I’m going to discuss three areas where we struggle being too critical: in an intimate relationship, towards ourselves, and others in general. I’ll provide simple tools to shift the tide in our favor towards being more accepting and loving.
Stop Criticizing in a Relationship
As most of you know, intimate relationships seem to trigger us like no other relationship. We react to our internal, historical triggers by often criticizing the person we supposedly “love”.
Why would we criticize someone we love? Well, this person we see almost every day is reflecting our core wounds that we’ve carried our whole lives. These wounds have been with us since birth and they were exacerbated even more by our family upbringing.
The person in our intimate relationship simply happens to be with us more than most of the other people in our lives. Of course, we are also sharing deep, emotional experiences with this person such as sex, conversations about family, etc.
By mutually touching these areas of vulnerability, our ancient, intact, defense mechanisms are aroused and we lash out towards the person. Often, we are literally in a state of survival according to our hypothalamus part of the brain.
Try these three strategies for being less critical in an intimate relationship:
1. Start making a daily list, or as frequent as possible, of things you like about your partner. This exercise refocuses your attention to the attributes you loved in the first place! If you start ruminating more on the positive aspects of your partner, those qualities will grow in your relationship. Yes, what we focus on grows larger.
2. Try excusing yourself from the situation. Have you ever heard of walking away? Yes, if we feel ourselves getting sucked into a habitual argument with our partner, we can simply say, “I’m angry right now and I need to go for a walk”. How many times have you been critical towards your partner in the past and then regretted it later? This strategy of walking away is extremely effective because it gives space to re-frame the argument in our heads and consider alternative ways to address the situation when we re-engage the subject.
3. Use the famous “I feel statement”. When you are having strong, resentful emotions towards your partner, allow yourself to become vulnerable and say “I feel (emotion here) when you (partner’s triggering action here).” For example, “I feel hurt and unheard when you cut me off mid-sentence when we are talking”. This new form of conflict resolution in partnerships can revolutionize your life. This statement is effective because it’s non-threatening to the other person and the other person sees your vulnerability, which creates empathy. Be aware that using this strategy can feel difficult in the beginning because you are letting your survival guard down, which has been used as a tool your whole life.
Try Loving Yourself Instead of Criticizing
Being self-critical is so natural to most people and clients I see, that it takes a new level of awareness to see it. We are almost in a dream state of unconsciously criticizing ourselves throughout the day until someone, like a Coach or therapist, shakes us out of the dream.
Try these two strategies to begin the process of loving yourself:
1. Every time you walk by a mirror, take a few seconds to get close, look into your eyes, and say, “I love you (your name). I love you”. This may sound hokey, but it will work miracles. Louise Hay taught me this strategy.
2. When making a mistake, practice new internal self-talk by saying “it’s o.k. (your name). It’s o.k.” This is a simple statement that initiates a positive habit of personal transformation: consoling oneself.
See Yourself in Others When You Criticize Them
Similar to our critical habits within an intimate relationship, we look for imperfections in strangers as a projection of being self-critical.
Try these two strategies towards others:
1. Every time you catch yourself being critical towards someone else, ask yourself “do I have this same quality inside of me?” or “do I ever behave the same way as that person?” This strategy has worked miracles in my life. When I suddenly realize, “I do the same thing at times or I did this in the past”, it immediately removes the resentment towards the other person and I can release the energy.
2. Start reminding yourself the other person is actually doing the best they can in this moment. They actually may not be capable of behaving differently-as difficult as that may be for you to accept. Try to visualize that person’s parents treating them badly as kids and teaching them bad habits. This deepens our understanding of someone else’s mistakes and compassion always arises from deeper understanding. That person was taught historically to behave that way and doesn’t know any better yet.
These are some methods to employ next time you feel the inner critic rearing its head in these three main relationship areas.
Like anything else, it takes practice and courage. I say it’s courageous because we don’t want to look at our own shortcomings and dive deeper into our true selves. That can be scary at first and reveal things we don’t want to see!
But would you rather keep beating yourself over the head with a hammer by continuing old patterns or criticality or would you like to grow and become a source of strength for others?
We are talking about real transformation that lasts a lifetime when we start employing the energy of love and understanding: love for others and ourselves.