We’re told we should accept constructive criticism, but how often is criticism really meant to be constructive? People judge us according to their own standards, then use that judgment to criticize us because we’re not like them. That kind of criticism is not constructive, it’s guilt-tripping. It’s reminding someone that they aren’t perfect , when of course you aren’t either. The only healthy way to let someone know that something they are doing is affecting you badly is to own it, i.e. tell them how you feel about what they’re doing and ask them to stop it.
But that’s not what most people do. I have 2 Denver clients who are dealing with this situation with their families right now. Brad has 3 sisters who have criticized him his whole life, starting when they were children and they ganged up on him. They pointed out every imperfection, bragging when they were better at a sport, and making him feel like an outcast. They’re all adults now and still treating him like he’s that confused, disorganized little boy he once was. It’s no surprise that Brad, who is now in his 40’s, is still intimidated by women today. He’s been married, but he let her wear the pants in the family and finally divorced. When he dates, he tries too hard by acting perfect, giving too much, and never asking himself if this woman is right for him.
My other client Maury, chooses women who also send him the message that he’s not good enough, which is exactly what his mom does. He’s divorced and his wife constantly ragged on him for 8 years when they were together. He never stood up to her, but instead acted like it didn’t bother him. Then he met a younger women who was a gold digger who stayed with him until the real estate and stock markets crashed and he lost all of his money. She abandoned him when he needed her the most, sending him the message that he wasn’t “rich” enough anymore.
Both of these men have difficulty believing me when I tell them that their family members have damaged their self-esteem which is in turn damaging their relationships with women. Both men are successful wonderful men who give too much and then try harder when women treat them badly. They both have a lot of pride and act like these women don’t really get to them. But they repeat the same patterns and always will until they deal with the root of the problem.
We all need to be loved for who we are. Criticism, judgment, and abandonment hurt all of us. And when we don’t stand up to those who’ve treated us badly, somewhere deep inside we believe it and it affects us in our future relationships. I’m pushing both of these clients to stand up to the people who started this pattern with them – their family members. Once they do that, their relationships with women will go much more smoothly.
Forgive Yourself for Not Being Perfect
can forgive others much easier than they can forgive themselves.
It’s common for us to understand why other people do what they do,
more often than we understand what we do ourselves. We believe that
“knowing” something should give us the ability to change it. But our
intellect doesn’t control our actions as much as our feelings do.
It’s difficult to get rid of guilt when we’ve been criticized all our lives,
and when those criticisms still spin around in our heads like a tape that
won’t stop playing. Often when we start to feel good about ourselves,
someone will say or do something that pushes one of our buttons and
reminds us that we’re not perfect. These “buttons” are made up of all
those criticisms on the tape that was created when we were children.
People push our insecurity buttons by saying something like, “I can’t
believe you did that!” Then we think, “My mother used to say that
about me, it must be true.” Because we’re so afraid we’re “bad,” we
work extra hard trying to please this person, letting him or her manipulate
us because of our insecurities. Our pervasive guilt about who we
are allows this to happen because of our feeling that we “should” be
better than we are. Until we can accept our humanness, especially our
shortcomings, we can never allow others to get close to us.
People love to tell other people what they should and shouldn’t do.
It gives them a sense of power—a sense of righteousness. And it’s easier
to try to run someone else’s life than run their own. These self-righteous
people think in black and white terms. They are rigid and insecure about
their own thoughts. They have never sorted out their own values and
are therefore threatened by yours. They are dependent on others’ approval
and want you to remain that way too.
The term “selfish” is used by others to manipulate and control. Anytime
we’re not choosing to do what is best for someone else, that person
will accuse us of being selfish to try and convince us to do what he or
she wants. The best counter to this manipulative accusation is to feel
good about being selfish and say, “At times I am selfish, and I’m glad
that I go after what I want instead of always trying to win someone
Strengths and Weaknesses
To take charge of your life, you must accept that you aren’t and never
will be perfect. But you must also accept your strengths and weaknesses
for what they actually are. For instance, I’m good at…. I’m not good
at…. If you don’t accept your imperfections, you can’t accept yourself
as you truly are, so you will have to maintain a facade.
Do you believe that there are certain areas that you are weak in? Are
you afraid you aren’t smart enough? Attractive enough? Nice enough?
We all feel insecure about something.
Most of us have been given intelligence tests, and some of us were
classified as having learning disabilities or math or reading problems.
Our inadequacies have been pointed out again and again, but few of us
know about our strengths. Many of us don’t know the difference between
a real weakness and something we’ve been criticized for. Again,
take Barbara. Her father always told her she was stupid. She believed
it for years. It wasn’t until she graduated from college and passed a
real-estate exam that she decided he must be wrong. She thought she
probably did have a learning disability or a reading-comprehension
problem. After years of feeling like something was wrong with her,
she recently found out after extensive testing that the only thing
wrong with her is common “test anxiety.” She no longer feels stupid or
Most of us focus on our weaknesses too much. Make a list of some
of your weaknesses. Then go back and write out a corresponding
strength. Don’t stop until you come up with a strength for each weakness.
The following are examples of this process:
Controlling Good leader
Can’t remember people’s Usually remember what people
Names are really like
Overly concerned with looks Attractive
Unattractive Focus on more important
Insecure Understand others’ insecurities
Cocky Confident when others aren’t
We All Make Mistakes
There isn’t a person alive that hasn’t hurt someone, whether intentionally
or not. We all make mistakes and our mistakes affect others. When we
do make mistakes we may need to clean them up to rid ourselves of the
When you feel guilty, you can clean up your mistake by saying: “I
feel terrible about what I’ve done to you. I really didn’t mean to hurt you. I
am sorry I hurt you. The reason I did what I did is ___________What
can I do to make it up to you and earn your trust again?”
You are not and never will be perfect. Clean up any actual wrongdoings in your life and then forgive yourself. But most importantly, don’t allow others to point out your imperfections. If and when someone does point something out that is true about you, admit it. But then list some of that person’s imperfections as well so you stay on equal ground. And when someone is just putting their values and “shoulds” on you, remind them that you are different than they are and really aren’t interested in their opinion of you!
For more info on this topic, See “Chapter three: Forgive Yourself for Not Being Perfect” in Carolyn’s book Loving Him Without Losing You.