By Cynthia M. Braden, LMFT
I think we would all agree that excessive Criticism can be toxic and demoralizing.. not to mention confusing. Let us take a look at what to do if you feel you are being criticized.
1. Look inward and make sure you have listened to anything that was 'fair' or 'valid' about the criticism.
None of us is perfect, and we can all improve. So if a loved one is complaining about your behavior, attitude, appearance or whatever... we can be big enough to hear the valid parts of the complaint. That does not mean that we have to obey or become defensive or refute anything at all. An important first step is to unplug the defensiveness and look at this episode as an opportunity for growth. "This person knows me and loves me (allegedly haha), so let me at least allow them to speak, and not upset myself."
2. What to do instead of back-and-forth, though?
Make sure you have heard what the person is saying, and reflect the content of that back to the person. A dialog example: You: "So, you are saying you did not like (fill in the blank), is that what you are saying? I don't know that I agree, but please let me hear what you have to say." And then listen to their answer politely, until they are finished, and then say 'thanks for letting me know, I will think about what you said.' Period.
Then it will be time to move on to the next subject, like preparing dinner or hustling around getting things done. There is so much power in simply refusing to engage in back-and-forth bickering, making points, attacks and counterattacks..If you just stop doing that, and instead implement listening, knowing it's safe because you do not have to obey, grovel, condone, feel guilty, or agree, this technique can be a game-changer. It creates a shift in yourself, the other person and the dynamic of the relationship.
You will have time to process your thoughts and feelings about the exchange at your leisure, and you can be intentional and deliberate about whatever interventions or strategies you want to employ next.
3. Go to a quiet place by yourself where you will not be disturbed. Think about what the person said and ask yourself, 'How do I really feel about what they said?'. Talk about yourself only, and use adjectives that describe feeling states.
Example: "Well I really feel that person is a hypocrite." (haha) This is not what I mean. What we are looking for is emotionally focused language about yourself. For example, "I am incredibly angry and disgusted by those comments." At least now we are telling the truth.We are not pointing the finger at anyone... only owning our true feelings about something. We need to know our true feelings, it is very important. Otherwise how are we going to understand ourselves or help anyone else truly know us? It's not that we necessarily have to talk about our feelings, but that we know the truth of how we feel in any episode or relationship.
3. Observe your anger and let it be okay to be angry or annoyed for awhile. The thing about anger is that it often simmers and dissipates. So that is nice to know that it will fade. Also, you are not compelled to act on your anger to make it dissipate, only to acknowledge that it is there.
4. Decide what you want to see happen in this situation. Think about this in detail. Use affirmative speech. "I want to feel confident and appreciated in my life. I like to feel capable and motivated."
5. Decide whether or not you want to have a conversation with this person about the criticism, or critical attitude. If you have to talk to someone about a difficult subject like this, or feel unsure, it is a great idea to prepare yourself with a few sessions of therapy. This will help you get your thoughts straight, feel validated and understood, as well as helping you practice understanding and delivering your messages in a manner that is less likely to provoke an argument.
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