“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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Thank you Savannah… I am so grateful to have found your words and wisdom at a ‘critical’ moment in my journey.
My mother is now 85 and her ‘web’ is getting stickier as she ages. I try to limit my visits to a couple of days every 6 months or so, and for the last 25 years I chose to live over 6 hours drive away from her.
I now have the courage to gently call her out when she embarks on her endless critique of everyone she hasn’t controlled. I am one of them,
Why do I still have contact? My father is 88. married to my mother for 65 years, and is a true gentleman. He is now too frail to change his living circumstances so he copes with his wife’s antics by being factual, courteous and then deflecting the subject matter into a positive stream. I have admired his patience and forgiveness.
No-one is perfect. I hope that any of the critical schema I have learned from my mother can be diluted and dissolved over time and with self-love and self-trust. I don’t hate my mother… I feel sorry for her. She had an N father who told her she should have been a boy (as the eldest of 3 girls) and criticised everything she did to gain his approval.
Now that I understand her childhood circumstances, I can see patterns of behaviour that become so predictable and therefore avoidable. I have become more centred and self-confident knowing that it doesn’t matter what my mother thinks of me.,, nor says about me to our family and her friends.
In order to remain in contact with my father I have to endure my mother… so I am choosing to do it with grace and kindness.
I have learnt so much and made a lot of progress after finding your site five years ago at the end of a dreadful 7 year relationship with a cheating N . Two years later I found another N… and jumped right in, This time it only took seven months to untangle myself and go no contact.
I have been blissfully single for 18 months, moved away from the towns where I was festering in the ghosts of past partners, and now travel widely and often seeking my own truth and writing my own story.
I have created a checklist for myself that I must answer honestly before embarking on any future relationships. It contains all the hard-learned questions and lessons from my 58-year life as a co-dependent. It is never too late to love yourself nor to find your happy place.
Wishing you and your readers abundant health and happiness xx
I have been reading your articles and recognising myself like in a mirror, I don’t have the strength to run through with my last experience with a Covert Narcissist as I made the choice of giving him one more chance believing I could handle it! I walked away again but finding myself obsessed and in shock despite having known who and what he was really like, this particular Narc was actually ugly, unattractive and sexually impotent until I pushed him (when we got back together after a year) to get Cialis which worked (Viagra hadn’t)…I know all the solutions for me but I am stuck and unable to break the obsession, today I foolishly sent a ‘mislead’ email…Please help me! Nina
You described my life. Thank you for these terrific articles. I want to be the person I once was.
As a co-dependent and survivor of a Narc mother, the only person I am overly critical of and judgmental toward is myself. I’ve spent my whole life not being critical enough of others (making excuses for other people’s shitty behavior or why they are a shitty person in general).
The mental cobwebs (I love that phrase, BTW) that my mother passed down to me was harsh, abusive self-talk. However, I never witnessed her being overly critical or judgmental of anyone else.
My friend’s mother, on the other hand, is one of the most judgmental people I’ve ever met. If you’re out at a restaurant with her, she’ll make comments about other people’s clothes, haircut, weight and looks, and then she’ll try to get you to engage by looking at that person. She does this constantly, as if for sport, and usually directs this toward other women. Is it any surprise that despite my friend’s best efforts, she’s a bit of a Regina George herself toward other women?
Both kinds of behaviors are definitely learned, but both behaviors have deep roots in self-esteem, body image issues, and general shittyness.
I really believe that the most gracious, loving and humble people are those who are truly confident and healthy. Most people who are overly critical of others are either projecting or are miserable themselves.
Thank you so much for this-it’s exactly how I am, and reading your post has helped me realise this-and to understand why. Very grateful.
Thank you, Savannah, not just for this article but for all of your insightful writings. I’ve always enjoyed them silently, and thought it was time to tell you how much I appreciate all that you do.
Thank you for challenging me to improve my communication, Savannah. Like you I had a lot of training in criticism, though my family’s flavor is the passive sort: passive-aggressive language, sarcasm, the well-timed dig. I have a lot of work to do in this area to surrender these life long habits.
