Resist the Urge to Criticize

When we judge or criticize another person, it says nothing about that person; it merely says something about our own need to be critical.

If you attend a gathering and listen to all the criticism that is typically levied against others, and then go home and consider how much good all that criticism actually does to make our world a better place, you’ll probably come up with the same answer that I do: Zero! It does no good. But that’s not all. Being critical not only solves nothing; it contributes to the anger and distrust in our world. After all, none of us likes to be criticized. Our reaction to criticism is usually to become defensive and/or withdrawn. A person who feels attached is likely to do one of two things: he will either retreat in fear or shame, or he will attack or lash out in anger. How many times have you criticized someone and had them respond by saying, “Thank you so much for pointing out my flaws. I really appreciate it?”

Criticism, like swearing, is actually nothing more than a bad habit. It’s something we get used to doing; we’re familiar with how it feels. It keeps us busy and gives us something to talk about.

If, however, you take a moment to observe how you actually feel immediately after you criticize someone, you’ll notice that you will feel a little deflated and ashamed, almost like you’re the one who has been attacked. The reason this is true is that when we criticize, it’s a statement to the world and to ourselves, “I have a need to be critical.” This isn’t something we are usually proud to admit.

The solution is to catch yourself in the act of being critical. Notice how often you do it and how bad it makes you feel. What I like to do is turn it into a game. I still catch myself being critical, but as my need to criticize arises, I try to remember to say to myself, “There I go again.” Hopefully, more often than not, I can turn my criticism into tolerance and respect.

By Richard Carlson, Ph.D.
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