At times in our lives people will make criticisms of us, some of which are justified and constructive, some unfair and unkind. Whilst we need to stand up for ourselves, when does our responding at all become unhelpful?
Sometimes criticism and advice is necessary, for example a manager to a subordinate, a teacher to a pupil. Sometimes we give advice to friends or family to be helpful because we have knowledge or experience that they don’t. Having our own opinion defines us as a person and sharing that opinion and listening to the opinion of others promotes lively discussion.
Some people have personality traits and learned behaviour where they criticise or offer their opinion too often, too forcefully, unkindly and when it is not justified. Sometimes this can go together with someone essentially caring but who misjudges how much their opinion is appropriate to the extent that they come across controlling. Some people are naturally outspoken and may not pick up on other people’s feelings. Many people also compensate for low self esteem by trying to impart their knowledge and opinions to make themselves feel more important. In giving a disproportionate amount of criticism and contrary opinion, they feel superior to the one they ‘correct’.
When we are criticised unfairly or corrected about something and we don’t agree, we should not get angry or defensive but should be assertive in putting forward our case or counter argument. If we don’t do this we can come across as too passive, which allows a dominant ‘criticiser’ to feel further superior and might fuel their ego to further belittle or control us.
For example in a work environment, a manager complains to an employee that a report should have been completed. The employee explains firmly that she had been diverted to another task of higher importance and thus completing the report in time would be an unreasonable expectation.
A mother becomes annoyed that a friend keeps criticising the way she disciplines her child. She explains that she has thought through fully her decisions on how she disciplines the child and would prefer that her friend respects her choices.
Hopefully the critical person will accept the other’s case and that will be the end of it. Perhaps the critical person just meant to be helpful, or they hadn’t considered the other person’s view point.
However, to some individuals, giving criticism gives them pleasure as an act in itself. They feed off the battle to gain superiority through well chosen words. The Narcissist is an expert at this.
Whilst we endeavor to prove their comments wrong and to justify ourselves, they are not even listening. They are already thinking of the next insult. We are caught up in some sinister ball game which they seek to win by delivering the most hurtful words.
This is the time we must walk away from the game. One day after receiving yet another unpleasant text message from my ex accusing me of something that he knew would set me typing back frantically in indignation, I realised that he must actually be getting enjoyment from this war, or else he wouldn’t keep prolonging it. I knew that the only way of stopping it was to stop reacting, then he had no one to play the game. It is really hard not to react but is the only way to break free.
So whether it be internet trolls, narcissistic ex partners, or other unpleasant individuals remember that no-one can hurt your feelings unless you allow them.