We talked about the “judge role” and the “judge frames” many times across this website.
And for good reasons: judges are central figures in power dynamics.
Judges are relevant in all realms of human socialization, from general social dynamics to relationship power dynamics, to manipulation, to dating power dynamics.
Understanding the judge role and mastering judge frames is a crucial step towards your personal empowerment.
A Quick Recap
First, a quick recap on where and when we discussed judges:
- Women relationship control: most women control intimate relationships by holding the judge role. Most men naturally feel responsible for women’s happiness and well-being, and women reinforce the frame by directly or indirectly judging men as worthy/unworthy.
- Covert aggression: much covert aggression is based on sending out signals that “you’re not good enough”. An eye-roll, a headshake, looking away while speaking to someone, they all say: “you’re not good enough (for me)”
- Shit tests: shit tests are judge tools. It’s the judge, as the most powerful party, who sizes up others. A focus on passing those tests only confirms that frame (it’s better to address the issue at its roots instead, doing the judging yourself or changing the frame)
- Shame attacks: shame attacks are purely based on judge frames (ie.: you’re not good enough as a human being). Shame attacks can be covert, but can also be delivered as scathing, hyper-aggressive attacks to recruit the public opinion as a big judge
- A tool for abuse and control: at the extreme, the judge role becomes a tool for emotional abuse, quasi-total mind control, and behavior control (the abuse-based bond between the judge and judged at these extremes is an example of traumatic bonding)
Now let’s proceed with a definition.
What’s The Judge Role
I will define the judge as:
The judge is the individual who assesses other people’s worthiness, dispenses emotional punishment and rewards, and exercises power and influence over others through emotional control
The judge role has its roots in the parent role of transaction analysis (Harris, 1967(opens in a new tab)).
The concept of “the judge” build on that original insight by adding “judge frames”, plus expanding its use cases to include manipulation, interpersonal power dynamics, as well as intra-personal dynamics.
The judge is usually the party with the most power in social relationships.
It operates mostly at an emotional level but, like any other expression of soft-power, it also overlaps with more obvious expressions of direct power and control, including physical power, financial power, official rank/authority, hierarchical status, etc.
As a matter of fact, albeit it operates at a mental level, a judge role is often enough to invert more direct expressions of power and control -including physical power-.
In simpler words: a less powerful judge role can control more powerful individuals.
Who Are Judges (& Examples)
Judges are high-power roles that take many forms in life and socialization.
Here are some of the most common ones:
1. Mothers / Fathers
Mothers and fathers are the ultimate judge figures.
Evolutionary psychology teaches us that, for their own survival, children come to life mentally equipped to crave parent’s approval.
For survival reasons, children are hypersensitive to what their parents think and feel about them, which give parents immense power over children.
That power can be misused and easily harm children.
Great parents provide a baseline of love and acceptance for their children.
Poor parents only provide love and emotional rewards when the child makes them feel good. For example, emotional rewards for good grades, being just like their parents, or making them proud for others to see -a sign of narcissism, also see the book “Will I Ever Be Good Enough“-.
And the worst parents never provide any love, but only parent and direct through anger, commands, and perennial disappointment -an example of an abusive judge-.
2. Mother / Father Figures
Mother and father figures have the same, and sometimes even more power than actual mothers and fathers.
That’s all the truer if:
- The biological mother/father was absent
- The biological mother/father was a poor parent
- The mother/father figure is high-value person you can look up to
Here is a great example of a father figure who was more powerful and influential than a biological parent:
Tyson: My joy was when I make Cuss D’amato happy
Cuss D’Amato was Tyson’s trainer, and he became a father figure for Tyson. Later, we will see that D’Amato was also an example of a positive judge role.
3. Older Brothers / Sisters
See Michael Jordan:
Brother: Get back in the houes with your mom, boy, you’re never going to be anything
Michael: (commenting on video) when you go through it, it’s traumatic. Because I want that approval
As we will see later, part of Jordan’s life and success has been driven by a judge-based self-motivation.
I believe Michale Jordan is a highly-sensitive person, who was also high in power. He was then able to turn the emotional pain of a negative judge into the motivation to win and dominate.
