Many of us struggle with an inner critic, but there is also the reality of the outer critics – those people in our environment who are critical toward us or who we believe are critical toward us. We can’t easily change how someone considers us, but we do have some influence over how we perceive our relationships and the people we are in contact with. Today I invite you to reframe how you think about someone who is criticizing you.
The Australian sage poet, Michael Leunig, reminds us that we can get perspective on human motivation and behavior by considering which part of us is at the wheel. If we are can only be motivated by love or fear, I invite you to apply this to the possible motivations of other people. When you feel criticized, see if you can insert a little wedge of mindfulness and consider what might be behind the criticism (or other challenging perspective you feel they are coming from). What looks like anger might be fear. What looks like disdain might be longing to make the kind of self-compassionate decision you have made for yourself that they feel is out of reach for them. What looks like judgement might be separation anxiety. What looks like criticism might be protectiveness.
See if you can “put yourself in their shoes” for a moment – you can only do this from a place of love yourself, so you might like to find a quiet space for yourself to sit and offer yourself kindness, wait until you are feeling connected to yourself in a nurturing way, then reflect on the other person. In your mind and heart, give them permission to have their difficult emotion and their own way of expressing it. Consider any “soft” emotions beneath the “hard” ones. Also consider that we are all clumsy sometimes in how we express our emotions.
This is not meant to excuse anyone else’s behavior or condone bad behavior, but when we are able to consider the complexity of the human process and the messiness of human emotion, it can sometimes help us move through a situation by removing a block, offloading a burden, releasing a projection, illuminating an ego identification. Whether or not you are ever in that person’s presence again, you’ve done some beautiful self-compassion work. If and when you are in that person’s presence again, it might help you to soften, which, in turn, gives them permission to soften, leading to the possibility of an upward relationship spiral rather than a downward one.
I’ll be interested to hear how you go with this little reflection exercise, if you get a chance to try it out. Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And, for some extra perspective, here’s Lucinda William’s adaptation of her father’s, Miller William’s, poem, “Compassion”.