With the first day of spring this month, I thought why not look at a series for spring cleaning but one that helps your relationships!?! This month I’m even providing some free printables too—either a worksheet or an inspiring image! (If I get some good feedback I’ll keep the freebies coming…)
First week of March – Making space for real comfort and dealing with deadly dysfunction
March 14 – Cleaning The Critics’ Clutter (inner critics and external critics)
March 21 –Denying space to doubt and disappointment
March 28 – Minimizing Unrealistic Expectations and Unspoken Assumptions
Dear Reader there will always be critics and they will always leave emotional clutter in their wake. But it doesn’t have to be that way! You can take the benefit that comes from the helpful criticism and then clean out the clutter left behind.
Critics can come in various shapes and sizes, and so can the value of their “input”. Whether it’s a critic in your head or one in your face, here are 8 ways to clean the critics clutter while also containing the value they bring. Check out the free poster with the 8 step reminders here!pt 2 poster relationship spring cleaning
1. Listen when you have space –in many cases, you can determine when to listen. When you listen allows you to have the capacity to really hear and to really consider the value within the critic. Being sure you have space also allows you to respond with compassion to yourself and to the other person.
If a critic pops up, remember you can share if you have the space (emotionally or logistically) to really listen. That might sound like, “Thanks for wanting to share with me. Right now my brain is so tired/full/still in workmode so can we chat about this in 15 minutes/in an hour/tomorrow morning? I really want to hear what you have to say and I think it would be best then.”
2. Hear the message – Hear the message the critic is sharing so you can first determine if this is destructive or constructive criticism. Then you can hear the words they are saying and the message they are bringing. I think the easiest way to tell the difference is through a building analogy— do you feel torn down and destroyed by the critic (destructive) or do you feel pressed and moved to a new way/new construction (constructive)?
Destructive critics –are sometimes helpful but never healthy. The messages a destructive critic brings will always sting, and they will often attack your character. Often destructive critics are those who don’t know you very well now or who only know you on a surface level.
Constructive critics — are both helpful and healthy. The messages a constructive critic brings may sting because there may be some truth in it, but it doesn’t attack your character. A constructive critic will help you grow out of things that are keeping you from your best self. Often constructive critics are those who have earned your trust over time because they have proven they really are for you, with you, and have your back. These will often come from those people who do the 3 things healthy people do: 1) help you grow closer to God, 2) help you grow into the way God designed you, aka the best version of yourself, and 3) help you grow closer to others.
Once you’ve determined if it is destructive or constructive, then you can both hear the words and hear the message. Feel free to ask questions or restate what you heard to be sure you are hearing them correctly.
3. Consider the facts and the possible truth – once you’ve determined if it is destructive or constructive, then the next steps go much quicker.
Consider the facts within the criticism and if there is any truth within the statement. As much as possible, respond with compassion to yourself and to the critic. If it seems appropriate, thank the critic for sharing.
If you aren’t sure about the facts and/or truth contained in the critic’s words, then bounce it off a trusted and healthy loved one or friend.
4. Clean out insults – this is often only needed for destructive criticism but there might be a time when it is actually constructive but the critic is tired, hungry, or lacking compassion. At any rate, insults are not appropriate.
You can always encourage the critic to share their thoughts but that insults are not appropriate. That might sound like, “Thanks for sharing, and for me to really hear you please refrain from insulting me.” Or “I’m trying to hear you but the insults are not appropriate and getting in the way of your message.”
5. Respond, don’t react – this reminds me of one of my favorite movie quotes, “Listen then respond. Is that what you said?”. Responding allows you to pause before you say anything. Reacting is natural and will happen subconsciously, but you can control your conscious responses. It’s easier to find that control when you the capacity and the space, which is why its helpful to find the best time to listen.
6. Re-calculate and adjust – Now comes the step for taking the truth and facts into account and making needed adjustments. Just like a GPS does when new information is brought to light and it “recalculates the route”, so can we re-calculate and adjust our behaviors to be the best versions of ourselves. This most likely will be where you will want some form of support as you make the adjustments. So consider who is with you, or who can help you with these healthy changes?
7. Check back in –once you have made the needed adjustments, its often helpful to check back in with the critic. That might sound like, “Hey there. Do you have a minute? I wanted to thank you for your thoughts the other day and ask if you have noticed any differences in that area we talked about?”
A check-in should also have the same kind of exchange, leading to constructive criticism and to a healthier you.
8. Keep moving forward – there will always be critics so we won’t be slowed down by their voices! I think of two of my favorite quotes, one by Walt Disney and one by the Apostle Paul:
“Around here, we don’t look backward for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we’re curious…and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” Walt Disney
“…one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the [heavenly] prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” The Apostle Paul in the letter to the Philippians.
Critics will always be with us, whether they come from our own heads or from others, but we get to decide how and what we will do with those words.
Lastly just to break down a couple of specifics for external or internal critics, let’s look at those here:
- External Critic or Hater or Bully – when dealing with someone facing you with their own criticism, they often have their own issues yelling inside them. This is not to minimize or detract from the inappropriate, unhealthy, and wrong ways they treat others. It does help to understand that you can’t reason with them, but you can show them respect and consideration. Then if their words or ongoing criticism continues, be sure to tell someone who can help you be safe while also being caring.
- Internal Critic or Helper-Hater or Bully – when dealing with a critic in your head, a helpful next step after you determine if it’s constructive, is to ask two last questions to the internal critic:
- What are you trying to help me with? Or what are you trying to help me achieve?
- When would you know that (thing you are helping me with) has been done?
These two questions will tell you if your internal critic has developed out of a need that is not being met in your life, or if the internal critic is trying to show you something that is triggering a painful memory. Sometimes our internal critics are trying to protect us or to create safety for us, they are just going about it the wrong way. So if you listen to the message then you will know how to re-calculate and adjust while also meeting the missing need or providing the assurance to the critic that you are safe.
Critics always bring clutter, emotional and verbal clutter. We can clean up that clutter while containing the value within the critic by applying these 8 steps and then the following thoughts for external or internal critics.
As spring begins for us this month, I pray you will take time to intentionally clean out the critics clutter and grow healthy relationships!
- Did a current conversation or a certain someone pop into mind as you read this blog?
- What are your thoughts as you consider these 8 steps?
- Do you need to gather any support for your current growth?
We were never designed to go through life alone, but life and adulting can make it begin to feel like that! Don’t let it stay that way! Get back to the important things of building healthy relationships and being a healthy, safe, good friend to those in your life! Together we can make a difference in bringing about healthy, safe, good growing relationships!
Liz Lawrence, MA, LPC-S is counselor, coach and creative who is passionate about people. She directs a counseling center in Austin, Texas and with husband David Lawrence co-leads the non-profit Renue.Me whose mission is to invest in the dreams of leaders in underprivileged communities around the world. Connect with her at www.lizlawrencelpc.com or www.renue.me
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