For the past month, I have been the most sensitive to criticism that I can ever recall being. Why? Well, because I’m a brand new parent and don’t really know what I’m doing. Unfortunately, as soon as you get pregnant, many people feel they have the right, nay, the responsibility to guide your choices for you, and that only gets worse once you give birth, so I’ve been getting lots of advice, which can feel a lot like criticism at times. As difficult as it is to get advice and criticism from relatives, friends, and sometimes even complete strangers, though, it is even more difficult to get it from my husband.
My sensitivity to advice and criticism related to my parenting has made me recognize one of the major reasons I react badly to criticism at times. We’ve probably all had the experience of receiving a criticism that was completely off-base. When that happens to me, I tend to have one of three responses:
- If the criticism could affect me negatively, I counter it immediately. For example, a misunderstanding about my job performance by my boss could affect his recommendation for other jobs, so I would clear it up immediately.
- If the criticism is coming from someone I feel close to, and relates to something essential to who I am, I might be upset that they don’t understand me, and want to clarify so I can feel that I’m understood by the people I care about.
- If neither of the first two is true, I shrug and say to myself, “Well, that’s totally off-base.”
Most parenting advice and criticism falls into the third category: it is unlikely to affect me negatively, and it isn’t a massive misunderstanding of my character. So why does it upset me so much?
As far as I can tell, the reason parenting criticism bothers me so much is that I’m not always sure whether it is accurate or not. I’m still unsure of myself in this area, so every criticism seems like it could potentially be true. This brings me to my insight for the week: when I react badly to criticism, it is often because I’m feeling insecure about whatever aspect of my life is being criticized. Ironically, that means that it is not the criticizer’s fault that I react badly. What causes the offense is often not the criticism itself, but what is happening in my own mind.
If I want to react better to criticism, then, I need to work on what’s going on in my own mind, not on getting people to be less critical. The more secure I am, the more confident I am in myself, the more I am comfortable with not being perfect, the easier it will be for me to use accurate criticism in a positive way and dismiss inaccurate criticism without being unduly bothered. Either one of those alternatives is more useful than stewing over critical comments, and more likely to have positive outcomes for me and for my relationships with others.