A Criticism of Criticism

Alan White New

Alan White

Life gives us many reasons to be critical. We regularly criticise others quite easily if we perceive that they are not conforming to our expectations. We seem to be always ready to criticise. There is a good reason why criticism come so naturally to us. When we criticise someone or something outside of ourselves, we experience a temporary relief and a sense of satisfaction.

We are essentially projecting things we are not happy about with ourselves onto someone or something else. We all know someone who’s every conversation topic includes a plentiful supply of criticism. Personally I find these types of conversations draining and hard work and I do my utmost to avoid people like this.

Internally we are also adept at criticising ourselves. We often tell others through conversations the things we criticise ourselves about. However more often than not we criticise ourselves through our own thoughts. Many of us live our lives through a cycle of negative self-criticism, running in a continuous loop through our minds. Imagine how damaging to our mental well-being, listening to ourselves constantly criticising our decisions, actions, thoughts and every other aspect of ourselves.

This type of thinking I believe is in part caused by a feeling of never being good enough. We see others who seem to have everything. We look at false images of our friends and celebrities that reflect only life’s perfect moments and not reality. We then compare this to our own lives and we inevitably feel that we are coming up short.

We need to stop! We need to take a step back from the critical narrative we tell ourselves in our minds and begin to treat ourselves with more compassion. Sometimes we will get things right, sometimes we won’t. Sometimes we will experience perfect moments, sometimes we will experience difficult times. But most of the time we will live in the in between bit of life, the comfortable part, the bit where we are content, working towards our goals and looking forward to the plans we have made. This is normal, this is what will help us to cultivate positive well-being.

It’s important to treat ourselves with compassion in the knowledge that we are doing our best. Sometimes our best will not be good enough, both for ourselves and in the eyes of others. That’s ok! We learn and we move on. Sometimes however, our best will exceed our expectations and we will amaze ourselves. When this happens we frustratingly search and find the little flaws, even when we experience success. We must cultivate a sense of compassion for ourselves to allow us to fully experience the joys of life. If we don’t, there will always be that little voice inside our minds that will undermine even our most joyous experiences.

If we cultivate compassion for ourselves, we will then naturally be more open to being compassionate to others. When we can do this we will bring a sense of harmony to all of our important relationships. As I have mentioned before here, “Good relationships are the core of mental health and happiness” – William Glasser.

As you can imagine it’s not easy to break the habit of a lifetime. It takes time and patience. When attempting any shift in thought processes we have to first examine our core beliefs. As I discussed in my last blog. When our core beliefs are challenged, even by ourselves we tend to naturally and immediately reject new information. So it will take a lot of time and effort, but it’s something that’s very worthwhile. I can often be critical of others and even more critical of myself, but I have noticed that when I choose to see the good in others and am compassionate with myself. I not only feel better but I am also better able to handle the challenges of life.

Young people are at a very sensitive stage of development and any criticism can be very damaging to their sense of self. I believe that parents and anyone working with young people have a responsibility to model self-empathy and encourage young people not to criticise each other or themselves so easily. Adults have a responsibility to instil a sense of compassion in young people and the best way to do this is by helping them to see the benefits of not living in an overtly critical world.

The big question is, how do we avoid criticising while instructing young people to allow them to develop? We can replace criticism with feedback, by focusing on what’s good and challenging what could be better. If we change the language we use when working with young people we can help them to cultivate empathy and encourage them to always do their best, knowing they are safe to make mistakes. Next time I will discuss the language of well-being and the importance of tone.

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