Happy Sunday All,
Criticism & (dis) Approval
The other day I was chatting with a group of friends when the conversation turned to memories of childhood. Being criticised or a lack of approval seemed to be themes that arose and it was quite clear that even now, into their middle years, some of them still found it a challenge to respond to situations and emotions in a way they wanted to, rather in a way that was being driven by their experience of being criticised.
As we chittered and chatted it became clear that many of the people in the group still had varying degrees of challenge around self-identity and esteem due to the criticism they received as infants/children some, still experiencing acute insecurity and a lack of esteem despite significant accomplishments, when they thought about how their world had been shaped as children.
As an educator, this is my battleground. It’s not so much the intellect, or attention span or environment though these are all factors. My fiercest foe when teaching others is the belief they have regarding who they are, what they are worth and what they deserve.
Being criticised is a MAJOR determiner when it comes to one’s emotional security, feelings of self-esteem and feelings of self-worth.
I think you’ll agree that the world-view of a child is mostly created by the attitudes and behaviours of its caregivers. A child comes to us with no information about the world so they tend to believe what they’re told. I mean our Santa Claus Myth and others exist because children are blank sheets of paper on which we, who came before them, can etch whichever pattern, design or words we choose.
If a caregiver told a child consistently that a sunflower was called a rose and they had no other reference for a Sunflower, had never seen one and had never heard another person name one, though WRONG they would of course believe it.
If they are subject to criticism, by the people who care for them and whom they come into additional contact with they will begin to believe it.
As a result the child spends the rest of their life dealing with one of the following or several in combination.
- The first and most obvious one is a Lack Of Confidence – whatever the child is persistently criticised for will lead them to believing they are not very worthy and affect their interactions and relationships for a very long time if not for life. I’ve often had to intervene when a child who lacks confidence, despite the pain and humiliation of taunts & of intimidation feels unable to say ‘Stop’ because deep down inside they acquired the belief that somehow they ‘deserve’ this behaviour, that deep down inside they are intrinsically bad & not worthy of anything better.
- Being criticised causes a deep and painful Emotional Wound(s). This wound(s) will have an unconscious trigger(s) that reminds the child or indeed the adult of his wound causing the emotional pain to become more acute and deeply buried. To avoid feeling this pain they can adopt destructive behaviours either as a distraction or sedative. Anything but feel the pain and be reminded of their deep-seated flaw, which is their shame.
- Being criticised can make you feel aShamed. When we feel ashamed we can withdraw or retreat into ourselves and become uncommunicative. No child (or adult for that matter) who feels shame is able to express their emotions openly and honestly, as they do not feel worthy enough to do so, after all isn’t there something fundamentally wrong with them in the first place, something warped at their core? A person who feels shame fears taking risks no matter how beneficial that risk may be to their wellbeing or life in general. A person who feels shame is governed by FEAR because they live in the grip of a mortifying dread of anyone discovering that their inner being is somehow warped and ill-formed. Nonsense I know! But just as they were told a Sunflower was a rose, so they came to believe they’re somehow disgusting or despicable and unworthy of receiving anything good.
- One of the most common features I see as a result of criticism is the misbelief of their own personality. So many times I hear young people (and I have to say a few adults) say things like “I’m just not good/rubbish, I have anger issues…’ Here they are trying to prove the negative criticism the have now come to believe. On an unconscious level they sabotage themselves, by not studying, distracting themselves and others, walking out on examinations, so that the outward expression of who they think they (the no good/unteachable/angry/stupid/worthless) self matches the inner belief they have come to interpret as their truth.
- Perhaps the saddest of all consequences is the criticised child’s inability to feel loved and develop a healthy emotional attachment to their parent/care-giver. Feeling unloved and worthless the child looks for love in other areas. According to Psychologists many Narcissists, sex addicts and manipulative and controlling adults have been deprived of love as children. The very act of ‘Looking’ for love is outwardly focused. If one cannot believe in and love the self, then it’s unlikely you’ll be satisfied with anything no matter how hard you search. When we participate in something from a place of need then we are open to manipulation. Others smell the need in us and use it to get from us whatever they want as the unworthiness we feel keeps us from defending, standing up for ourselves or choosing differently. OR, we risk becoming abusive as our ‘un-loveable-ness’ is made clear to us and becomes too painful to face.
Hopefully this post has helped explain or shed light on some of the challenges you may have had as you grew into adulthood Once we are made aware of something then we are more likely to be able to face it and perhaps (and this is my hope) break any negative hold it may have on us.
To those of you who interact with children & young people, my plea is that you help them to grow into strong, secure, self-loving individuals by showing them encouragement and using your words, actions and energies in a positive way in your interactions and relationships with them.
Children have a natural exuberance and belief in the good in us all – Speak to this. Yes, they need to be guided and shepherded, but if you do so with love; explain to them ‘why’ and not criticise, you will succeed in shaping full formed, balanced people who will grow up and become positive adults; believing in and contributing in a positive way to the world.
Just get rid!
Avoid criticism. Our delicate new souls are too young and fragile to endure it and no adult deserves nor needs to be triggered into re-living any criticism they may have been exposed to as children.
Look to yourself and remind yourself of the challenges you have had unravelling the negative results of criticism you may have received.
Remember people form their sense of identity and who they are in this world at a very early age. The results of criticism can stay with us for a lifetime.
Next week I hope to discuss this topic a little further and comment on the wider social effects of being critical.