Criticism has been unfortunately devalued and assigned terms like “hate” and “venom.” We perceive anyone who dissents as a bad person and wrap ourselves in a positive feedback loop of only people who agree with us and the choices we’re making, destroying friendships and even families in search of a constant positive feedback loop.
We’ve forgotten the important difference between positive criticism from people who want to improve our lives, and negative criticism from people who want to tear us down. The differences can be hard to spot for a generation raised to believe we are AWESOME!! And SPECIAL NO MATTER WHAT!!! To grow as people, we need to understand that criticism can come from a lot of places that aren’t anger or jealousy, including love and concern for our well-being.
Ignoring these criticisms is a good way to push away people who care and maintain toxic relationships in our lives. Maintaining relationships with honest people is important.
First, consider what is being criticized. It’s easy to think that anyone who criticizes your behavior is actually attacking YOU, but that is hardly ever the case. Unless you have done something terrible to someone, what you perceive as anger and criticism is probably perceived by them as good advice. Ask yourself why they gave you the advice, and why they thought you needed help. If you saw a person about to jump off a cliff and said “Hey! Don’t do that! It’s stupid!” no one would think you were attacking the person. When someone has experienced negative consequences from whatever decision you’re making, they might feel like that person watching you step blindly off a cliff without looking.
Next, consider the source of BOTH the criticism AND support. Sometimes, the people who agree with you can provide clues to whether the criticism is warranted and/or motivated by a positive outcome for you. If your cousin the successful lawyer is criticizing you and a homeless drug dealer is sitting on a free community computer agreeing with you, it’s important to ask yourself who you want to agree with. Which side do you want to be on? If your family supports you in your decision, but a hundred people on the internet call you names, who knows you better?
Listen to your own inner voice. Sometimes when we’ve been battling our own inner voice for hours or days, just one person’s criticism added onto a pile of self-talk can send us into a fit of anger that leaves them upset and confused. If you’re uncomfortable with something in the first place, don’t put it out there hoping that enough support will make you feel better.
Ask yourself “When have I said the same thing?” When people criticize, it’s usually out of a desire to help someone who we think doesn’t understand the possible repercussions of their actions. We’ve all criticized someone we cared about, whether it was for drug addiction, slacking off on self-care, not taking a medication that can save their life, or any other self-destructive behavior. Before dismissing criticism as anger or jealousy, ask yourself why the person thought their information would help you.
Finally, consider the person’s intentions. If you do nothing else when thinking about criticism, do this. Ask yourself if the person’s intentions are about them or about you: what do they stand to gain or lose from their actions.
The man on the beach who encourages a woman to wear a tiny bikini gains a look at a mostly nude woman and possibly sexual favors. The woman telling her she’d still be beautiful in a less revealing suit gains nothing but his anger and possibly the bikini wearer’s. Yet their commentary comes from the same place: an idea that women who dress that way are desperate for men’s attention. Which one would be a better friend?
The parent who criticizes a child’s grades wants to gain a secure place for the child in college, a great future and job. The friend who criticizes the same child for getting his homework done does not have his best interests at heart.
Some people will criticize you out of a desire to hurt you. They’ll want you to dump the person they’d like to date, quit the job they’d like to have, skip out on work, and ignore your responsibilities. They’ll encourage you to silence the inner voice that tells you a choice is wrong and hurtful.
Most people, especially those closest to you, criticize out of a genuine desire to help and to improve your life by adding their knowledge to the choice you’re making.
Listen to criticism. Sit with it. Consider it. It’s easy to ask what the “haters” did wrong. It’s much harder to ask why someone thought you made the wrong choice, but it can improve your life.