Family life researcher John Gottman has called criticism one of the “four horsemen of the apocalypse” for relationships. Criticism, along with the other three other “horsemen” (defensive aggression, contempt and ignorance), gradually destroys the trust and intimacy of partners, often resulting in mutual misfortune and divorce.
If we try to figure out what triggers the desire to criticize, we can strengthen the relationship instead of undermining it.
We all sometimes break down on criticism, lose our composure and express to others everything bad that we think of them. If someone insulted us or didn’t do something that we wanted, discontent accumulates. As a result, instead of taking responsibility for our experiences, we sometimes want to curse and shame others.
Find the reason
I’m not encouraging people to be ashamed of wanting to criticize, although a little shame sometimes doesn’t hurt. If we scold ourselves too much for criticizing others, we will become even more nervous. As a result, we will most likely criticize others even more actively, trying to defuse inner tension.
It is quite possible that we will begin to declare something like: “You are wrong, you are bad, you always do this and you never do that.”
We will be able to fight toxic criticism only when we understand the reasons causing it.
How does a person react if we criticize him as a person or give him a “diagnosis”? Usually our words make him either angry or ashamed. As a family therapist, it is hard for me to see how spouses who come to me for counseling often unconsciously cause each other to aggression, fear or stupor instead of establishing safe and sincere communication.
To criticize is a property of human nature. We will be able to fight toxic criticism only when we understand the reasons that cause it.
Find your hidden weaknesses
Instead of hurting others with criticism, we can create an environment for safe communication by sharing our experiences. Our inner feelings are different from criticism and condemnation, which we say out loud. Often these experiences make us feel our own vulnerability, from which we are trying to defend ourselves.
It is easy to blame others for aggressive defense. It’s harder to understand when the same thing happens inside ourselves. Such aggression means that we are trying to protect ourselves from unpleasant or difficult experiences – pain, shame, fear.
Often, if we do not notice and do not accept these feelings, we suppress them. As a result, we begin to judge others or show them our contempt in order to feel our own superiority. This is how we transfer our painful experiences onto others – expecting them to carry a burden that we cannot bear. Defensive aggression is an attempt to avoid responsibility for one’s own feelings and behavior.
Think before you say
An adult approach to relationships involves accepting responsibility. For example, always think before you speak, especially if you feel like saying something offensive.
You will need patience, awareness and courage not to say the first thing that comes to mind, but to take a break. Taking a pause will help you to look inside yourself and feel how you really feel, even if these experiences are unpleasant to you. Here are some examples:
I would like to say: “You are such an egoist! All the time you try to control everyone! ” Inner feeling: “I am in pain, and I am angry when you talk to me like that.”
I would like to say: “You behave like a child. I’m not going to be your mommy! ” Inner feeling: “Sometimes I feel lonely and overwhelmed. I really need your help with household chores and taking care of my daughter. “
By becoming aware of your experiences, you will take the first step towards communication on a different level.
I would like to say: “You are always unhappy with me! You can’t please you! ” Inner feeling: “I worry that I didn’t call when I was late. I was afraid that you would be disappointed, and I am always ashamed in such cases. So I just didn’t tell you anything. I am very sorry that it happened. “
When we pay attention to our feelings and share them, we invite others into our inner world by showing them how their words and actions really affect us.
The next time you want to criticize someone, stop, take a deep breath, pay attention to how you feel. Maybe words will come to your mind that will help you express how you feel more accurately. Give yourself time. Once you become aware of your real experiences, you will take the first step towards communication on a different level, which will contribute to achieving harmony and rapprochement with others.
About the author: John Amodeo is a family therapist.