Author: Ann Schiebert
Just what is criticism, and why do others think they have the right to make uninvited critical statements? This is a mystery! "I hate your purse because it looks like a shoe! I would never buy such a thing." or, "I’m just offering you constructive criticism: I think you should work on your grammar and you shouldn’t say, ‘ya know,’ so much!" It is very tempting to inquire of the person offering the criticism, "And who asked you?"
The nature of uninvited criticism is that it serves to demean the recipient, and boost the ego of the one who criticizes. I had a patient relate this story:
"I was recently having breakfast with a potential romantic interest. We had just finished and were about to pay the bill when he said to me, ‘I think you are over weight and your body type doesn’t suit me!’"
This patient went on to explain that she wears a size eight and is 5’9″ tall! She said she was speechless and inquired more about this. She was told that although there was no extra flesh on her ribs, she needed to pay attention to her legs because when they weren’t flexed, there was extra skin on them. After some discussion, the patient decided to leave and end the relationship because this wasn’t the first, “irrational,” criticism she had heard from this man.
This patient had boundaries. However, she reported that she began to think about what had been said. And as she continued to think that she couldn’t possibly be over weight, she also considered that maybe she should lose some weight. After further thought, this patient began to feel a loss of confidence and pride. Even though she was a regular participant at her gym, she began being self critical about her figure. This man’s criticism took her back to when her mother chronically reminded her that she shouldn’t be over weight. To right herself, she called several trusted friends who she knew would tell her if she needed to lose weight if she asked them. She was pleased to report that her feedback was that her figure was perfect for her body type and she was supported to focus on things that mattered, “not what some jerk said.” She was also prepared to hear if her friends though she needed to lose a few extra pounds. She had invited feedback, and she knew that her pals would deliver it in a kind way.
When we criticize someone, we never know what the ripple effect will be. For the patient above, the ripple effect was to take her back to her family of origin issues wherein she was reminded of her mother’s toxic criticism. We do know that rendering uninvited criticism will NOT elicit feelings of love and closeness. It will not draw closer the one you love. It only feeds thoughts of not being good enough, or of not having much worth compared to others.
And how do we form boundaries around the critics in our lives? Being quiet is NOT the answer. We need to request that they don’t make critical comments about whatever point they are trying to make:
"When you tell me my hair looks like I combed it with an egg beater, I feel badly, and I want you to STOP commenting on it. Can you do that?"
When someone puts us down, chances are they are not feeling so wonderful about themselves and are projecting on us. Or, they were raised in a critical family, and criticizing looks normal to them. The other possibility is that they are perfectionists (usually about everyone but themselves) and strive to have, "perfection," around them….whatever perfection looks like! It doesn’t actually matter what the reason is. Put a STOP to it!