4. Intimate Partners
Intimate partners are most likely to become judges when they are:
- Smarter / more intelligent (or sounding more intelligent)
- More accomplished
- Older / more experienced (can overlap with father / mother figure)
- Aware and handy with power dynamics (which makes them across as higher power)
Being higher sexual market value, either perceived or real, can also help in acquiring a judge role, albeit it’s not a necessary condition.
Indeed, some Machiavellian players seek a judge role to cancel out the difference in sexual market value, and it can be an effective strategy to land a higher-SMV partner.
As we have seen, most relationships, it’s the woman who takes the judge role:
Husband: I’m not gonna look for another job, I’m going to pursue my drean
Wife: Listen, inspiration is for strangers. You get your ass out there, work, and pay the mortage
The wife is taking an indirect judge role on him. The judge position is indirectly communicating:
To be a man means to be a reliable provider. Chasing your dream, you’re not being good enough as a provider (and as a man).
The man feels judged as unworthy for not paying the mortgage, and falls into line.
4. Coaches / Mentors / Sponsors
Mentors tend to possess many of the traits that can make for a judge role:
- Higher station in life
- Higher status
- More life accomplishment
- More knowledge / experience
- Power and influence over the mentee
Strong mentors can easily become “father figures”.
Indeed, we can see father figures as a sort of “mentors for life”.
Ultimately though the extent to which a mentor becomes a strong judge rests with both the mentor and the mentee.
When the mentee looks up to the mentor, the mentor easily acquires judge powers.
When the mentee does not look up to the mentor, then the mentor has little judge power over the mentee.
Anyone who has power to direct your work or your life can become a judge.
A boss becomes a judge when judgment passed over work becomes judgment passed over the whole individual.
Think about that sentence again, because it’s important.
You don’t want to give judge powers to anyone in your life, and you don’t want poor managers to become judges.
But since most people do not separate their results from their ego, it’s actually common for bosses to become judges in people’s lives. It’s also more common for men, since men place a higher value on social status and hierarchies.
This is why mental power is so important for your freedom and personal empowerment.
Until you learn to separate yourself from your results anyone who judges your results will end up controlling you and your emotional well being.
7. Public Opinion
The “judge” is a role.
And roles are not always and necessarily specific people.
Indeed, judges are quite often groups and, equally often, the nameless and faceless collective of people that reside within our own mind.
Overall, it’s a good thing to care about what others think and feel about you. Those who do not care at all are social rejects.
However, there must be a balance. And there is a big difference between caring about what others think, and letting others control us.
And being able to selectively throw off the yoke of what “others” think about us is an extremely important skill to develop in life.
George Simon, author of “In Sheep’s Clothing“, explains this way CEO’s personal success:
CEOs are undeterred by adverse consequences or societal condemnation.
In short, highly successful people don’t let the societal judge role to control their minds, their actions, and their lives.
This is something you also want to develop.
8. Yourself: Your Own Judge
We all have our own judges within ourselves.
When you tell yourself things such as:
You deserved it
You’re such a pussy
You are often using judge powers against yourself.
As we said before, a harsh judgment sometimes it’s exactly what’s called for. And it can also also be useful, sometimes.
But… Is it always so?
Most people tend to judge themselves too harshly.
As we will see later, a strong internal judge can be used for motivation and dark motivation.
But in most people’s cases, too strict of an internal judge only serve to decrease their self-esteem and their life contentedness -and doesn’t even spur them into action-.
If that’s the case for you, then you want to pay extra care at how you talk to yourself, and how you judge yourself.
Switching From Negative Judge to Love-Based Motivation?
For a long time, I have mostly used a negative judge style of motivation for myself.
I used super-harsh judgment designed to make me act in order to escape my own emotional punishment. Such as: act, so that you can be “good enough” again.
But I am changing my mind. I think that, for most people, motivation based on self-love is not just more pleasant, but also more effective.
9. In Most Social Dynamics You’ll Find Judges
Most social dynamics have at least hint of judge dynamics.
At the core, deciding who’s more powerful between two people is a way of deciding “who is judging who”.
And the individual that comes out on top is usually the one who exerts a stronger emotional influence over the other (ie.: the one who takes a judge role over the other).
Overall, if you want to get good at social skills, but also at life in general, you need to understand and control the dynamics of the judge role, including judge frames.
