It's a normal response, but here's how to get over it.
Feeling disgust for something, or worse, someone, is one of the most difficult emotional states for anyone to control. In fact, many of us even have trouble even recognizing this feeling when it overtakes us.
When we feel disgusted, we purse our mouths as though we want to spit something out. This is an involuntary response caused by our unconscious desire to quickly get rid of what our body perceives as a toxic threat, whether to our physical well-being or to our mental health.
Maybe you're like me, and sometimes you suddenly realize you're having a judgmental thought about someone. When I experience this, I make sure to pause and make a mental list for myself of the reasons such negative thoughts are harmful.
When thinking in a judgmental, narcissistic frame of mind — “Why does she have to open the door that way?" "What is wrong with her?" "Can’t they smoke somewhere else?" "Why is he so loud?” — I feel bad.
Feeling disgusted is a normal response.
We first learn to express the things that bother us as children, we tell our parents about the things we dislike. Disgust is one of our most basic emotions, and is naturally expressed early in infants through rejection and avoidance behaviors. (Think of a baby's facial expression tasting food he or she doesn't like for the first time.)
Hopefully mom and dad put up with just the right amount of our tantrums, while also guiding us to better ways of communicating that we think something is "yucky" without throwing a narcissistic fit.
If our parents responded in ways that confused us, we can't figure out what else to do with our feelings of disgust. This leads us to bottle those emotions up — until we EXPLODE! — which leads us to see ourselves as disgusting.
And thus the trap is set. The more we feel disgusted by those around us, the more we feel bad about ourselves, and the more we categorize ourselves as disgusting.
All of this happens because the feelings of disgust, disdain, and contempt tie in with our senses of taste, smell and touch. In The Science Of The Art Of Psychotherapy, Allen Schore explains that disgust is an emotional state similar to feeling fear. Both emotions arise as our body responds to a perceived threats to our survival.
While it may feel bad, disgust is actually a tremendously important emotion. It is part of what fuels our ability to ask for what we want and need, and it helps us find the gumption to act assertively.
However, when we feel disgusted, we automatically suppress our attention to our visual world. Our eyes and nostrils open wide to scan for threats, without paying attention to the other sights and smells around us We can determine the difference between fear and disgust threats within 96 milliseconds. This is way faster than we can think.
As adults we must train ourselves to act responsibly for our response to feeling of disgust, by slowing this process down so we can think logically and rationally about the issues at hand.
Here are 7 ways to reduce the toxic feelings of disgust that come from being judgmental of others:
1. Notice when judgmental thoughts pop into your head.
Being aware uses the frontal lobe of your brain. When you activate your frontal lobe, you automatically calm an impulse like disgust. Make a mental note that you are ready to look at the bigger picture.
2. Remember to breathe.
Calming breaths also engage your frontal lobe. Practice deep breathing in moments when you are not feeling disgusted, so your body becomes used to it and can call on this new habit as soon as you sense a need to override the onset of such negativity.
3. Don't let your feelings control your thinking.
Feeling an overabundance of disgust is a habit formed early in life, which may or may not tie in with your values and beliefs. When you convince yourself you're entitled to feel disgusted, you also tell yourself that you're a victim. Being a victim feels disgusting. It is a self-destructive habit you must recognize and break.
4. Do the opposite of what you're feeling.
Sneering is one of those automatic reactions we have when we are judgmental. The opposite of sneering is finding a place inside yourself where you feel kind, respectful and caring. This is your only way out when you feel disgust (in the present or when remembering a time you felt so in the past). Before you go to bed, take a note of lingering judgmental thoughts and remind yourself to look at the bigger picture. Reframe your feelings. Going to bed with unresolved judgmental thoughts will only leave you waking up with even more.
5. Remember, it's not about you.
For example, if someone cuts you off in traffic, they have no idea who you are as a person, and in that moment they couldn't care less. If you react to them from the place of disgust, they will likely only become upset and do something more dangerous. Remember to breath, reflect and reframe.
6. Use your imagination in a healthy way.
This is the long-term solution. Rather than spending time imagining what other people are doing and thinking, become more mindful of your own wants, needs and feelings. Create an image in your mind of what soothes you, and call on it the next time you notice yourself in that judgmental place.
7. Talk to someone you trust about your feelings.
Don't bad mouth the person you felt upset with. It's easy to find faults in others, which just enhances your feelings of disgust. But do talk to a trusted friend about your struggle with these emotions.
Bill Maier has a private practice in downtown Portland, OR. He is available through his website, his NEW phone number or email.