In Painful Times, Stay Strong with Non-Judgment

We all experience challenging, painful, even heartbreaking moments. They’ve been part of life’s journey since, well, forever.

Cut to these days, and we’re all increasingly connected through our smart devices. Indeed, besides whatever complexities we may be managing, troubling news and even horrific developments can come at us 24 and 7. And at times, they do.

It’s a constant onslaught to process. To feel our way through, in ways that can drain us energetically.

So consider this potential energy conservation method: In the midst of everything we can’t control, the ancient discipline of non-judgment can aid us. It can soothe us. Then we can pass some peace forward.

First, limit the constant onslaught. Really.

My dear friend Kim, an amazing attorney and child advocate, doesn’t “do the news.” She’s disciplined about it. Her determination to live and work in a radically calm zone allows her to stay healthy for her own intense work in the world. For her unique contribution.

And of course, Kim’s approach works for her. For her life and work.

The truth is, we each have to find our own threshold for taking in terrible—even terrifying—news. If we stick with default mode in these wired times, any and all troubling developments immediately arrive as notifications in our lives.

The good news is that there’s middle ground between disconnected and hyper-connected. These days, choosing our place along that continuum requires conscious decision-making, and discipline.

We can take time and give ourselves permission to craft our own approach, our own boundaries, toward relative peace of mind and productivity. Because the world needs the unique contribution we’re each here to make.

Yes, we’re each part of the continuing evolution of our species at a critical juncture. Pause for a moment here. Take that in.

Now try limiting the judgments you form. Really.

Coaches know that non-judgment is an essential tool in our work. We practice it to avoid laying the templates of our personal values and opinions on the unique humans we’re privileged to serve. Those templates, our particular filters for living our own lives, could keep us from actually hearing and seeing and getting who others are.

So the truth is that we can also practice non-judgment when the news is especially tough. And let me be clear: The point of non-judgment isn’t saintliness. Non-judgment isn’t about letting perpetrators off the hook.

The point is our own mental and emotional health and productivity during gut-wrenching times. As we keep our own energy flowing, as we stay focused on our missions and goals, we help keep everyone moving forward. It’s, in fact, a critical contribution.

And of course, some of us contribute by being on the front lines of tragic or terrifying situations in utterly necessary ways. Thank you. Bless you.

Also, honestly, there are people in our lives, or looming large on our smart devices, whose choices and actions don’t work for us. We may not be able to relate to where they’re coming from. To what they do, or with whom they sympathize.

Of course, the truth is also that we only know what we know. What we think and feel. The truth is, it takes real-time, patience, and due diligence to understand the motivations—conscious and unconscious—of another.

Reflect in “empty” space, with compassion

As observers of current events from local to global, how can we grapple with what’s terrible in empty space, rather than filling it with all our assumptions, or our fears? This is space for our fellow humans to be the complex central characters in their own poignant, perhaps tragic life stories.

Can we avoid judgments that fill in the blanks with our beliefs, interests, and values? Can we accept the fact that we can’t really know the reasons for the struggles or failures or darkness of others?

In fact, I believe we can compassionately witness troubling, even catastrophic events with as much heart and soul as we can muster. And further, we can benefit from the sense of control this particular form of self-discipline gives us. Because the reality is that non-judgment is freeing.

Seek and find whatever meaning moves you forward

Is anyone else thinking of Viktor Frankl in this moment? A 20th-century psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, he made major contributions to our understanding of the human spirit through writing about our fundamental human freedom to find our own meaning in anything.

Because he learned and then shared that we can choose—even in the most dire circumstance, a Nazi death camp—to motivate ourselves. To find meaning in pain. And to carry on. Bottom line, Frankl’s most creative contribution to humankind came directly from his own most intense period of suffering.

Repeat as needed

In your own approach to painful times, try non-judgment. Feel it all, and protect your personal boundaries. Guard your energy and your goals.

And as you feel it all, if you feel derailed by what you’re feeling, reach out for support. You deserve it. After all, the world needs the unique something that you’re here to contribute.


Teresa Young
Teresa Young
TERESA is a musician, educator, and certified life coach with a central passion: you living your dream, for real. Because when you’re on the path that’s right for you, the journey really is the destination. Teresa’s professional experience is corporate, educational, entrepreneurial, and creative. Non-profit. For-profit. Fortune 100. Bootstrap. Her personal journey spans marriage and remarriage, GenX and millennial children, the dawn of the precious era of grandchildren, and decades of her own immense transitions and transformations. Viewing all that as developmental, and ongoing growth throughout life as a core opportunity, Teresa believes the ways we live and contribute to life keep evolving as we do. Her approach to coaching is holistic, integrating body, mind, and spirit. The point is healthy personal, creative, and professional satisfaction that she says contributes to our evolution as a species. Teresa coaches by phone. Learn more at “If you’re on the path, you’re at the goal.” — Carl Jung


  1. Teresa, thank you so much for this reminder to place ourselves in that zone of non-judgment, to honor our “band-width” with the news (and I’d add violent entertainment). Consciously choosing what’s in our life, what and with whom we interact can be liberating. The ability to hold space, be non-judgmental, and experience much compassion can be incredibly empowering-a way to live our lives, to keep going. I needed this reminder today. Grateful for you, your message.

  2. the judgment is equivalent to a refusal and, very often, to a division between good and evil. Something of what happens is considered inadequate, wrong or even dangerous and therefore, once stigmatized, it must be promptly removed. It is therefore not so wrong to assume that the judgment amounts to a refusal. Indeed it is often a refusal accompanied by a position of superiority. At the same time, we need to refer to our capacity for discrimination because it is true that not everything is right for us and it is true that this could be a necessary act of protection of oneself and others.
    When we judge, our attention is shifted to the outside and we put ourselves in a position of superiority. Shifting attention to us means recognizing our contribution to the creation of the problem. It means affirming sovereignty over the only territory that belongs to us: ourselves. Shifting attention to us is the other necessary element in the suspension of the judgment.

  3. I enjoyed reading your story, Teresa, and I can relate. There is much to be said about and gained from how we choose to welcome each day. We have to do what works best for us. It’s essential to find those moments of peace – even in times of pain or turmoil. If it means a self-imposed digital detox, then so be it. If it means crying during the news, that is okay also. If it means taking an early morning or evening run, go for it.

    I used to think that it wasn’t okay to feel all the feels as I like to call it. But a wise friend shared with me that it is good to lean into it. Let it run its course. It is part of who you are. So, now, I do. It’s made me stronger and better equipped to deal with whatever challenges come my way.

    Your final thoughts bring one word to mind: resilience. Any of us may find ourselves in situations that will rock us to our core. We can let it break us, or we can rise strong and come out on the other side. I choose the latter.

    • Thanks so much for reading the piece and for your own powerful thoughts on this topic, Laura, including the wonderful word resilience. Its power makes me smile, because it’s another way of getting to the point of giving ourselves permission to do–or not do–what’s best for us. If our intention is resilience, what choices do we make? What kind of healthy boundaries do we create, based on the unique being who we each actually are? Thanks again for sharing. :)

  4. I love you story. I really focus on living the calm. I greet the day with no expectations and I never seem to find many obstacles in my way and I greet life with a joyful song in my heart. You said we only know what we know and for me it is simplify, simplify and simplify.