There was a colleague who always had something critical to say about what was happening. No matter how well things went during a lesson or a meeting, this person would find something negative to focus on. It was as if we were staring at a large, clean ballroom floor and the only thing this person would notice was the tiny grain of sand that was tucked away in the corner. It was frustrating and depleting to work with this person. Over time I found myself feeling tempted to react out of anger and let them know how I really felt.
Then one day it hit me. By choosing to focus on the negatives, this colleague was robbing himself of the privilege of appreciating the beauty and success that was everywhere. As I reflected on this more, I came to see that his criticism was not personal, and while it may have provided a brief feeling of superiority, in the long run, it was robbing him of his own joy. With this realization, it became easier to look past the judgments, drop the need to gain his approval and appreciate the other gifts that he brought to the table. As a result, our working relationship improved and I no longer left our time together feeling deflated.
I have seen the same thing with students who have a hypercritical parent. Over time, they have been trained to internalize their parent’s criticism. Their obvious choices are to succumb to these negative beliefs or rebel against them and get into destructive power struggles. Thankfully, there is another way to escape the perils that come with debilitating self-criticism. True freedom comes in recognizing that no one is benefiting from tearing each other down and replacing the voice of doubt with one of encouragement and appreciation.
It takes a while of reminding these students that they are not responsible for their parent’s critical perspectives before they wake up from the spell of self-condemnation. The beauty of watching these situations unravel is witnessing the amount of relief felt by the student and their parents. They come alive as they stop wasting precious energy fighting and judging one another. It is a win-win situation when someone chooses to step out boldly and practice genuine self-care.
Perhaps you have been believing that someone else’s harsh judgments about you are true. While your rational mind might believe that the judgments are justified, deep inside you know that you deserve better. Now is the perfect time to reclaim your peace of mind. While it may seem like a daunting task, it is easier than you think and well worth the effort.
Start by making a list of all your positive accomplishments. Your list can include simple things such as showing up for work, paying your bills, and being kind to the person at the coffee shop. The important thing about this exercise is that it creates a new habit of positive self-assessment. Although many teachers have praised the benefits of accepting criticism, it often comes from someone who holds a negative self-assessment and is dumping that negativity on others. It is just as easy for someone to praise your efforts and provide loving guidance as it is for them to tear you down. As you give yourself some well-deserved credit you will see that the world looks brighter and your success comes with greater ease. You will also find yourself eager to pass on the praise to someone else.
Edward Biagiotti is the Inclusion Specialist for Culver City Unified School District. For questions, comments, and ideas for future columns, send an email to EdwardBiagiotti@ccusd.org