Why do we fear Judgment?


Sanghun Byun

Even the most secure amongst us sometimes quiver under the stage light, act upon decorum instead of instinct, or turn to a sycophant before a menacing teacher. Fear of judgment knocks against our front doors to peer inside its disheveled interior, making us squirm into ourselves. However, all of it is natural—no typical person can ever deny being bothered by what others may think, as many desire to look flawless. But why is it so inevitable? Why are humans so incapable of living their lives free from anxiety about judgment?

Perhaps it has something to do with our evolution. It seems logical to say that fearing judgment helped our ancestors survive. After all, animals choose their mate by their appearance and behavior, and so it would be natural to try and embody an impeccable appearance, as our biological aspiration in life is to reproduce.

Then why do some fear it more than others, if concern about other’s perceptions of ourselves is as simple as self-preservation? I am convinced that how much we fear judgment correlates with how much judgment we harbor against others. When we scrutinize others, we permanently remember the flaws that we identify and critique so that we better recognize and avoid that flaw. We are, consequently, more apt to recognize those flaws within ourselves, and depending on how severely we condemn that flaw in others, we become desperate to quench that flaw—we start to fear judgment. 

In simpler terms, a person keen on judging others by the way they dress is going to fret about how they dress themselves, as they think that others may wield the same denunciation against them. But on the other hand, a less judgemental person that sees no valid rationale in caring about others’ clothes isn’t going to be as bothered about their own appearance, for why would anyone care? We subconsciously hold ourselves against the same standard of judgments we hold others by. And as pleasant as it is to judge others, and perhaps feel power over them, it comes with a dire cost fearing public opinions ourselves. After all, ‘freedom to’ comes with the cost of ‘freedom from’.

That is not to say that fear of judgments is always negative; if used appropriately, then it does assist you in daily life. After all, fear of judgment is what keeps us from embarrassing ourselves in front of crowds, what makes us practice our lines repeatedly before a performance, or what makes us think before we act. But it can simultaneously lead to delusion. It snatches away our enjoyment, our leisure, for nothing but imaginary satisfaction. In other words, a total waste of time. 

So if you’re someone that is overly concerned about what others may think of your grades, your clothes, or your place in the “social hierarchy”, then perhaps you’re someone that judges others by these very things. And when we do feel inclined to judge others, then perhaps we must ask ourselves: do I want to live in the darkness of my own prison of paranoia, or do I want to be free of these burdens? Because if we don’t, then we’re spiraling away from reality, immersing ourselves in a sinister and nebulous imaginary world.