Judge frames come in different flavors:
- Direct judge frames: judges directly seek to frame the interaction as them judging you.
- “great job” / “I’m disappointed”
- “you are very smart” / “you’re dumb”
- “I’m proud of you” / “I expect better from you”
- “you’ll be a great success” / “you’ll never amount to anything”
- Unstated judge frames: the judge has no official authority and does not assess you or your work, but you still feel the need to make them happy
- Wife’s happy, husband feels good / wife is unhappy, husband feels a failure
- Authority spillovers: when judgment is the natural consequence of explicit authority, and that authority spills into emotional control
- Feedback sessions
- Coaches / mentors
- Captors: the “Stockholm Syndrome” is an example of extreme judge role turning into traumatic bonding
When Unworthy Judges Exploit Judge Frames
This is crucial to understand:
yes, sometimes the judge’s role goes to the person who has more value within an interaction or within a certain realm of life.
But often the judge role goes to the person who first starts using judge frames, independently of value.
That’s why you must be careful when people start judging you, be it with approval or, even worse, disapproval.
The natural tendency of people is to seek more praise and to try to turn the disapproval into approval. When you give in to that tendency, you are confirming the frame, you are giving power to the judge, you are subordinating yourself to the judge and, most of all, you are letting the judge control you.
The Most Powerful Judge Frames
The most powerful judge frames go at the roots of people’s sense of worth, which includes:
- Being good / not good enough: this is the basic, bread and butter judge frame. Many judge frames ultimately are variations of being good / not good enough for someone specific, or for a group
- Being good / not good enough as a human being: there are values that most people consider as “making a good human being” and “making an effective human being”. Judging others against those traits make for easy judge frames.
- Winner / loser (effective / ineffective)
- Pro-social / antisocial
- Keeping one’s word / lying
- Good or poor Morals / ethics / values
- Being good / not good enough as a woman: since so many people build their identities around their genders, attacks to “what it means being a woman” tend to very effective.
- Power / dominance: women should be feminine and submissive. Women who are too powerful are more like men, and “not good enough” to be dated. This what feminists resent: the judge power of men who consider them as less of women
- Mothering: not being good enough at one of their supposedly most important biological task. “Spinster” judges women at a dual level: for not being mothers and for not being “good enough” to be dated
- Household skills: unluckily, I know this all too well. Before I became aware of power dynamics and started using them for better causes, making fun of my mom’s poor cooking skill was an easy way of gaining power (eggs on me)
- Being good / not good enough as a man: Same as above, and it works better with men, since men need to “earn” their men card (Bosson and Vandello, 2011). There are countless ways to attack manhood.
Some of them are:
- Not providing for the family
- Not attracting mates
- Small dick
Loser = not effective in life = “not good enough”
It’s easy to fall for judge frames when it comes to basic requirements of “being good humans” or “being effective man/women”.
Because judge frames that attack people’s core values of worthiness leverage internalized rules.
We were both born and culturally reared to value our worthiness as human beings and as men and women. That’s why applying judge frames on them tends to be very effective.
There is a corollary for this phenomenon.
When a judge attacks rules that have been internalized, then the judge doesn’t even need to be a high-value person to make others feel unworthy.
That’s why an anonymous troll on the Internet can make even high-quality people feel bad: that anonymous troll is objectively low value, but he’s leveraging internalized rules.
The Fairness & Manipulation of “Judge Frames”
Judge frames can be used for fair and value-adding goals, or for selfish, manipulative, and potentially harmful goals.
Sometimes, that’s up to interpretation and it can be a grey area.
But, as for most things, there is no room for infinite relativism.
For example: all sensible people would agree that a child-molester judged as “not good enough as a human being” had it coming.
And there are a few more grey areas that are closer to manipulation than fairness.
- A man frames a woman at work as “too aggressive”: that might or might not be true. But if they are competing for a promotion, chances are he’s doing it to ruin her reputation, turn people against her, and make her feel self-conscious in an effort to take out an opponent for promotions
- A woman frames a man as unworthy for pursuing his entrepreneurial dreams: The woman might have a second motive to make his man feel bad for not providing at the level they are used to and keep him in his job. Abandoning his dream will come at the price of his happiness, though, so I’d consider this closer to manipulation
How to Spot Judges
How do you spot if someone is having judge powers over you?
