Are you someone who goes out of your way to not judge others? Do you go overboard trying to avoid being critical and thinking badly of those you meet and know? This behavior is laudable in theory, but works poorly in a world in which we must make assessments about whether people will be helpful or hurtful to us. The problem comes from confusion over the term judgment.

Many people who make a point of not judging others suffered childhoods in which they were verbally abused, invalidated or unfairly criticized on a regular basis. They are acutely sensitive to criticism and uncomfortable visiting it upon others. Although they’re generally hard on themselves, they back off from thinking poorly of others and prefer to think warmly of all humankind. They dislike acknowledging that their parents mistreat or mistreated them and defend spouses, partners, colleagues, and friends who are rude, unkind or even cruel by rationalizing or overlooking unacceptable behavior.

The problem with this approach is that you must make assessments to decide which people you want (and should have) in your life, how much you trust them, and the kind of contact you wish to have with them. This information is essential to your happiness, health, and well-being. When you’d rather think warmly of people than recognize that they may be harmful to you, you end up a sitting duck for hurt and abuse. Wishing to be kindly inclined towards them, you forget that they may not deserve your largesse, and that’s how you get yourself into big relationship trouble.

Here’s the way out of this dilemma. Think of judgments as informational assessments, not critical evaluations. You can decide that someone is unhealthy and not want to be around them, but you don’t have to think of them as a bad person. They’re not bad, just bad for you. The idea is to weigh the pros and cons about people and come up with an evaluation that is in your self interest. For example, say you meet a loud show off who makes you self-conscious and uncomfortable. You can decide to keep this person at arm’s length without condemning them for their behavior. Or maybe you know someone who’s all about themselves and ignores your needs and everyone else’s. This is not an individual you want in your life, but that doesn’t make them trash. You can still feel compassion for them—from a safe distance.

When you give up making assessments about others for fear of judging them, you leave yourself vulnerable to unhealthy relationships. It’s a jungle out there, so be careful.