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Other people can drive me crazy. They make decisions that greatly affect my family, my life, and sometimes my moods. I often jokingly say that I would be an absolutely perfect person if it weren’t for other people. I can spend too much time analyzing decisions, my own, and especially that of another. When that happens, it is easy to put on the lens of criticism. But, that lens of criticism rarely makes me feel any better, in fact, it creates bitterness, and it swells the feelings of irritation and anger within. While trying to figure out why that other person made the choice, I then spend too much additional time and energy studying how I feel about it and the negative effects it had on me. It’s unproductive. Criticizing another adult is unhealthy, here’s why.
The Cambridge Dictionary says the meaning of criticism is, “an opinion given about something or someone, esp. a negative opinion, or the activity of making such judgments.” (Cambridge) It seems such an immediate reaction to have an opinion, to stew on it, and to share it, often at the expense of another’s feelings. When I am feeling negatively, with my negative opinion, it isn’t a good time to react. Years ago, I read a small book that changed my thinking. It contains a code of conduct, or four agreements, that have the capacity, if practiced, to give you personal freedom. (Four) The agreement that had the most impact in my immediate world, is the agreement to never assume anything. Another agreement goes along well with the last one, and that is to never take anything personally. I then made an agreement with myself and agreed to start practicing these immediately. This does not mean that my first reaction isn’t to make assumptions, but it means that my second reaction is to remind myself that A—I’m probably wrong about my assumption, and B—it doesn’t really matter (why am I making it matter so much?). If I’m still working through A, I will usually start trying to see things the other person’s way. I then start advocating for that person. Before I know it, I’ve shifted from offense or anger to pity, sorrow, and forgiveness for the other person. It is a conscious decision to change the way I think. Choosing to take the negative opinion, or criticism to that of a positive makes the world of difference, and then I can feel at peace. If it hurts too bad, I decide to really focus on the “agreement” to never take anything personally.
What we don’t like about others usually is an aspect of what we don’t like about ourselves—often subconsciously. It is within our nature to be around people who possess characteristics we like and which enhance who we are and how we think. When we spend time, within the theatre of the mind, nitpicking and fault-finding others it leads quickly into elevating ourselves above another. Oh, how easy it is to do! We aren’t gods, but when we begin to criticize another, we instantly elevate ourselves to god-like status. It creates a false curtain which covers our own imperfections and our own need for forgiveness. The maxim about the mote and the beam comes to mind here.
We cannot change or control other people. We can only influence and set examples. Criticism is a tool we use to try to control another person. On some level, everyone wants to control. We want others to change. We have certain rules we want them to live by (ours!). Some of us are just more insistent on trying to take control than others. How often does the thought cross your mind that if he or she will change, or stop doing this or that, then you can be happy? We even do this with situations. We think, if a certain situation will change, go away or improve, then we can happy. Recognizing is the first step to letting go of the outcome, and simply loving others and appreciating them for who they are.
Criticism isn’t healthy for your emotional, social, mental, or spiritual life. Remember, you are human and have reactions to people and situations outside of yourself. On the flip-side, others are human too and make mistakes. Criticism is not productive, unless you catch it quick —realizing there is something within yourself you might want to change. We cannot control other people, the goal is to love them as they are right now. We are too hard on ourselves, let’s give others a break and learn to be more patience with everyone—self included. You can shift your opinions. Sometimes, it is just a matter of rethinking them and softening them with sprinkles of understanding, compassion, fairness, and objectivity.
The Cambridge Dictionary