I was pondering today, that we are sometimes called upon to critique or give advice to a friend or family member, to point out where they have gone wrong or where they could do better. What we have not been taught is how or with what intention to approach this delicate task. All too often the advice or critique comes across as implying one of two things:
- You are a bad person and you need to change to become acceptable.
- You are not good enough and you need to change or I won’t love you.
I was reading recently that almost everyone grows up with false core beliefs around the area of being acceptable, good enough, and lovable. This is the source from which all our dysfunctional behaviour patterns arise. To compensate for this feeling of “not enough” patterns of behaviour emerge to try to ameliorate the pain of insufficiency. There seems to be basically two paths.
- The first path leads toward doormat / people pleasing behaviours. Here the emotionally wounded person learns the pattern of pleasing others to try to gain acceptance and love. They are basically screaming; “See me! I am a good and kind and loving and generous person, I want to be loved, I need to be loved, SEE me and validate me and let me not feel this pain of not being good enough”
- The other path leads toward dominating and controlling behaviours. Here the emotionally wounded person strives to elicit from others behaviours that allow them to feel superior, catered to, and having their needs met.
I am not even addressing the core of the issue or that basic fact that we should be loved and accepted for who we are not for what we give nor for what we expect to receive. Emotionally healthy people live in this place. People (most frequently the givers who have burned out) who have learned of these core lessons through emotional healing understand and strive to live in this place also; fighting the tides that would tug them back into old unsuccessful behavior patterns.
Most people don’t even realize that they fall into these two categories because so often in benign situations it seems to function and the glue of friendship seems to hold things together most of the time.
When this balance falls apart, as is the case when turbulence or trauma arrives, whole relationships can be shattered. When the neediness cycle becomes very apparent and the takers try to take more and the givers are demanded to give more without any regard for the “emotional well” being empty, the bounds of friendship and even family are severely tested.
How much better it would be if we could learn in times of emotional calm, healthy ways of communicating our needs for love and acceptance and appreciation! If we could learn what our false behaviour patterns (some people call them coping mechanisms) are and then work toward changing them so that we no longer cause harm. If we could learn boundaries and learn to express those boundaries and hear those boundaries from others then there would be fewer tensions that are created by the overstepping of those boundaries with unkind behaviorus or comments.
One of the critical areas for learning is how we express criticism or give corrections. This is especially critical when we are entrusted with the care of children. But if we have not had the wisdom given us in our youth we need to learn first how to heal ourselves and then hopefully how to apply these lessons to our future communications.
In my experience talking with recovering doormat type people; when people pleasers burn out and learn boundaries, the takers in their lives get very anxious as they realize their source of “feel good” has dried up and is no longer available for exploitation. The critique gets very cruel and the emphasis is on trying to coerce the people pleaser to go back to their old behaviour patterns and thus relieve the takers of the pain of changing their patterns (patterns that gave them so much success in the past).
From all of my studies and learning I have come to the understanding that it all comes down to communication. Communication is the glue that brings us together in compassionate understanding and even in striving to become better people. Refusal to communicate, or even harsh manipulative or controlling communication patterns on the other hand rupture the fabric of family, friendships and relationships.
This is the guideline that I have evolved in the course of my healing journey, something that helps me stay on track when giving advice (which I now only do when specifically asked for) and helps me try to understand those offering unsolicited advice, so that I can determine if my boundaries have been breached intentionally or inadvertently and gives me permission to respond in a boundary preserving manner.
- When offering critique be aware of your intentions. Are you asking the other person to change to become a better person, or are you asking the other person to change so you don’t have to change your pattern of behaviour.
- When listening to critique from another person, ask yourself “What are their intentions?” Are they giving me loving advice to help me become a better person or are they implying that I am insufficient unless I comply and change myself to accommodate their needs?”
Excellent sources that I have found very useful:
- Peter Gerlach and his work on “break the cycle”. What a great online resource that had given me countless hours of healing work guidance.
- Marshal Rosenberg and his work with Non-Violent communication. Great youtube videos of his learning presentations are always a source of inspiration for me
Renate Dundys Marrello
2017 – 10 – 09
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