Well, if the judges are using direct frames, it’s somewhat easier.
You hear keywords such as “disappointed”, or you see them shake their heads, and your “judge” alarm bells should go off.
But it can be more difficult with judges who are not so obvious. So here are a few signs to spot judge dynamics:
- You fear someone’s judgment
- You care a lot about what someone thinks
- What someone does or says can easily hurt you
- What someone does or says makes you feel good
A disgusted facial expression is the ultimate signal of negative judges. It says: “so unworthy to be disgusting”
Exaggerated facial expressions can also be the sign of a manipulator.
Are you really that disgusting that one has to make a disgusted facial expression? Chance are that you’re not.
So if they’re showing exaggerated signs of judgment chances are that they want to emotionally unsettle you and gain judge powers over you.
The manipulation works like this: if they are disgusted, then it means you are unworthy to them, hence: you need to change your behavior -or who you are- in order to please them (your answer: fat chance, bitch/asshole!).
Women tend to play this game more often than men.
Take it as a red flag.
Judges follow the same general rule of power:
Power is neutral. It can be used for bad causes, or for good causes.
For the latter, think again of that relationship between Mike Tyson and Cuss D’Amato.
D’Amato used his strong influence over Tyson to turn a boy without direction in life into one who was driven to reach the pinnacle of his sport.
Tyson was honest and aware enough to admit that he wanted to win for D’Amato, and that it was D’Amato who developed his hunger for winning.
Positive judges are a positive force in this world, and they can save lives.
So albeit you always want to be careful about whom you elevate to a judge in your life, you can welcome positive judges because they will help you grow and develop.
Bad judges use their power in ways that harm others.
Examples of bad judges include:
1. Abusive Judges
I define abusive judges as:
Abusive judges use their power in ways that lead the target to indulge in harmful or self-destructive behavior to gain the judge’s approval
Some abusive judges aren’t even getting anything out of their abuse, but they enjoy seeing the effects of their power and control over their victims. The simple fact that their victims are suffering makes the judge feel powerful.
Here is an example of an abusive judge:
Mary Cain: In my own, sad, never-fully healed heart, I wanted Alberto to still take me back. Because when we let people emotional break us, we crave more than anything their very approval.
It’s either Mary Cain was extremely self-aware, or someone helped her understand the dynamics at play, because she was exactly right.
Alberto, Nike’s trainer, kept Cain in fear of his judgment through little rewards and much emotional punishment.
Exactly what abusive, POS judges do.
How to spot abusive judges:
- He is impossible to please: the stereotypical bad boss / abusive partner
- He always criticizes you: it’s either you do everything wrong (unlikely), or the judge enjoys seeing you squirm
- You always end up doing favors that benefit him: the most Machiavellian judges don’t criticize or reward too openly, but if you realize you’re always acting in a way that benefits the judge, that’s a strong cue to subtle manipulation
2. Moralizing Judges to Limit Your Freedom
There is a great song from an Italian songwriter
A left-wing songwriter (well, nobody’s perfect).
He talks about an easy woman who enjoys sleeping around.
Her carefree attitude is scaring the local wives though, who are plotting how to get rid of her.
And that’s when an older and jealous woman in the village tells them that adultery is a crime, and they can denounce her to the police.
Then sings De Andre’:
You know that people give good advice
Feeling like Jesus in the temple
When they can’t give the bad example anymore
-Fabrizio De Andre’
That’s what manipulative judges also try doing.
Manipulative judges judge others to limit their freedom when that freedom makes them feel bad.
- She parties and enjoys life too much? Slut!
- He sleeps around and has more than partner? Immature! Lier!
These are all truly selfish strategies of sexual manipulation, but they all hide behind the guise of a (fake) indignant judge.
In truth, like De Andre’ sings, many others would like to do those same things.
But either because they can’t, because of fear, or because other people’s freedom limits their own sexual options, bad judges seek to shame others into giving up their power as expressed through their way of life.
Luckily most people reading here are cool guys and gals who focus on their self-development and have little time for moralizing judgments. But sometimes, it happens.
See here an example from a buyer of Dating Power Dynamics:
= “I, the judge, know what “real” dating is. You’re too immature and not good enough for “real” dating”
Understand this: people who have no personal stake at play will not go out of their ways to judge and criticize you.
