Are You Overly Critical?: Changing Your Childhood Schemas
“When your eye is always searching for the negative you can’t help but miss much of life’s beauty.” – S. Grey
My mother was the daughter of a Narcissistic father, which meant that she was insulted, humiliated, shamed, blamed and belittled on a daily basis. A habitual need to judge and criticize others became her normal, hearing it and seeing it turned into doing it. This is how she was taught to view the world. She believed that she had to be perfect and therefore, everyone else had to be perfect and if you couldn’t be perfect then you were not worthy.
These mental cobwebs were passed down to my mother and she in turn passed them on to me, much the same way that hatred and prejudice are passed down from generation to generation.
A schema is our set of beliefs about how things work and fit together. We create our schemas in childhood to make sense of our environment. When we initially make an observation and then receive contrasting information, we will change that schema to fit the new evidence we’ve collected. Schemas are easy to change when we’re young, because everything is new and we are still learning about the world. They’re a lot harder to change when we’re older, even when we come face to face with conflicting evidence.
Looking for the negative was how I was taught to view the world. It wasn’t on purpose, but it was a behavior that I copied – a schema for how one judges their environment. I learned to always find something derogatory to say, even though I usually held no malice towards the subject of my criticism. It would surprise me sometimes when I’d find myself doing it.
When I was young I believed that celebrities were perfect, or seriously talented. I believed that you had to be perfect to be successful, an attitude still held by many, which is why there are shows and magazines dedicated to finding fault with the rich and famous.
With the popularity of reality TV, one can only cringe thinking about its effects on our youth. These shows depict human nature at its worst, with constant criticisms, judgements, shaming, jealousy, envy, backstabbing, scheming, revenge and every other horrific human emotion. Almost daily there are ads for these shows and all you see and hear are insults, violence and the phrase, “He’s going down.”
It doesn’t feel good to think and act this way, nor does it feel good to be the recipient of those harsh criticisms. Some people put others down, because somewhere in their flawed thinking, they believe that by making someone else look small, it somehow makes them look big. Sometimes it’s a control mechanism. As author Wayne Dyer always says, “When you criticize it doesn’t make you right, it just makes you someone that needs to judge.” Your criticisms say more about you, than they do about the one you’re criticizing.
In these days of social media it’s so easy to anonymously attack someone’s character. People can be ruthless when they think there are no personal consequences. Too often we forget what it’s like to receive harsh criticism, when we’re dishing it out. I remember making a bold political comment on a message board, over a year ago and I got a reply something like, “You’re an idiot. I can’t believe you’ve lived this long without hurting yourself. Don’t reproduce.” I had to laugh– it was clever, though it has taken me a long time to just let things roll off my back and to be able to find the humor in it.
Owning a website leaves you wide open for a whole host of criticisms too. While 99.9% of feedback I get from readers is positive and constructive, I do get the odd email that would make your head spin. A lot of people copy a link from my site and send their Narcissist an email with the link that says, “Read this -this is you,” and once their Narcissist reads it – I don’t know if they get upset at being outed, or they’re just looking for someone to vent their rage on, but a lot of them let me have it. I don’t mind it – I can take it. I’ve been called a Narcissist myself so many times I’ve lost count and just last week someone called me arrogant and said they could no longer discuss my blogs in their support group, because I was so pompous. I’ve never in my entire life been called pompous before. I literally laughed out loud. I think everyone’s first reaction after being dealt a harsh jab is usually to fire back and retaliate, but that doesn’t help anyone, nor does it solve anything. I won’t deny, I’m human, and for a few seconds I envisioned firing back with a witty reply, but I would never act on it.
I like constructive criticism. I don’t ever want to be surrounded by, or be one of those yes people, who always agree. I don’t think you grow or get better that way. I have a couple of readers, who are complete strangers, and every once in a while I’ll get an email from one of them and they will tell me, in the most respectful way, that they don’t like some of my word choices, or the way I’ve phrased something. I love it. It shows me how much people care about what we do here. I may not always agree with people’s comments, but I’ll take them into consideration, but when a stranger calls me names, or tries to attack my character, I just shrug it off and stop reading and hit delete. Not because it bothers me, but because by insulting me as a person they show me all I need to know about who they are.
When you grow up thinking that you have to be perfect in order to achieve anything, chances are you’ll die with your purpose still inside of you. You aren’t ever going to please everyone and that’s okay- you’re not supposed to. I had to get to a place where I realized that the schema that I had created was wrong and it didn’t fit. It didn’t feel good and I had to take the steps to change it and to begin to view the world with much more positive and compassionate eyes.
What does feel good is being kind to other people. Have you ever noticed how it feels when you’re nice to a stranger? When someone lets you in in traffic and you give them the thanks hand wave and they nod back. It warms the heart a little doesn’t it? Even just watching someone be nice to someone else feels good. And just the opposite happens when you watch someone being mean to someone.
If you’ve grown up with critical people and their behavior is now your behavior, it’s time to change your childhood schema. Remember every time you criticize someone, your judgement says nothing about them and everything about you. The first step to changing that is through awareness. Every time you feel yourself having a negative thought, or you’re about to say something mean, become aware of how frequently you’re mind goes there. Notice that it’s become habitual. The next step is to stop yourself from acting on these negative thoughts and internally ask yourself – Is this kind? Is this helpful? If the answer is no then don’t say it. Concentrate your focus on the good things around you. Get in the habit of making the first thing you notice something positive.
If a situation calls for feedback, give the feedback, but make it useful and take the venom out of it. Some people hide their criticisms in sarcasm or humor, just remember mean is mean, whether you dress it up or not. If you’re name calling and practicing character assassination – just stop. That doesn’t help or make anyone feel good – especially you and it usually doesn’t end with one mean comment.
A few days ago a video of an ESPN reporter went viral. Her car was towed and she heaped a whole lot of venom on the tow company’s clerk. Her horrific nature landed her a suspension from her job and the public are crying for a much harsher punishment. One minute of meanness may cost this woman her job and her future. If this woman would have stopped and asked herself – is this kind? Is this helpful? – she wouldn’t be in so much hot water.
When you are in the process of rebuilding your life you want to make sure that you integrate good habits – always chose the highroad and the path that leads to integrity. If you’re the recipient of criticism, just look at the source. It’s taken a lot of effort to get to the point where I can just shrug off insults. That’s not to say for maybe 10 seconds it doesn’t sting a little, but I always remember that just because someone says something it doesn’t make it true. I’m a firm believer in the motto, “Inner peace begins the moment you choose not to allow another person, place or thing control your emotions.” That is what we all should be striving for – being kind to each other and to stop taking offense so easily. No one can hurt you without your permission, so don’t give it. And for the record I’m not arrogant, what I am – is good enough. It took me a long time to get here, so I’m not making any apologies.
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