The Dynamics Of Criticism

Most of us realize that for us to grow as individuals we can benefit from critiques by our friends and loved ones, especially mentors and others who have that unique ability of giving us guidance without putting us down.

To listen to a respected adviser when they suggest that we behave in a better way or explain to us how our current way of thinking is not beneficial to us in the long run, is the hallmark of a person who is serious about growing into their full potential.

The problem is that for every respected adviser that are hundreds of others who are unqualified to help us and rather than share helpful critiques they visit criticism upon us by the boat load.  Their motives have less to do with helping us and more to do with building up themselves at our expense.

As my dear old dad used to tell me, anyone can tear down, but only the gifted and creative people can build up.  Unfortunately, most criticism is mean-spirited and aimed at tearing down another person and in the process building themselves up.  Few are the criticizers that realize that by their criticisms they are revealing how deeply troubled are they themselves.

Criticism can be delivered in many ways, but the most insidious is to question another about “Why they did this thing and not that” or simply why they did something a certain way.  On the surface it appears to be merely a question of interest, but in reality it delivers the hidden message that the other person is defective.  To attempt to defend against such an attack only invites more details of the defectiveness and the last state turns out worse than the first.

A common form of criticism is delivered with the use of superlatives. The criticizer uses phrases like, “You always do that or you never do this or that.” In truth, life is not one superlative after another.  We rarely do something a certain way all the time, nor do we never do this or that.  That kind of accusation is designed to knock us back on our heels so that we cannot logically defend ourselves.

Criticism that is delivered incessantly from one person to another is the worst case scenario that a human can face.  Day after day, the barrage of criticism without let-up creates deep problems within the person receiving it.  A pall of sadness is the least of the problems and on the other extreme is the desire to leave that critical environment in search of one that is more accepting and tolerant.  Indeed, to maintain basic sanity may require just that solution.

Parents criticize children, often with the best of intentions, but there is a thin line between imparting useful, helpful information and crippling the child with what turns out to be rightfully called, psychological abuse of the child.  Is there any wonder that the number of runaways is substantial?

Spouses criticize spouses, and when it becomes incessant criticism every day for years, the desire to bolt and run from it can lead to separation and divorce.  It has been noted that those closest to us are often the ones who hurt us the most.  They know our vulnerabilities, our weakness, and the attack of criticism is often surgically aimed at just those weaknesses.

What can we do in the face of incessant crippling criticism? The first step is to call it what it is to the criticizer.  Next, we should set limits within ourselves to how much criticism we will tolerate.  Finally, we should plan our end game to make it stop.  Counselling should certainly be part of that.  Ask specifically for coping mechanisms to defuse the effect of the criticism and for professional advice on how to proceed beyond that.

The good Lord wants us to have a peaceful, orderly life in which to grow and mature and find meaning in the part of the world in which we are planted.  From that vantage point we are then able to help those around us grow and find their maturity and productive place in the world. It is time for criticism to end and for civility to reign.



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