It’s only people with a second motive that go out of their ways to take moralizing judge roles against your values or life decisions.
It’s not necessarily envy or jealousy. It might also be that different ways of living make them uncomfortable and doubtful, so they need to re-establish their values as the “only” way of living.
In either case, whenever you see someone moralizing a bit too strenuously for things that are not really hurting anyone, always think: what is the real motive of this judge?
Once you know the real motive, you can go meta on them and dismantle their judge frame.
Virtue-Signaling: When shaming you makes me look good
Finally, there are Social Justice Warrior judges.
These people sometimes care about the causes they champion. But, frequently, they just attack others to look good and pure by comparison.
The game is: I pretend to be disgusted by your (supposedly) immoral behavior, so that I can look like a better human being.
- Virtue signaling is a sex strategy, more than a movement for a better world
3. Dark Psychologist Seducers
The judge role can be used for seduction.
When Robert Greene in “The Art of Seduction” advises acting as a therapist would, he is advising to take a parental figure role in the target’s mind.
Being distant and stand-offish can also function as a dark-psychology technique for seduction. By being distant, the seducer is sub-commutating that the target is “not good enough for his full attention”, which can lead the target to seek his approval.
Some women enter relationships with these types of men and end up doing the impossible to please their impossible partners (see “Women Who Love Too Much“).
- Mother figure seduction: the female equivalent of the father figure seduction. Please note though that mother and father figure seductions and relationships are not necessarily abusive
In more benign ways, the concept of “validation” that some pick-up artists and dating coaches teach is also based on the judge role.
Validation means making other feel good -or bad- depending on your opinion.
When dating coaches talk about “not being validated by the woman” , they are saying to refuse the woman’s judge role. And when they advise men they should validate women, are recommending to become judge of the interaction.
How to Combat Bad Judges
Good judges are a minority.
And 100% bad judges might not also be a minority.
Most judges fall in that grey area and, being the human nature more on the selfish side, most judges are slightly more on the bad side.
So, with most judges, to maintain your power and social status, you want to reduce their power.
So here are the steps:
1. Be aware of judge frames
Any true self-development path, and any true life strategy starts with awareness.
If you are not aware, the judge can manipulate you as it best suits him. Once you become aware, you take the first step in throwing off that judge yoke.
Even if you don’t react perfectly, being aware of the power dynamics at play is 70% of winning the war.
2. Avoid rebelling and getting angry
As a general rule, getting angry is not a good option for a simple reason: getting angry confirms the judge’s power.
Yes, it’s two steps forward from bending over backward to please the judge, and it might be a step forward from getting hurt and doing nothing.
But getting angry also says “yes, you’re getting to me” and “yes, you’re totally touching my hot buttons”.
And usually, you don’t want to give away and publicize your emotional wounds.
See an example from “The Godfather”:
Michael: The ink on your divorce isn’t dry yet and you’re getting married (= you’re a whore). You see your children on weekends (= you’re a bad mother)
Connie: (yelling) Michael, you are not my father!
Connie goes at the core of what Michael was doing. But the fact that she gets angry does not free her emotionally, and it confirms that she feels bad about her own behavior.
She doesn’t own who she is.
You can also see it with Mike Tyson, a man who after Cuss D’Amato has long been hypersensitive to anyone who acted as a judge:
Interviewer: Mike, why do you have to talk like that (= you’re being improper and “not good enough for a civilized conversation)
Tyson: fuck off (diverts his gaze)
Mike comes across as getting overly worked up for nothing, and emotionally out of control.
Exceptions: Fixing the Issue With A Single Burst of Anger
If you can resolutely end a fight or argument with one single anger-driven fell swoop, it might work.
Right after you want to go back to normal, just to make a point that you were not emotionally affected.
3. Channel anger constructively
Anger can be a useful emotion.
But the key is channeling that anger in the most effective response possible.
Let’s see how to do it, plus some more effective ways of fighting judge roles and frames, then.
4. Fight it smartly: Frame Control
Michael: If you marry this man, you disappoint me
Conny: Michael, it’s funny you say that, because I’m actually disappointed that you (tit for that frame control), as my brother, care so little about my well being. Looking at our father I always thought a great Godfather takes care of his family (persuasion power move).
