25 September 2002
Paper by Laurie Cox.
Have you ever considered that when someone criticises you, most likely they are not stating FACT but just a personal opinion or viewpoint? They are not likely to express it as a personal opinion but this, I suggest, is how you should view it. The person criticising is necessarily acting on limited information about you and your - circumstances. There is no way another person can have an exact or 'complete' knowledge of you even though they may think that they know you well. To a large extent I believe this applies even to a person close to you.
This may be demonstrated clearly in group work.
If you accept that a criticism represents a personal opinion only, why should you upset yourself about it, become angry, indignant or guilty?
I have found it is sufficient to simply acknowledge the other's viewpoint, perhaps saying that you might give further consideration to what they have said.
The theory behind this is that we all act on limited information, coloured by our habitual ways of evaluating people and situations. Research last century in language structure has clearly established this point
Research on the structure of our nervous system clearly indicates that we are not 'geared' to perceive everything. Thus we must necessarily make assumptions, inferences and interpretations which have a strong chance of being totally or partly inaccurate.
Perceptions differ from person to person and from situation to situation. This can easily be demonstrated in case studies. Indeed, it ia a matter of everyday experience.
However, you may find it useful to reflect on the criticism to determine if there is something in it of value to you. Of course, you may have strong feelings or emotions concerning a particular criticism of you by someone else. Some strategies to deal with these are presented below.
If you blame yourself for having done this or not having done that, you may well pause to reflect on this self-blame or guilt That is, have a second look at what you are telling yourself. There are several ways of doing this. The one I favour is finding a quiet place to do some constructive thinking.
You might ask yourself a number of questions about the happening which 'triggered' the self-criticism-and the various feelings you have about it.
I suggest that as an aid to thinking through the situation you might like to first write down the questions, and then your reflections on each question.
The following questions are suggestive only, since the questions you are likely to ask will depend on the situation.
The only point I am stressing here is that what you are blaming yourself for is a matter of your self-talk, or inner dialogue. I believe it helps if you can criticise your own self talk). (Most, if not all of us, have an ongoing inner dialogue or self-talk.)
Here are my suggested sample questions to ask yourself:
1. What actually happened? Can you describe the event or events which led to your self-blame?
2. What did you do, or fail to do, which led to your blaming yourself?
3. What assumptions are you making? Can you examine your thoughts about the matter in sufficient depth to bring these to your awareness?
4. Can you take a second look at the situation and try to see it without blame at all?
5. Is blaming yourself, or anybody else, achieving any real purpose?
6. Would you be better off asking yourself something like this:
“This is the new situation. What can be done at this stage?”
When We Criticise Others
Does the blame which we direct at others or ourselves solve the problem?
I suggest that in a great many cases it is unproductive. Blaming others tends to produce anger and defensiveness in them and the real goal of finding a solution seems to get lost.
It is perhaps stating the obvious to say that having accepted a changed situation, it is time for constructive thinking to decide an appropriate course of action at this time. It has been said that we live in a 'judging, blaming and labelling society'.
To the extent that we can reduce or minimise non-constructive blame or criticism, we create a more harmonious society.
This, however, does not prevent us from taking a stand on issues we feel strongly about. Constructive criticism of social injustice, corruption, intolerance, cruelty, etc, is obviously necessary for the health of our society.
In this paper, however, we have been looking at our ongoing, day-to-day personal relationships. These may be vastly improved if we can find ways of expressing our disagreements more constructively than by making accusations which fuel resentment, hostility and disharmony.
One alternative to criticising or blaming is to simply share our feelings. For example, two simple sentences:
Mary to Bill: “Bill, when you keep me waiting on a street comer I become uncomfortable and impatient”.
Bill to Mary: “Mary, when you drive fast in traffic I feel anxious, often frightened”.
Self-statements of this kind, where a speaker shares his or her feelings instead of blaming or accusing, leave the door open for constructive discussion. Variations of these kinds of self-statement can be used very effectively in all relationships, close or otherwise.