• Debbie Covino, PhD

Bad Thought: No matter what I do, somebody criticizes me.

My client--we’ll call her Cheryl--was quite upset that she’d encountered 3 instances of criticism all on the same day. A student of hers objected that she’d left a certain author off her class syllabus. Her husband let her know that she shouldn’t have told her parents about their son’s unemployment status. And she’d heard from a friend that another woman in their circle thought my client was overly polite to restaurant servers.

I couldn’t argue with Cheryl’s statement of fact that criticism abounds. When was the last time someone told you that you were too outspoken or not spontaneous enough, that your work product was insufficient, or that your hairstyle or clothing didn’t suit you? Probably not that long ago. We seem to live in an age of hyper-criticism, in which your flaws are not only cited by bosses, family, friends, and colleagues, but may also make the rounds on social media. Here are some instances that may not immediately come to mind when you think of criticism:

· A colleague might make a joke at your expense

· A friend might respond to something you’re doing with unsolicited advice: “If I were you, I would …” We hear unsolicited advice as criticism--even when it’s meant to help and is given in a loving way.

· Someone’s overt disagreement definitely feels like criticism.

· And even when it’s subtler, it feels that way, for instance when you’ve made a point, and the other person says, “Well, it’s not so much that…” and then proceeds to tell you the right way to see it.

· But: We often use this word, when we should use and instead. A misuse of the word but has the unfortunate effect of cancelling everything that came before it. As in, “You did a nice job of cleaning your room, but you didn’t do the floor.” Talk about deflating your kid’s efforts. Notice how much better this sounds: “You did a nice job of cleaning your room, and would you do the floor?” Now, the child feels appreciated, and is motivated to satisfy the additional request. It’s funny how people often insert a “but” where none is required:

--I think we should spend more time together.

--I think so too, but how about Saturday?

This makes you feel like you’ve been objected to. It’s unconscious. Try not to do any of these things. The other person will just feel good around you, without even knowing why.

· The other person may also just remain silent in a way that shows you s/he doesn’t agree or approve.

· Blame: when someone tells you something undesirable happened because of something you did or didn’t do.

· Having your work product be edited/revised.

· Oh, and what about gossip? Not only has someone criticized you, but they’ve involved someone else (this is humiliating) and behind your back (this is passive-aggressive).

In short, there’s no shortage of negative evaluation coming at us. I’ve heard this joke: “For every action, there is an equal and opposite criticism.” Despite or because of the fact that criticism abounds, we often try to avoid experiencing it (possibly through striving for perfection) or contract into ego defense when it does happen.

Cheryl wanted my sympathy and while I felt for her, I preferred to spend our time suggesting ways she could become unaffected by the appraisals of others. Because I don’t want to go on longer than I already have, I’ll be brief: I told Cheryl that when receiving criticism, she might set aside her ego long enough to assess whether the criticism has any merit. If it does, she can respond with an apology and/or behavior adjustment if appropriate. More importantly though she’ll want to be careful not to confuse self-esteem with what the late Neuro-Linguistic Programming practitioner, Steve Andreas, calls “other-esteem.” In other words, rather than looking to others for validation of her life choices and ways of being, she should remain focused on what she values about herself. Given that opinions and values vary from person to person and that no one can convince us of our worth if we don’t ourselves believe in it, it’s best for us to construct a sense of self from within. Cheryl ought to think, No matter what they say, I know who I am and what is best for me.

You're reading the Bad Thoughts Blog, which maintains that feeling good is as simple as thinking a better thought. I'm Debbie Covino, hypnotherapist, coach, and creator of the Master Your Own Mind self-hypnosis audio program and the All Day Hypnosis audio courses, available at https://www.hypnotic-wellbeing.com/digital-audio-programs

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