Reality Check: The Critic

Do you detect that there’s a lot of criticism in your life? If so, how does it feel to be criticized? Are you grateful to have the errors of your ways pointed out to you? Or not so much?
When you are criticized, do you feel closer to the person who is criticizing you, or do you feel more disconnected from them? Does criticism motivate you to spend more time with the critic? Or less?
Among the foundational elements of Dr. Glasser’s choice theory is that relationships are built through the practice of the caring, connecting habits, and destroyed by the practice of the deadly, disconnecting habits. Among those deadly habits is— you guessed it—criticism.
Despite the fact that criticizing seldom makes a relationship better, it still goes on, doesn’t it? Well-meaning (or perhaps not-so-well-meaning) friends, spouses, parents, children, etc. may be happy to tell you what, exactly, you’re doing wrong.
The span of criticism may range from the trivial, “You hair looked better short,” to the important, “You have terrible judgment. You need to find yourself a different job, choose different friends, make a different life…”
A skillful critic may profess that they only want what is best for you, and that their criticism is actually an act of kindness. They may even believe it. Some folks think they provide “constructive criticism,” as if calling it constructive somehow makes it so.
No matter the motivation of the critic, it can be dispiriting indeed to perceive that you are incessantly criticized. If the critic presents the criticism as, “I’m only trying to help you,” you may wonder, why does “help” feel so bad?
So, what can you do if you have a persistent critic in your life?
As is so often the case, I’ll suggest you begin by asking yourself, “What is it that I want?”
If the critic is a family member, you may simply want to keep the peace. If the critic is a friend, it may be worth consciously considering, “What do I want from this friendship?”
In either case, you may decide that you want to maintain a good relationship. However, having a good relationship doesn’t mean that you necessarily agree with or choose to follow the directions you are given. Nor does it mean that you have to mount an elaborate defense to explain why you are not following your critic’s clear and certain direction.
What can you do?
One response to criticism that is both helpful and versatile is a simple, “Thank you.” If you want to be a little more forthcoming, try, “Thank you for caring about me and for wanting to help me. I appreciate your thoughts. I’m working on it.”
Notice that you’re not necessarily agreeing with the criticism. The critic obviously believes their comments are valid; you may not. If you want to maintain the relationship, you can acknowledge their attempt to help you without agreeing with the substance of their criticism.
There can be a fundamental difference in how you handle family/friend critics. Family is family, and you may simply want to avoid feuding and fighting.
If you find yourself with a constantly critical friend, however, it may be worth asking, “Is my friendship with this person bringing me closeness and joy? Or is it just a habit or a duty?”
If you assess that the friendship is more destructive than constructive, then recognize that it is possible to walk away. You don’t have to stage a big fight or a dramatic exit. You can just become less available, as you concentrate on what you know is best for you, rather than concentrating on someone else’s opinion of you and your choices.
Do you have criticism in your life? How do you handle it?

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