20 May 2014

The Serrated Edge of Criticism: How to Wound Your Loved Ones

There is a magnificent, beautiful, wonderful painting in front of you!
It is intricate, detailed, a painstaking labor of devotion and love!
The colors are like no other, they swim and leap, they trickle and embellish!
And yet you choose to fixate your eyes on the small fly which has landed on it!
Why do you do such a thing?
~ C. JoyBell C.

May is National Mental Health Awareness Month.  Join me in blogging to erase the stigma of mental illness so our loved ones can seek the help they need.

riticism has a serrated edge like no other.  It cuts deep and leaves jagged wounds.

I’m not talking about literary criticism. 

Or the critic a writer asks her beta readers to give her.

Or the critique of a fine wine or good restaurant.

I’m talking about negative criticism that tears down confidence, shreds self-esteem, batters the heart, and breaks the spirit.

But I Say This Because I Love You…
The problem with most of us is that we speak before we think.  We eagerly leap to correct someone without getting all the facts (Facebook, anyone?).  We delight in pointing out flaws ~ either character, moral, or simply “You missed a spot there.”

And we usually brush off any pain caused by our omniscient fault-finding by saying “I’m only trying to help.  Don’t you want to be better/turn in a good report/do your best?”

No one is more guilty of this than parents.

I know.  Many of my friends are parents and will probably cry foul.  “But Junior is doing X, Y, and Z!  How else am I to raise an upstanding citizen?!  He has to learn right and wrong.”

True, he does.  No one wants to raise the next criminal mastermind.  But will your negative words really inspire him to greatness?  Has yelling, screaming, or insulting ever produced healthy, integrated results?
Words credit: Handsfreemama.com
Image credit: Google
No.  It produces broken, anxious people.

Nine times out of ten, when we are frustrated with someone ~ be they a child or another adult ~ it’s not because we love them

It’s because we love our ideals and they aren’t living up to them. 

Now, does this mean that children shouldn’t be taught right from wrong?  Of course not!  But teaching them manners and morals doesn’t have to be done at the cost of their dignity and self-esteem.

Rachel Stafford over at Hands Free Mama has an excellent article today on this very topic: To Build (or Break) A Child’s Spirit.  She admits to being that negative parent and talks about the devastating effect it had on her daughter.  She ceased to see her as her own person, and became either a project to be worked on and perfected.  Or a nuisance to be dealt with.

She was so focused on the fly that she stopped seeing the beautiful work of art.

Happily, she realized the damage she was doing and changed the way she interacted with her child.  And her daughter blossomed again.

Accident Forgiveness for All
How many of us grew up in a home where no matter what we did, it was never good enough?  Or where we were “too much” ~ too loud, too quiet, too energetic, too lethargic, etc.

I may be a grown woman, with years of experience and accomplishments behind me, but even today, both my parents (although my mother is much worse about it) still find fault with everything I do or say. I tried confronting her about once, but that is another story for another day (or a whole chapter in my memoir).  Suffice it to say, my own criticism didn’t go over very well.

One of my co-workers has a sign on her wall that says
You cannot live wanting mercy for yourself
and judgment for others.

And yet that’s how most of us live, isn’t it?  We want everyone else to be perfect, but if we screw up, we want immediate and unconditional “accident forgiveness.”

Isn’t it time we started granting some accident forgiveness to others ~ as well as ourselves?

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

There’s an old poem that starts out “if a child lives with criticism, he learns to condemn.”  Read it, print it out, and tape it to your bathroom mirror and your back door.  Make one change in how you interact and react to others, especially your children if you have any.  See if there’s a difference in their demeanor and behavior.

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Drusilla said...

At my fourth birthday party, I hit one of my guests. My Marmar took me aside and told me our family did not behave that way. I explained that he had made my best friend cry. Marmar heard me out and explained that our family did not behave that way. She just kept presenting a picture of who I was meant to be. Through all the wounding and hurt that came later, that picture remained branded in my heart and helped see me through.

Occasionally, it's necessary to let a child know he has behaved badly. But there are ways to do so with love. And you're so right, it's usually pride that makes us embarrassed or frustrated when children aren't as we expect them to be.

Unknown said...

Dru - well said.