Criticism and the Four Spokes

No one likes to be criticized. No child gets up in the morning and says, "I'm going to be criticized today. That’s terrific!" The difference, however, between a child who reacts to criticism to a reasonable degree, and one who overacts, is dependent on one variable: how well the child fights. (For our purposes here, the concept of fighting can be described as having a confrontation during which one must be ones own advocate.) If a child, who is being criticized, can say to the parent, "That's not fair!" and the parent asks "Why?" the child knows he can express his views and disagreements. The parent, after considering the child's arguments, might agree and say, "I'm sorry. I was wrong. I didn't realize that till you explained it." On the other hand, the parent can say, "I hear what you're saying, but I don't agree with you for these reasons." The parent can now explain to the child why it was being criticized. The child might be disappointed and still disagree, however, it fought well. The child will learn that no one can win every fight. Sometimes we win and sometimes we lose.

Everything that follows is related to the child who is not able to fight well. This child will overreact to criticism and the result, not only of his reaction in the moment but of his long term approach to life itself, will be negative.

Imagine a rectangle with the word CRITICISM in the center and four spokes emanating from it. There are two upper spokes which are defenses against criticism and two lower spokes which are the effects of criticism.

There are two ways in which we can defend ourselves against criticism. One would be to be perfect and the other to procrastinate. If we are perfect, we can't be criticized, or if we procrastinate and don't put anything out there, we can't be criticized. Both the perfectionism and the procrastination result from the fear of criticism. Under each are subtopics. The perfectionist operates as if there is a right and a wrong … a good and a bad. For the perfectionist, it is essential to be right ... ALWAYS. The perfectionist also tends to be a blamer. Whatever goes wrong must be somebody else's fault, not his.

Hiding, avoiding, withdrawing and shyness are related to procrastination. Shy children are afraid to volunteer in class for fear of being laughed at, ridiculed, or humiliated, so they hide behind their books, hoping that they won't be called on. Procrastinators are so afraid of being wrong and making a mistake that they experience great anxiety whenever they have to make a decision. They rarely express opinions and generally defer to others.

The two lower spokes describe the effects of criticism. As much as the person hated criticism when he was young, much to his chagrin, he finds that he himself has become critical as he got older.

First spoke: The person he criticizes the most is himself. He is constantly judging, denigrating, and finding fault with himself. Everything he does is wrong, dumb, and stupid. Self image problems are a direct result of criticism. Criticism and self image are inversely related. The greater the criticism the smaller the self image.

Second spoke: Not only does he criticize himself, but he is also highly critical of others. He will find fault with others just as he finds fault with himself. Since he is not a good fighter and is very concerned about how others would think of him, he rarely expresses his critical feelings. Instead, he hides them and presents a friendly, accepting mask. Inside, he is critical. Outside, he smiles. This makes him phony, hypocritical, or, in other words, a liar. This type of deceit and duplicity results in feelings of guilt within the person. This guilt creates its own set of consequences.

We are taught early, as children, that if we do something wrong or bad we will be punished. This guilt and punishment association follows us throughout our lives. We've learned in our culture that the punishment must fit the crime. (Even in Exodus in the Bible we find the Talion Law of retributive justice that calls for giving "an eye for an eye"). Therefore, if you know the crime, you can predict the punishment. If you know the punishment, you can deduce the crime. In this case, if the crime was being phony with others, then the punishment would be that others are phony with us. The end result of this spoke is a mistrust of others. The fear is that others will do to us what we have done to them and that’s what we have coming to us … what we deserve.

The over sensitivity to criticism and the results described above are directly related to the child's inability to fight well. This can be avoided by parents who can appreciate the importance of teaching and encouraging their children to argue their point.

copyright 2007 - Dr. Gerard Bomse - All Rights Reserved - duplication and re-publishing prohibited without consent from Dr. Bomse (