Reflections: Criticism and Feeling Vulnerable

I am on a journey of self discovery.  A little “walkabout” for the soul.  Sometimes its a bit painful because I am forced to examine my own flaws and insecurities.  I spend a lot of time trying to understand the “hows” and “whys” of my life.  I feel that if I can understand the past then I won’t repeat the past.

This week I discovered something about myself:  I don’t like being criticized.

It brings up a range of emotions.

It makes me cringe.

It makes me feel vulnerable.  I don’t like feeling vulnerable.

Feeling vulnerable makes me want to build a huge wall around my heart to keep from being hurt.

Feeling vulnerable makes me want to flee.  It scares me.

I have a great deal of experience being on the receiving end of criticism.  Some would call me a “pro”.  Anyone who has been in a relationship with a Narcissist knows what I am talking about.  It starts in very subtle ways.  The criticism is delivered in such small, manipulative doses that you don’t even realize it’s happening.  It builds over time and the delivery is no longer soft.  It becomes more frequent and sometimes it is even delivered in front of other people.  It can be humiliating.  Criticism breaks you down and unlike attending boot camp, it never builds you back up again.

If the rain gutter clogged and resulted in a roof leak– somehow it was my fault.  I should have planned ahead because I knew rain was coming.  If something spilled in the refrigerator then it was also my fault.  If I could just learn to think ahead at all times then I could avoid these issues and in turn, avoid being criticized.  It escalated every year- more and more criticism.  I walked on eggshells.  I started to believe that I could never be good enough.Over time, I grew accustomed to the emotional attacks.  I started to lose myself in a desperate attempt to be perfect.

Today I came across an article titled, How to Handle Criticism & Conflict for Improved Self Esteem and Relationships”.

Wait.  “Criticism and Conflict for improved self-esteem and relationships”???  I was sure there was a typo in the headline but decided to read further and I’m glad I did.  It was a light bulb moment for me.

  • Change the meaning of criticism from “I’m not good enough” or “I’m a failure” to “Someone is asking me to listen …” If you don’t, you’ll focus on bathing in a sense of inadequacy and withdraw into yourself.
  • Listening doesn’t mean agreement and criticism doesn’t equate to “I must change to stop disapproval”.
  • Criticism isn’t the same as disapproval of you as a person or rejection. Listen to the feedback. Is it actually a message saying that you are a ‘less than’ person? Or is that how you see it?
  • Criticism and conflict also doesn’t mean that a relationship is over or on the way to being so. Part of being a mature adult in a relationship is being able to have a disagreement or not always hear what you want to hear, and not put the relationship in jeopardy each time. You’re then both free to be available and truly intimate with one another.
  • Someone’s criticism isn’t always accurate or the right thing for you. You can listen to it, let it percolate, consider the suggestions and look at where it fits with your agenda and your values, and then choose a course of action that’s right for you.

I personally believe that to heal and progress, I need to accept that not all criticism is meant to break a person down.  In a healthy (key word) relationship it can actually cause one to do some soul-searching and to grow as a person.  Criticism doesn’t have to be bad when its delivered in a healthy way.

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  1. Melody

    I don’t like criticism either. I want people to like me all the time…I take it too personally…These are good suggestions!

    I love your site BTW and was disappointed with the latest outcome from the courts. I had prayed for you and was hoping for better.

    I pray that their father looks at their little faces one day soon and realizes what treasures they are.

  2. sympathetic

    Hi Tina,

    I think a big factor in this is: what is motivating the person offering the criticism?

    I was criticized for years by a spouse with a personality disorder. For a long time I tried to maintain the attitude that it was good to listen, good to change, good to do self-inspection, and so on. But my ex’s goal was to hurt and control. It was all about power and pain.

    My true friends now and then give me advice (I would call it loving advice rather than criticism). Their goal is to help me. I treasure and value this and really listen and take it in.

    If criticism feels terrible, there might be a valid reason for that awful feeling … a kind of warning bell in us that something is off about the criticism or our relationship with the criticizer.

    You are so brave and so strong. This comes through in all your posts. In my own case, my X used these qualities in me to hurt me. He knew I’d take it as a sign of weakness in myself if I did not listen to his criticism and try to grow.

    I guess what I am trying to say is: pay just as much attention to the real motives of the criticizer as to the criticism itself. Your true friends will criticize very sparingly if at all. The very best way, I believe, that a friend can help is by example and by really being there for you. My truest friends inspire me with their decency and honesty and kindness and generosity — not by telling me how I can be better. I become better by being with them … by spending happy time in their good and normal company.

    Narcissists can warp our sense of what is normal — and one of their greatest tools for this is relentless harsh criticism.

    It’s a great thing you have those beautiful little girls and a loving new partner and great friends. Their love, I feel sure, will help you grow more than anyone’s criticism.

    I don’t mean to be disagreeing with your post … I just feel strongly that those who have your best interest at heart are unlikely to dole out much criticism, especially given how amazingly hard you are working and how fundamentally good you are. It’s not like you are slumped somewhere, having given up, and your friends need to prod you into action.

    Good luck with everything and hugs to those little sweeties!

  3. Tina

    Thanks, Melody.

    I know…what’s not to like, right?! 🙂

  4. Tina

    Awww…thank you so much. I completely agree with you. Maybe “criticize” was too harsh of a word for me to choose to describe this particular experience. I find that I view any difference of opinion as someone saying, “you are wrong”. I take it way too personally and I can be an emotional person by nature. In fact, my nickname is “The Fountain”. 🙂

    Thank you for your kind words– I greatly appreciate them <3

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