Is “You can’t handle the truth!” constructive criticism?

Should we bow to criticism? Should we just suck it up and take it on the chin? And if we don’t, should we accept the response “Your problem is that you can’t stand to hear the truth”?

Well, in my opinion, it depends upon two things:

The motivation behind the criticism.

The way in which the criticism is delivered.

None of us are going to get through life without criticising others, or being criticised by others. And we have all reacted defensively, or been on the receiving end of someone else’s defensive behaviour. Excessively hypersensitive, over – reactive people are difficult to deal with, and we know, deep down inside, when we ourselves are being that way. We might not admit it, but we know it. 

It may be that we have grown up around consistently critical people, and so have unconsciously learned to take even the smallest comment as a personal attack.

It may be that we find ourselves in a job that naturally attracts critical reaction, which over time leads us, if we aren’t careful, to become hypersensitive.

It may be that we are part of a social group who habitually judge and compete with one another.

It may be that we have painfully low self – worth, and wear our emotional nerves on the outside of our body.

The fact is, criticism and defensiveness go hand in hand. It takes a wise, honest soul to be able to deliver criticism in a constructive way that does not automatically elicit a defensive response. It is a skill very few of us possess, although it can be learned (am still working on it)! And a wise, honest person will never present a clearly aggressive, mean – intentioned comment as constructive criticism, and then use it against the recipient when they respond defensively. That’s a double whammy!

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Motivation is THE thing to look at, when facing criticism, or considering delivering it. Passive – aggressive criticism is always going to lead to conflict, because the deliverer is always being dishonest. The intention behind passive – aggressive criticism is to wound, to crush, to put the recipient down, whilst presenting it as well – meant ‘advice’. And this is proved when the recipient, understanding that they are being undermined, responds defensively, or openly challenges the deliverer,…and the critic swiftly verbally lashes back, cutting through the pretence of positive motivation! Which is where statements like “You just can’t take the truth can you? I’m not the only one who says this stuff about you” is thrown in, like a hand grenade.

Criticism is entirely necessary in this life. We can’t all go around pretending we never do anything wrong, or that we always get everything right. And it provides us with a great opportunity to become more mentally, emotionally and spiritually mature…IF we are consciously aware of the power it holds, and commit to learning to use it wisely. It takes conscious awareness and effort, and a willingness to learn to respond, rather than react. 

I would rather have an up – front approach, than one that is passive – aggressive. However, that doesn’t mean I will just take it on the chin…delivery is all – important! People who send critical emails that don’t begin with Hi Leanne, or end with the recipients name, just the message itself, are being pretty upfront about their intentions…”I am putting you in your place!” It is when these come from people I believe I have been genuinely respectful to and open with, especially those with whom I have had ongoing business, that it wounds the most (bull’s eye!), and I never take it lying down! I don’t dress my response up as something else, as my intention IS to challenge…why pretend otherwise? I HAVE had to work on my delivery, over 23 years as an intuitive consultant. I DO recognise when my approach hasn’t been up to my own standards. It hurts to acknowledge, but if we can’t talk honestly with ourselves, we’re in trouble. I know what my ACTUAL intention and motivation is, behind everything I say and do. I could possibly lie to the world, but I can’t lie to me…it’s an inside job and I know too much! But I have also set my own boundaries out there, which have developed over years of self analysis, blood, sweat and tears…and those boundaries make it simple, and keep me right. There’s a degree of leeway, but generally, those who stomp all over those boundaries don’t get back inside. It isn’t defensiveness, it is common sense. We can’t be something to everyone. We can’t develop a personality that suits every other human being on the planet. There has to be a cut – off point, for all of us, otherwise misery ensues. We end up at the bottom of the pile, be it made up of family, friends or customers, which is a lose – lose situation.

Recently, I was shopping in a supermarket I use several times a week. It isn’t the cheapest, or the best, but it is convenient. There are consistent, ongoing problems with this supermarket that everyone grumbles about, and on this particular day I was in a grump, and so I allowed a bag of hash browns (or lack of), and the assistant’s unwillingness to go in the back of the store and get some for me (because they were at the bottom of a pile), to cause me to rant to the new manager. I was speaking so quickly I felt as if I was firing bullets at him, but couldn’t seem to stop myself. I wasn’t rude, and I did acknowledge the helpful, friendly staff members, but still, I was cross. The fact that the store often had special offers on (a pound off this, or two for the price of one) that were not honoured at the till, was my main bugbear. I had to always check my receipt, and many times had to return to the till because I had been overcharged. And what about all those people who DON’T check their receipts, I demanded? He listened, calmly and politely, and then agreed with everything I had said. He explained that he had been given the job in order to try and turn the store around, and that it would take about six months to bring everything up to where it should be. He also went into the back and rooted out a bag of hash browns for me. I left with a huge smile on my face, wishing him the absolute best, but more than that I was impressed by his approach. My criticisms were valid, and not spiteful, but he could have met them with defensiveness. I left the store feeling as if I had been in the presence of someone wise, someone who could and would get the job done. There is something comforting and uplifting about that. 

Those who criticise at the drop of a hat, those who consistently blame others, those who stick the boot in and then stick it in again when the recipient challenges them, are always going to be nightmares to deal with…and behind their behaviour lies defensiveness and self – protection. They are automatically making the world wrong so that they can believe they are right. It isn’t honesty (as they will often claim), it is deflection. You can’t argue with them, you will only get sucked in, chewed up and spat out. Nip it in the bud, and get out of their space, tout suite. 

However, some criticism is necessary, and we need to learn how to deliver it, and how to accept it. Otherwise we won’t grow. Our ego doesn’t like it one bit, and so we have to talk to it, explaining that although it hurts, this particular nugget is actually good for us. And again, we have to remind our ego that the two things that matter the most are INTENTION and MOTIVATION, filtered through self – awareness, and measured up against personal honesty! If we remember that, we can always hold our head high!

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