I also appreciate what you said about taking criticism. I think your way of handling it is certainly dignified. At the same time, I think you would be justified in getting at least a little angry. You pour your heart and soul out to those of us who have suffered at the hands of the narcissists in our lives. Though you are well down the road to recovery you keep giving and giving extremely valuable advice and support to those of us with fresh wounds. And you are I think a very unusual person in that your heart is much bigger than your ego. You do not lord it over people who are newer in their recovery from this awful form of abuse. You don’t go all spiritually superior on people. You speak from experience but do not hit people over the head with your expertise, knowledge, or wonderful current life. In a word you are humble. I and I am sure many others look forward to your Monday posts. We know we will learn something helpful from one who knows, one who has “been there.” You let your foibles show and are not afraid to talk about your pain and your mistakes. You are a classic case of the Wounded Healer. We are all grateful to you. I know I am; today I celebrate 8 months of no contact with my xN. I won’t say I could not have done it without you — that sounds a bit too codependent. But I will say your blog, and the community that has formed around it, has been one of the bright spots on my journey back into wholeness. Keep letting your light shine before others, and may we all support each other and heal together!
I’m getting a little verklempt with all this love. Talk amongst yourselves. LOL (SNL Mike Myers character reference) Thank you HC it means a lot. Much love.
I’m just thrilled that you used the word “verklempt.” 🙂
There’s a saying: “If you are point one finger at someone else, where are the other three fingers pointing?” I also was raised in a negative environment and only learned in adulthood that judging and blaming others is like a cancer growing inside me. It destroys my soul. Life is so much better to let go and accept people as they are. It doesn’t mean I have to agree with them, just accept that’s who they are. Have an awesome day, Savannah!You’re blogs have been an exceptional source of growth for me. I’m 57!
Brilliant example of that reporter, Savannah. I sometimes still have the odd angry outburst (I’m not perfect, I’m very happy to say…as it’s such a terrible burden trying to be, and I’m glad I don’t have to live up to impossible ideals any more), but she was actually very controlled in what she said. That really shows the difference between someone losing their temper and just getting annoyed about the situation, and a person who insults someone in a deliberately personal and nasty way.
As far as criticism goes, my son’s father did that all the time. It was a constant stream of why every action I did was a wrong one. Even in these last few years when we were supposed to be friends (we haven’t been together for 35 yrs), he continually tried to tell me what to do, how to act and be. Once I started to heal I recognised his behaviour more and more and realised that he really isn’t the super-intelligent person he always made himself out to be. Then 3 yrs ago I’d had enough and told him I couldn’t be bothered to reply to the nonsense emails he was sending. That was it, and I haven’t heard from him since. I can now see that his behaviour got worse as he wasn’t getting the supply of attention he was used to. I’d grown in confidence and often disagreed with him (in a friendly, respectful manner, as good friends do).
Anyway, I digressed a bit there, but what happened a couple of weeks ago was recognising that some of that criticism still stuck. His harping had taught me not to do or say certain things to stop the flow of criticism. What woke me up to this was realising that whenever I look in my spam box I skim through it as quickly as possible (my inner critic was saying that I shouldn’t spend time on it, but be as quick as possible otherwise I look stupid). Such a simple little thing, but it made me see how we can still be controlled by this flow of criticism. Anyway, I now read as slow and as properly as I need to, to make sure something important hasn’t gone in by mistake (which it sometimes does). After all, it’s my time and no-one else’s!
Great article, Savannah. You’ve added a lot more meat to my recent little epiphany. Another bit of onion unlayering in the healing process. Thank you. 🙂
I love this article as it perfectly describes where I am in my personal growth process, on the road to finding my Purpose. I loved last week’s too about Healthy Relationships. I want to turn the entire thing into a giant sticky note for my kitchen cabinet. It was perfect!
But this week’s hit home! My exhusband is great at belittling me, always throws the nasty comments at me “You’re fat” (I’m curvy) “You’re stupid” (I have a doctorate) “You worry me with all of your women’s group nonsense” (At least I’m dealing with my issues in healthy, productive ways: therapy, womens group, regular visits to my doctors). He’s ghe one who needs help, but he flips everything to me. Classic!
I had been making progress on the road to learning to forgive- myself for my many mistakes, my dad for withholding affection, my mom for making me feel like I had to be perfect, my first love who abused me and laid the path for every unhealthy relationship I’ve ever had and my exhusband for denying me love, verbally abusing me and almost completely destroying my self esteem.
Forgiveness is a tough road, but I was traveling it just fine until last week when it was tax time and the issue of claiming our son in the last year we were married came up (he never filed, has an MBA but I’m the stupid one). The harrassing emails started, went on for 3 days and as soon as he wrote that my breasts were sloppy and saggy, I hurled the “Irish Curse” comment about his penis (and I threw in something about ED just to be extra mean). So childish.
