Reality Check: The Urge to Justify

Most of us have been on the receiving end of criticism at some point. If that’s you, then you may also be familiar with the urge to respond by justifying your actions.
Criticism sometimes comes from the people closest to us: our friends, family, or other people who know us really well.
However, it seems that the opportunities to criticize have expanded with the expansion of social media. The online environment enables those who are inclined to criticize to put their comments out there without ever coming face-to-face.
Perhaps you’ve received critical comments from people you barely know who find fault with something you’ve posted on facebook. If so, you know what I’m talking about.
When we receive critical feedback, we may have an impulse to justify our actions. We try to explain. Perhaps we try to “make” the other person understand that we’re right and they’re wrong.
If we’re not careful, this can deteriorate into a back-and-forth that changes no one’s mind, but that can generate plenty of anger and resentment.
So, what might we do if we’re on the receiving end of what we believe is unjustified criticism?
We can choose how—or even if—we respond. As we make that choice, here are some questions to consider:
Will my response offer any realistic possibility of actually solving an issue? Might it change anyone’s mind (including mine)?
Is responding to this criticism taking me in a direction that I want to go? That is, will it bring more good will and good feeling? Or less?
Is engaging in this interaction the best use of my time?
For example, let’s say that someone has criticized you as being a bad mom. Is it worth taking time to write an explanation of exactly how good a mom you are? Or is it perhaps better to spend that time having fun with your kids?
If the criticism is coming from a distant acquaintance who is simply trolling for a reaction, then is taking time to respond providing any value for anyone?
If the criticism is coming from a closer source, for example, a family member with whom you want to have a good relationship, then it’s a little more difficult to choose to say, “I’ll ignore that.”
In this case, here’s another useful question: Is this truly criticism? Or is it an offer of information?
When we’re challenged, particularly if we are not confident in a decision, we may perceive information as criticism. Conversely, when we are absolutely confident that we are right, we may feel the need to convince the other that they are wrong!
When deciding how to respond, it’s good to keep in mind, “What do I want?” Is it important to convince someone that I’m right? Or is it more important to maintain the relationship? Choose your response accordingly.
For so many situations, a response that is often useful is, “Thank you.” If you interpret the intention of the person offering the criticism in the most positive possible way, then you are simply thanking them for caring enough to give you information that they believe could be helpful.
Remember that you can love someone and disagree with them. We can live, work, and interact with people without having to “educate” everyone until they finally see everything the right way (our way.)
Dr. Glasser referred to criticism as one of the seven habits deadly to relationships. Many people choose to criticize. We can choose our responses. If you’re finding that how you respond to criticism is taking a lot of your energy or causing you distress, then it may be useful to figure out a strategy that will work more effectively for you.
How do you respond to criticism?

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