I love this man, Michael. If you care at all about your own blood, you would support me. You know that I would do the same for you (ends with a collaborative frame and equalizes judge power)
Some smart persuasion techniques there.
Michael wants to be a Godfather who takes care of the people around him. Connie changes the frame to make him want to support her.
Other effective techniques of reframing include:
- Judging right back (ie.: fighting for the judge frame)
- Undermining their judge authority (ie.: who the f*ck are you to judge?)
- Owning the accusation with pride (high-risk, high-reward)
- Go meta: explain what they’re really doing, and what their little dirty motives actually are
See one more example here:
- Fighting judge frame Example: an example of being the victim of a judge frame about “what it means to be a man”, plus how he could have controlled it better
- Power University: more examples in the course
5. Develop antifragile ego & growth mindset
Who is more likely to overreact and seek emotional rewards?
It’s usually people with a fragile ego, low self-esteem, and a fixed mindset.
Work on developing a growth mindset, an antifragile ego, and learning to better control your thoughts and mind.
Then any judge who tries to make you feel bad for who you are will be shooting against a concrete armor.
At the time of writing, the last time someone told me “I’m disappointed” was a girl just a few weeks ago.
I don’t remember exactly what she was disappointed about, and that says a lot about how it bounced off of me. But I do remember she said that, and I took good note of it.
I liked her a bit less after that and took it as a red flag of a potential game player.
6. Distance yourself from bad judges
Smart judges can be good at frame control as well as manipulation.
But nobody can manipulate you if you stay out of reach. And they can never touch you again if you remain out of reach.
No matter how good or powerful they can be, or how long you still need to go to master persuasion and power dynamics, if you remove yourself, you can’t be wronged anymore.
This is a trump card that anyone can take advantage of.
7. Cut out game players & manipulators from your life
Most people play some games.
But some people play more games than others, and some play highly manipulative and abusive games.
Those people are better out of your life than in your life.
- Seek secure partners for intimate relationships
- Seek people who play for win-win
- Ruthlessly cut-off manipulators, nasty game players, and low-quality individuals
8. Fix childhood traumas
This will not apply to everyone but, to those it applies for, it can be a life-changer.
Here are some questions for a quick self-assessment:
- Do you have constant issues with authority figures?
- Do you see bosses as mother or father figures?
- Do bosses have an outsized influence on your emotional inner life?
- Did you have emotionally distant parents, unusually demanding parents, or parents who used your for their own gratification?
If so, it’s possible you are carrying some emotional wounds. Those wounds can be healed, and therapy can help.
Using Judges For (Dark) Motivation
We mentioned earlier that judges can be used for motivation.
Let’s dig deeper:
Emotional Pain As Motivation
A surprising number of high-achievers have either been hurt, or come from abusive backgrounds.
And a good chunk of these individuals climbed their hierarchies fighting against judges.
Keep in mind that past judges include:
- Exclusions: a way of saying “you’re not good enough” (to be a part of us)
- Bullying: a way of saying “you’re not good enough” (to be part of us and stand up for yourself)
Michael Jordan’s leveraged many judges across his career:
Jordan: He started the whole process with me, because when he made the team and I didn’t, I wanted to prove (…) you made a mistake dude.
Jordan is not the exception. Many high achievers, and many smart coaches who wanted to motivate their teams used negative judges as motivation.
Personally I’m ambivalent about using negative judges for achievement. Negative judges tend to make the process anger-fueled, and the victory a brief moment of vengeance-driven pleasure that soon evaporates (Grover, 2013). That reduces the total happiness and contentedness in life.
And as Tony Robbins said: achievement without fulfillment is the ultimate failure.
Plus, if you can find motivation within you, without giving away control, it’s even better.
Judges exert power via emotional control, rather than sheer force or violence and, as such, are an example of soft power in social interactions.
Understanding judge roles and learning to control judge frames will go a long way to help you master power dynamics.
As a rule of thumb, keep this in mind: the more you advance in life, the less you will be judged, and the more you will be the judge.
As usual, my invite to readers is to use power for value-adding purposes.
If you try to abuse of judge powers, you disappoint me and the whole power moves crowd (punishment-based judge frame).
If you use for value-adding causes, you will make us proud and you belong with us (reward-based judge frame).