I know a number of people whose lives have been profoundly affected by the criticism of others. For some, it was being cruelly taunted at school by their peers, for others, a close family member who criticized or ridiculed, some, a critical boss.
No matter who it comes from, criticism always carries the sting that leaves us wondering if we are “good enough.” It is to our advantage to reflect upon those criticisms that continue to echo through our souls and decide whether we agree with them or not. The giants of our childhood were, after all, only children though at the time they seemed to be rulers of the world. As my friend John W. Morgan says, “Sometimes in order to see what something is, we have to first see what it’s not.”
A woman I know in her thirties has been the subject of a lifetime of criticism by her mother. She remembers at the age of nineteen receiving a new bible and writing a prayer in it. “I asked God to please make me a better person so my Mom would like me,” she says. “I reasoned she must love me because moms love their children, but I felt she did not like me because nothing I ever did pleased her. She criticized everything about my appearance - my hair, my makeup, my clothes.
Criticism is like corrosion – it happens over time. The more you hear the negative comments, it actually changes you as time goes on.” She went on to relate that she can only remember one time in over forty years her mother actually complimented her on anything. To this day, although she is a beautiful, kind, caring person, she struggles with self esteem and has social anxiety because of destructive criticism from someone she loved.
One woman I know, now in her sixties who grew up in a very poor family, still remembers the school yard taunts of children from wealthy families. For years, she was taunted for not having nice clothes and called “stupid.” Around the age of twelve, an observant teacher realized what the real problem was and, after getting eyeglasses, her grades improved. Her self esteem, however, had been permanently affected. Her grade school photos show a lonely child with sad eyes. To this day fifty years later, she still has difficulty seeing herself as the intelligent person she really is, and the words of those cruel taunts still echo through her mind.
Another older woman remembers her mother telling her as a child “Stay away from people. No one will want to talk to you because you’re poor.” She grew up believing no one wanted her company and so she made few friends. In her later years, she finally realized her self-perception was incorrect. She now has more friends than she can count and is a joy to be around. Two sentences spoken to a child over 70 years earlier left a hole where her self esteem should have been and changed a life meant to be filled with friends and happy relationships to one lived in loneliness and isolation.
Sometimes the person criticizing is externalizing what they feel about their own shortcomings. Sometimes they actually mean it in the best interest of the person and are trying to be helpful, not realizing how hurtful their comments are. Others criticize to control and manipulate another’s actions.
Children don’t have the ability to differentiate whether criticism is deserved or not, they process everything at face value and so internalize the negativity directed at them. As adults, we must take the time to evaluate whether the things we were told as children were true or untrue by our own standards, not someone else’s, no matter how important that person may have been in our lives.
The bottom line is, it is up to you to decide who you are and whether you are acceptable or not, by your standards, not someone else’s. If there is someone in your life who continually offers only negative comments to you, go the other way. We must not give other people the power to form our opinions of whether we are beautiful, smart or worthy.
You and you alone, choose who and what you will be in this life.
“Oh, my friend, it’s not what they take away from you that counts. It’s what you do with what you have left.”
– Hubert Humphrey
These are true quotes from real people. Excerpted from Sidewalk Flowers - Vol. 1
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