Reality Check: Criticism—The Great Dissatisfier

Do you seek to be the best you can be? Aspiring to excellence is a wonderful motivator. Actions that you take to improve yourself, your work, and your relationships can have a positive impact on your quality of life.

Do you seek to have the people around you—your loved ones—to be the best they can be? It’s natural that you would like to see the people you care for most of all to be happy, healthy, and satisfied.

But what if you see behaviour in those loved ones that you believe won’t lead to the best for that person? Very often, people choose to respond with criticism.

Karen is in an ongoing battle with her daughter, Emily. Karen only wants the best for Emily; yet she perceives that everything Emily does is wrong-headed! From Emily’s choice of friends, to her lack of interest in school, even her food choices, in Karen’s eyes, all of Emily’s choices are poor.

So, Karen criticizes Emily. Her rationale is that without her criticism, Emily will never learn.

Their interactions are a stream of critical comments. Karen says, “Your friends look like bums; there’s no brain surgeons in that bunch!” “Your marks are terrible, you don’t have a clue,” and, “Do you really think you’ll lose weight by constantly eating cookies?”

How does Emily respond? With every critical comment, Emily becomes more defiant, hangs out with her friends more, studies less, and flees to her room (where she keeps a stash of cookies.) Karen and Emily’s relationship has never been worse.

Karen values the connection she used to have with Emily. Emily used to respect her, listen to her. No more.

Finally, Karen has recognized that her ongoing criticism is playing a large role in her disconnect with Emily. What could she do that would be more effective than criticism?

In “Take Charge of Your Life,” Dr. Glasser suggests an approach to help anyone work toward an improvement without expressing criticism. His suggestion: “Let’s take a look and see what is and what is not working for me, for you, and for both of us.” Follow that look by making a plan to make the situation work better for both.

Karen chose to take one issue—food—to discuss with Emily using Dr. Glasser’s conversation “recipe.” They discovered that there are aspects that were working for both of them: Karen always has fruit and healthy snacks available, Emily always cleans the kitchen. It was easy to see what was not working: the bickering over Emily’s food choices, along with Emily’s seldom joining the family at mealtime.

Their plan for the next two weeks included specific days when Emily would eat with the family, and working together to create a shopping list to include both “treats” and healthy options.

Critical comments are seldom effective. They drive relationships apart and don’t provide much satisfaction for the criticizer, either. Finding a way to work together on the problem, rather than finding fault with each other, is ultimately more effective.

Are you exposed to criticism in your life? How effectively does that work on you?

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