It’s the Mind’s Job to Criticize
That’s what the intellect does. It notices the differences. It compares. It comes to conclusions based on observation and logic.
This is as it should be. The intellect judges some things as good and others as bad. And to a large degree it keeps us out of trouble. But criticism also tells us a lot about ourselves. It tells us about the parts of ourselves that we are often still asleep to.
If you want to know yourself better, pay attention to your criticism.
Write it Down
Take out a blank piece of paper and write down all of your criticisms about somebody or something. Don’t worry about sticking to one situation, let your mind go wide and get down all of the picky things that they do wrong in your opinion. Include the character flaws too.
She is impetuous.
She is too hard on her children.
She doesn’t spend time with us.
She spreads herself too thin.
She’s is controlling.
She is a fanatic about her food.
She should not be eating fat free.
She is always stressed out.
She is a drama queen.
When you have a list, you can start questioning the statements directly, or you can dig deeper into your critical statements to reveal additional judgments and beliefs.
One way to dig deeper is to isolate specific instances. For example, when I was talking on the phone with her and she became harsh with her child and gave him a time out. Or when she decided not to come be with us after we went out of our way to make it easy for her.
The specific instances are representative of the larger, more general character flaws. When I write down my stressful thoughts about the particular instance, I often become even clearer about what I mean.
I Usually Use a Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheet for This
For example, I can write a worksheet on her when she said that she could only come “for a few hours” when we rented a place near her hoping she would spend the week with us.
Before I write my worksheet, I like to first identify the statement of fact. What did she actually do?
Statement of fact: She is not coming for the whole week.
Then I write my interpretations of the statement of fact. (I sometimes use the prompt, “And it means that…”)
She doesn’t want to be with us.
She doesn’t like us.
She is afraid we will spoil her children.
She doesn’t trust us.
She is influenced by her husband.
I Pick One Statement to Write in Line 1 of the Worksheet
I usually find that my interpretations are closer to what is actually causing my stress. I scan them, and choose one: “She is afraid we will spoil her children.” That’s a real criticism. And it bothers me. So I write it down on line 1 of my Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheet, and continue writing lines 2-6 of the worksheet..
1. I am angry with her because she is afraid we will spoil her children.
2. I want her to smarten up!
I want her to trust us.
I want her to allow her children to be with us.
3. She should notice how much she is trying to control her children.
She should see that this is not healthy for her children.
She should understand that we are not a bad influence on them.
She should consider that children need other adult influences.
She should loosen the rules on vacation.
She admit that she is taking her job as a parent too seriously.
She should change her mind.
She should let them come for the whole week.
4. I need her to put herself in my shoes.
I need her to see that it hurts to be denied access to her children.
I need her to notice that she is punishing us too.
I need her to be vulnerable with us.
I need her to explain what’s going on for her.
I need her to see that we are trustworthy.
I need her to apologize for excluding us.
5. She is untrusting, controlling, distant, fearful, confused.
6. I don’t ever want her to deny us access to her children again.
I don’t ever want her to not join us again.
I Then Question the Statements I Wrote
I use the four questions and turnarounds to question as many statements as I like on this worksheet. For example, I can start with “She is afraid we will spoil her children.” Is that true? Can I absolutely know it’s true? How do I react, what happens, when I believe she’s afraid we will spoil her children? Who would I be without that thought?
Each question is a meditation. Each question brings up answers from within me. I often see things that I never saw before when I question my critical thoughts in this way.
And I see even more when I turn the thought around (and find examples of why each turnaround could be as true):
For example, “She is not afraid that we will spoil her children.” Maybe she just wants her children to herself – after all, her children don’t live with her except in the summer.
The Work Turns Criticism into Self-Reflection
When I’m critical, and I do The Work, I start to see my own mind. I get to see that I’ve got some assumptions going on too. This work brings sweet humility as I see my part in things. It also brings forgiveness and a much more open mind for what may be going on for others.
Join me any time for a private session if you want to do The Work with me.
Have a great week,
“I criticize what she eats—and I’m the one who could take a look at that in my own life.” Byron Katie, I Need Your Love, Is That True?