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Here’s the rundown: My mom and I used to hang out a lot more. It was inevitable, we did live together. But then she moved out (yay low rent from living in your mom’s old house) and we didn’t see each other as often (boo mom now living an hour away). But another interesting thing happened. 

I stopped feeling like I was constantly being judged.

And I know what you’re thinking: wow, her mom judged her a lot. But that’s not what happened here. My mom judged me the normal amount a mom judges their daughter as a form of self-projection. Probably less so since she actually let me continue doing the things she deemed not worthy. But the reason I felt less judged really had nothing to do with what my mom thought about me. It had everything to do with what she thought about other people.

If you know my mom, or get to know her, you’ll find that she is one of the kindest, most caring people in the world. I say this because it’s important to me that you all know that everyone is human, and my mom is no different. 

My mom has what I like to call ‘surface stereotyping syndrome’. For example, she does not actually believe that girls can’t like, or shouldn’t like, Star Wars. She has a daughter that was obsessed with them for goodness sake. But on the surface, she’ll default to Star Wars = Boys. A prime example: We were watching one of those shows, where the contestant had X amount of time to run around and grab as many toys or whatever they wanted and they got to keep it all for Christmas gifts. The woman with the cart ran straight for the Star Wars aisle and started piling up everything. I had no reaction to this. My mom said, “Oh, she must have boys.”

You see? It’s not that she doesn’t believe girls don’t like Star Wars, she just relies on stereotypes, judges things based on them; probably something she got from her own mother. Had I been a child or pre-teen instead of the completely well-adjusted adult I am today, I might have heard that and thought that girls couldn’t like Star Wars because ‘she must have boys’. SSS is a dangerous pit. 

But SSS is deeper than that. SSS is also the tendency to judge (and openly judge) other people, especially if you’re with your friends. Humans are social creatures, and, by definition, are all xenophobes. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s natural. It’s always ‘us vs. them’. What does matter is how you define ‘us’ and how you define ‘them’. And how willing you are to let ‘them’ become ‘us’.

But enough theoretical mumbo jumbo let me explain with an actual real-life thing that happened.

My mom and I pull up to J.C. Penny. She parks the car and we wait for a moment, drinking some refreshing water and getting ready to face another store. It’s not Black Friday or anything, we’re just champion shoppers. 

Two women walk out of the store. They are tall, thin, with gorgeous hair. (I remember because it was windy but even blown around the hair looks amazing. I kind of want to ask them what hair products they use and if I can steal it from them). They look like they could be in a magazine for beauty. 

My mom sees them as well. With a mocking little voice she says, “Oh look at us, pretty girls with our little Sephora bags.” Then we get out of the car and go to buy things at Sephora.

I wish you knew my mom so you wouldn’t be reading this going, “Wow, what a bitch.”

But that’s SSS for ya. These two women had done and said nothing to us. They probably didn’t even know we were looking at them. For all we knew they could have been literal saints. But as far as my mom could tell, they were the ‘them’. They were the skinny, beautiful, conventionally attractive women that made life difficult for us and our thunder thighs. 

These women did nothing but had been surfacely stereotyped. Stereotyped because they looked the way they did, surfacely because for all we know they were probably really nice and had just gone to get more of whatever magnificent hair gel kept them shiny and strong in the wind. 

This is the reason I felt horribly judged all the time. Not by my mom, but by everyone else. I realized that most of the people I knew suffered from SSS. (Or actually really were just bitches). I started paying attention, listening and observing the conversations of those I hung out with. 90% of the time there was at least one judgement passed on a complete stranger. 

Humans have this weird tendency, I’ve noticed, to think everyone thinks like them. Not to say anything about opinions of course. We all know everyone is different. But we think that humans are also incredibly similar. You may think this form of judgement comes from an “everyone judges me so I’ll judge them back” but it’s the opposite. What your brain is really processing is “I judge everyone, so everyone judges me”.

And most of the time, you judge everyone because everyone around you does.

Catch 22 anyone?

Once I stopped living with my mother, and I stopped hanging out with my one best friend, I was lonely. It’s hard not to be. But I was also happier. I no longer felt like simply existing gave reason to judge. I wasn’t afraid of simply being in the world anymore. (Granted there were still a lot of things I could do that would get me judged, but that’s anxiety for ya). I realized that being around other people who were judging made me see the world in one way: Full of people who judge. 

But I don’t judge people out in the wild. Until this freedom I thought I was the only one. Because so many people I knew suffered from SSS. But I hung out more with people that didn’t. And we were too busy talking and having fun to notice anyone else, let alone have the time or thought to judge them. And I started to realize, hey, everyone else in this restaurant probably is also too busy to judge. Somehow, my mom and old friends had become ‘them’. 

Nobody likes to be told they stereotype. But that’s just the way human brains process information. There is nothing inherently wrong with it, as long as you don’t hold your stereotypes to be true, and as long as you don’t hurt someone by having them. 

If you do have to continue to be around sufferers of SSS, the number one way to keep their habits out of your ‘truths of the universe’ is to call them out on it. I did this with the game show.

“Oh, she must have boys.”

“Or girls that like Star Wars.”

My mom nods and agrees. I win.

I did not do this with the women at Sephora. Probably because we were in public, and I wasn’t sure how amenable to the ‘super models can be saints, too’ argument my mom would be. 

Let’s take another example under wing, for fun. 

Assume you are an artist. You genuinely hate every piece of art made by every other artist. (I don’t know, maybe you have a superiority complex). I can almost guarantee you you will never accept a compliment from another artist. Especially if you’ve lied about liking their stuff before. You hate all of their art, therefore they all hate your art. You are the solo ‘us’ and the other artists are the ‘them’. 

I have seen this happen in real life. A few times actually. Surface Stereotype Syndrome is a deep pit. It’s hard to climb out of, especially because the pit grows with the more people you have in it. 

We assume humans think the way we think, because we are also humans. It’s not true. But knowing this is a problem can help you fix how you feel about yourself. I do not judge, therefore no one judges me.