and I have control over how I exhibit my anger. 
  5. Possible results: When I judge my anger, I am more likely to react in a negative way and to be destructive in my relationships. When I avoid judging my anger, I am more likely to experience it until it goes away, without harming people I love, or myself. 


Example 2: 

  1. Observation: I notice I am annoyed at this driver in front of me who is going too slow in the fast lane. 
  2. Observation/Description: I notice I am tense, and my neck and chest are tight. My eyes feel heavy, and I feel on edge. 
  3. Judgment: This stupid drive isn’t paying attention and doessn’t know how to drive. They are annoying me and shouldn’t be on the road. I hate that I’m annoyed and irritated, I don’t want to feel this way. 
  4. Nonjudgmental Stance: Being annoyed makes sense in this present situation. That person is driving slowly in the wrong lane, which makes me feel unsafe. The situation triggered annoyance and irritation, which is a normal reaction.
  5. Possible Results: When I fight my annoyance or irritation and deem it as bad, I’m more likely to react negatively or impulsively. When I avoid judging my annoyance, I’m more likely to remain annoyed for a short amount of time without driving recklessly or lashing out. 

One-Mindfully Skill Training

Learning to recognize judgments begins with a specific and helpful skill taught through DBT, which is called “One Mindfully.” This skill concerns our ability to do one thing at a time, which increases our focus in the moment and ability to stay grounded and self-aware. For instance, if you decide to read, read. If you want to work, work. Avoid doing multiple things simultaneously, so you can give your full attention to the moment and stay aware of any triggers. This practice will help you to cultivate mindfulness, and enhance your ability to stay undistracted, avoid worrying about the future, and recognize any negative mood or thought patterns in the present. 

Countering Common Self-Judgments

An important part of Non-Judgmental Stance thinking is the ability to identify our own self-judgments, such as “I am bad, weak, afraid, worthless, ugly,” etc. When we learn to turn these judgments into nonjudgmental, descriptive statements, they have less of an emotional hold over our wellbeing. For instance: 

  • Your boss yells at you, which makes you feel weak and afraid. Acknowledge these feelings with an “I” feeling statement, such as “When my boss yells at me, I feel weak and worthless.” 
  • Next, focus on your breathing to calm yourself down and slow your thinking. 
  • Notice your thinking by acknowledging and accepting your thoughts and feelings, rather than fighting them. 
  • Acknowledge the reality of your situation and the facts, rather than the judgments. For instance “I know I am good at my job, regardless of how I feel in this moment.” 

The idea of Non-Judgmental Stance processing is that when we feel a certain way, rather than passing judgment on that emotion and winding up in a broken wash cycle of feeling and fighting our feelings, learning to objectively describe our emotions and the situation at hand can help us to slow down, calm down, and take back control of our emotions. 


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