I have been exercising faithfully for the last 6 months not to obtain perfect body, but for stress relief and general health. I quit smoking January 1st, I’ve been running 3.5 miles 3x a week! I am 5’5″ and 150..I could stand to lose 15lbs. But my rack is real and it’s spectacular for my age! I don’t know why I stooped to his level over something so trivial, but he got under my skin, got in my head, got me second guessing myself and feeling bad about myself, my body, me.
What I should’ve done is stopped long enough to consider the source. All that man has is the ability to sling harmful words and belittle other people. He hasn’t dealt with the divorce in any healthy way. He truly needs medication and counseling but he’ll never go because honestly, I think it’s just too hard for him. So before I lashed out, I should’ve stopped, took a breath, made a choice to be the bigger person and not hit below the belt (ha ha..I insulted the area below his belt).
Next time! I’m sure there will be a next time, there always is. I’m a work in progress; he’s just a piece of work! Thank you for giving me space to vent and thank you for your wisdom. I am learning a lot from this site. I share your posts with my therapist and members of my This is 40 support group. It has helped so many of us. Keep them coming. I might actually be able to see all of the bright, sparkling sides of me that exist and are real, while embracing the dark ones instead of feeling bad when some jerk highlights them. That’s all he has, that’s all he is! And that’s why we’re divorced!
Dear Savannah, My husband died and I ran to a narcissist for comfort which he was unable to provide. Knowing I am just something for him to control I feel bad and “if only”. I love and miss my husband daily but I still get the “if onlies” about the narcissist. WHY DOESN’T IT STOP ALREADY? I FEEL SO EEAK AND STUPID THAT I EVEN THINK ABOUT THE NARCISSIST. MY HUSBAND WAS THE OPPOSITE AND I CAN’T THINK ABOUT HIM WITHOUT CRYING.
Ronnie feeling the painful loss of your husband put you in a very vulnerable state. It’s normal when you are feeling lost to look for comfort, unfortunately you ran into someone who takes advantage of the vulnerable. All humans seek approval on some level. When your self-esteem isn’t great to begin with and someone comes along and won’t love us back, we want to know why and the first thing we do is we internalize that rejection – that it must be because we are lacking. The truth is that his rejection has nothing to do with you – you need to pass that back to him – that’s his baggage – don’t make it yours. Right now give yourself permission to cry – let yourself be sad if you’re sad. Stop all contact with him and take this time to work on yourself. You need to grieve the loss of your beloved husband and you need to figure out who you are and where you are going in the next chapter of your life.
Savannah, in my eyes you do no wrong. Perhaps at a former stage in your life you hadn’t learned the lessons that come with sharing the love, but you certainly have now. Congratulations.
There is nothing like seeing the smile on a face that you created by a simple gesture of kindness on be it a friend or stranger. The vibrations from something as simple as a smile are tremendous. May your life be filled with all the happiness in the world. ❤️
Thechampagnedarling – See what kindness does – I can’t stop smiling – thank you for your kind words. We should all do a random act of kindness today – our little part to make the world a nicer, friendlier place.
A great article! thank you for reminding me to be aware of being judgemental and that it reflects on me. I had not thought of it that way before, and even though I am pretty positive and cheerful most of the time, I do have my moments and it is good to be reminded
Even though I am no longer in a narcissistic relationship, I send your website link to other women I come into contact with that are still in that type of relationship. So Thank you for taking the time to write these articles they are very helpful and insightful.
The reporter did act appropriately, but what she does on her own time is no one’s business. Her job and her personal life are two different things. And she should not have been suspended at all it was nobody’s business.
@Norie — I disagree. She pulled the entitled “Don’t You Know Who I Am?!” trip with the clerk, and repeatedly let her know who she was and what media outlet she was affiliated with. Once she publicly identified where she worked, she was representing the company, and because of her behavior represented the company poorly in the process. Once she did that, the company then had every right to discipline her.
One of my yoga instructors always ends with reference to our words, and recommends increased thoughtfulness and to ask ourselves if what we speak is necessary, and whether it builds others up. And, yes, it DOES feel good when people are nice and I absolutely savor those moments where little things we choose to do connect us for brief moments to the love of others, strangers. I relate to so much of what you write, Savannah. There are two books I have recently read. Perhaps you’ve heard of them. One is “Ghost Mothers” by Kathyrn Rudlin, and the other is “Disarming the Narcissist” by Wendy Behary, who is an expert on Schema Therapy. They are both very good books.