People criticized me. So I changed. But people still criticized me. So I changed more. And still people criticized me. Then finally I realized it’s what they will do, no matter what. And I changed once more, by no longer listening to those people.
Does that mean I have stopped listening to people’s advice? Of course not, I welcome it, I’m grateful for it. But there is a not-so-fine-line between those who destructively criticize, and those offering “constructive criticism” — that is, the advice that can be the most important, even and perhaps especially the tough love variety.
The difference resides in the intention of the person delivering the criticism:
- Are they someone who genuinely cares about you, and/or about the results of your actions, first of all?
- Are they saying whatever they are saying because they genuinely care about your improvement, or the improvement of whatever it is your actions are impacting, even if their words may not be the best they could have chosen?
- Are they truly speaking from an emotional place of insecurity, jealousy, guilt, anger, or hate?
Responding Versus Reacting
If you and I were purely rational beings, it would be pretty easy to routinely recognize others’ intentions, and therefore the difference between constructive versus destructive criticism. Be we too have these little things called “emotions” that can sometimes get in our way… in a big way.
So one of the most beneficial things you can learn is to “scan yourself” to recognize your own emotions at any given time. (This is a habit that serves you well in many respects of life, of course; people can get better and better at it, but no one ever perfects it.)
When it comes to determining the difference between someone giving constructive versus destructive criticism, assess if you have any emotional disturbances or walls up inside you. For example, are you feeling insecure in the face of the particular constructive criticism you are receiving, taking things personally when they are not so, and misinterpreting it as destructive?
Do you have your own internal anger or sadness about something in relation to the person who is delivering what they mean as good advice, which therefore may be tainting how you hear it? Are you simply crabby?
It is not always easy to scan and analyze your own emotions in this manner, but then little that is worth doing is ever easy. The more you can recognize your own emotions so you can respond versus react, the more strife you will avoid and growth you will achieve.
“Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you respond”
Recognizing the Destructive
If you do have your own emotions in check, then, it is typically not hard to recognize those who are destructively criticizing you. If their criticism is full of downright insults — calling you stupid and the like, implying or stating outright you’ll never amount to much, etc. — that is clearly destructive.
But also watch their facial and bodily expressions, and listen to the tone of their voices. Instead of the look and sound of care, concern, or worry, destructive criticism usually looks and feels like an attack.
Sometimes you will even sense a sort of sick delight in the person destructively criticizing you, because these “broken” people draw a temporary and false sense of strength and joy from tearing you and likely others down.
The Only Thing to Do
When you are certain a person is in the business of destructively criticizing you, the best thing or the ONLY thing you can do is let them go. Shut them off. Detach. Stop listening. Easier said than done, I know, but amongst the most important things you’ll ever do in your life. If this person is someone you can physically part from in your life, do so.
What If It’s Someone Close to You?
However, often the biggest challenge comes when someone you care about, and who “should” care about you, such as a parent, sibling, spouse, or even someone who once did care about you like an ex or old friend — turns to destructive criticism.
This can feel especially disheartening and like it just doesn’t add up. Because this is a person we ought to be able trust, and so it is extremely easy to take their criticism to heart, even if we rationally know their criticism is not well-intentioned and frankly, full of crap.
But in these cases too, difficult as it may be, you must detach. You may not be able to physically leave in some cases, but you can increasingly teach yourself to mentally and emotionally depart and NOT take any of their destructive words to heart. Yes, it takes work to do this, but believe me, the work is worth it.
“Your circle of influence dictates your path” – Oprah
By the way, if you cannot, or choose not to, physically depart from this person, do remember you cannot fix anyone else, no matter how much you love them and wish you could. You can attempt your own constructive advice to try to help them, but be prepared for extensive resistance, to say the least. The good news is that most “lost souls” do find their way back, starting with one trigger or another; the bad news is that not all do.
Only you, with your own set of values, know who it is you won’t physically leave despite their destructive criticism and negativity, or how far your lines are drawn before you must physically leave them. This is something you should assess and understand for yourself now, hard as it may be, if you don’t yet know.
No matter what, you absolutely CAN choose who you will listen to, whose words you will let inside your head, and whose you will keep out. Even if they’re in the next office over, or in the bed right next to you.
My strong constructive advice is to choose carefully, choose wisely, and for any and all who would destructively criticize you, remember their daggers are misguided. Those who destructively criticize others have one form or another of self-loathing, and the daggers they throw at others are really meant for themselves. Do the work to ban their misguided daggers from piercing your heart.
How are you dealing with criticism? Comment below!
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