The Gift of Criticism – Seeing Our Deepest Fears
When I think of my earliest experiences of being criticized, my mother instantly comes up for me. It seemed to me that nothing I ever did when I was a child was good enough for her. Scott, you did your homework wrong. Scott, you didn’t do your chores right; the floor is still dirty. Scott, you are being too loud. Scott, why can’t you just behave better in school? In her defense, my homework was done wrong frequently, I couldn’t stand doing chores, I often was loud, and I misbehaved frequently in school, among other things. My mom is a woman who is successful and who has always just wanted the best for me. As an adult, criticism from others or from your own inner critic could manifest into things like, “why are you not more successful?”, “why are you not performing better at work?“, “why do I always hurt or get hurt in relationships?” or “why does my life always seem so hard or unfair?”
Criticism, if interpreted negatively, reinforces deeply held fears we hold dear about ourself or we react against this very fear, which reinforces it as well. For example, you can just not do anything because you are afraid you aren’t good enough or you can react against this fear and be a perfectionist. The underlying driver is the same. The worst part is this is done unconsciously for most people. We have no idea we are reacting this way or are living out a very old story from our past.
When I was growing up, the fear that I responded to the most frequently to in response to criticism was that “I’m not good enough” and “I’m worthless.” When someone touched these old wounds in me, I heavily reacted. When I was in my late teens the story reversed itself and I became a perfectionist, driving myself very hard. Either way it just reinforced the same story from my past; that I’m worthless, not perfect and not good enough. These fears drive so much of why we don’t create the life we wish to have in the present moment and have conflicts in our relationships. We reinforce our story through the use of our radar that is constantly attuned to search for reasons to continue justifying the story we have always told ourselves about who we are. We need to be right about our story and seek for evidence that supports our story.
The truth is that when I was a child I was very insecure (a form of fear). I didn’t believe in myself, have confidence, didn’t excel at much and had a hard time getting along with others at times. When a person who is very insecure is criticized, defensiveness, reactivity, various forms of anger and retaliation (punishing others) can occur for them. The things that are being criticized in us may be true (if fact, often times they are) but we can’t see them or receive them because we are to busy blaming (being angry) the person for having criticized us in the first place. We can’t see the underlying fear because we are stuck in our reaction of anger (and later resentment).
The reason this cycle of reactivity continues to perpetuate is because the original fear is not being identified, taken responsibility for and isn’t surrendered or let go of. We can’t see the fear because we are stuck in reactivity, anger and our desire to make others wrong and make ourselves right. The greater the amount of pride reflects how deep the insecurities and fears are. Ironically, prideful people will vehemently deny they are afraid. Such is the nature of pride (a great need to be right). These deeply held fears are the entire foundation for the expression of pride. An insecure person has a very difficult time receiving criticism from others, especially from those closest to us. Those closest to us or very insightful aware people can commonly trigger our deepest internal fears. This is part of the purpose of why they are in our lives.
When I think of those in my life that have accused me the most of being critical, it is ironically those with whom I tend to love and care for the most. Concurrently, the greater reactions are from those that tend to carry around the deepest amounts of fear and insecurity inside of themselves. I really do just want the best for them. I must also be aware of the spirit in which I am truly communicating. It is hard to feel criticized by others when you experience a deep sense of self love and acceptance. In deep states of self love and acceptance, very little criticism is internalized and reacted against.
At times, we can have a hard time seeing our story the way others see it. They can see our problems, but we cannot. We mostly continue to justify why our story is the way it is (our need to be right), even if everyone can see it and we can’t. The exception to this is with a person that is just critical of everyone and we realize their point of view reflects nothing to us about ourself and is simply just a reflection of the unhappiness they have that they are projecting into everyone else. Yet, at the same time, those that react the poorest to criticism are those that that tend to be extremely insecure and are holding onto many fears that have never been explored, understood or let go of. They may have no idea even how to go about looking at where these fears come from or know how to set them free.
The pattern remains the same though:
Criticism (either done with a positive or negative energy) – > deep past fear is triggered -> defensiveness (pride) and reactivity (anger) occur -> lashing out, blame and punishment (withholding love) -> not taking responsibility for ones internal emotional reaction -> loss of relationship
In a person with a greater level of internal emotional health the pattern looks much different:
Criticism (either done with a positive or negative energy) -> awareness that the criticism is ultimately not personal -> contemplating the truth of the criticism -> receiving the truth of the criticism -> making appropriate changes to alter internal emotional drivers and resulting behaviors -> expressing gratitude for the insight this person gave you that you couldn’t see before.
How do you generally experience criticism?
What about criticism by those closest to you?
From whom in your life do you experience criticism most harshly?
Do you often criticize others directly or indirectly (gossip)?
Do you find that you experience criticism more often than others seem to?
Would others perceive you as being uncoachable, critical or reactive to criticism?
Do you have deep inner wounds of feeling worthless, not good enough, being unlovable or being rejected?
Are you your own worst critic?
How do you relate to your own “inner critic”?
Many of us experience criticism in negative ways, and as such, we would define the word negatively. But it doesn’t have to be negative. It can be received positively depending upon the intention of another in telling you and your ability to receive it and not take it personal. To criticize is simply to make an observation (with either positive or negative intention) that is received by another either positively or negatively. In either case, many different points of view can be explored within the dynamics that occur between two people when criticism does happen.
Think of a person in your life that has been very critical of you.
How do you tend to judge their intentions in offering you criticism?
Do you trust their intentions for you?
Did they offer the criticism in love or frustration?
Were you able to receive it or did you reject what they offered to you?
What emotions does criticism stir up inside of you?
What are the earliest experiences you had in your life of being criticized?
How did you handle it then?
Do you handle it different now or is the internal reaction much the same?
How would letting go of your deepest internal fears change your perspective on criticism and the person doing the criticizing?
Through the inner journey of discovering and uncovering the childhood memories that hosted the deepest fears I held dear – understanding, liberation and profound change occurred. Gaining a deeper sense of internal worth and value has birthed into less reactivity, lessening of fear, and more ability to receive truth in the criticisms that are offered from others. It also has heightened an awareness of allowing others to be the way they are with less desire to want to change them or make them be a certain way.
From the perspective of non-duality, there actually is nothing to fix and there are no problems because problems are just a product of the mind. The mind (thoughts, emotions and beliefs) is not who and what you are. The ground of your Being and the ground of all Beings IS wholeness, completeness and perfection. Is it the Allness of life that courses through everything and everyone. How can we see beyond our own reactions into The Perfection that defines who and what we already are? How can we see The Perfection of another instead of needing to make them wrong, us right and the constant need to change them? Could you let go of needing or wanting to change someone? Is not our desire for wanting to secretly change others just a reflection of how we experience “lack” of love and acceptance for our self?
We all have the choice to see criticism from others negatively (cycle of fear, anger and pride) or positively (curiosity and gratitude for an awareness of our self). Those who push our buttons the most and that we find to be most critical are those that are really and truly offering us a gift to see the fears, anger and pride we are identifying with so that we can be set free. Those folks are our best teachers. Be grateful for them. They can help open space for tremendous change in our life as we take responsibility for our story, reactions and our life instead of blaming them for the criticism.
If you would like to explore your story and how you react to criticism, it would be an honor to delve into this with you. Call 407-255-0314 to set up a consultation here in the office or over the phone.