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Meeting Criticism with Criticism

You regularly listen with empathy to others and have worked hard to cultivate this skill.  Yet, there are those particular situations or relationships in which you can't seem to find your giraffe ears (have empathy for another).
It's likely that in these situations one of two things is happening.  You perceive a threat to one of your most basic needs, like safety, security, belonging, autonomy, and/or acceptance.  Or you are unwilling to feel the hurt and grief of needs unmet.
Being consciously aware that you perceive a threat to a basic need isn't always as simple as you might think.  Perceptions of threat often hide out in political arguments, complex analyses, spiritual pronouncements, grand theories, or any sense of righteousness.  Uncovering perceptions of threats is easier if you know the symptoms:
-You can't find empathy for the opposing view or another person.
-You feel tense every time you think of the situation.
-Your are not open to changing your view in the face of new information.
-You find yourself quickly moving to overwhelm or anger.
Once you recognize that you perceive a threat, you can discern if it is real and immediate or not and choose to take an action to meet your needs.  You might also discern that a particular situation triggers such a high sense of threat in you that you'll want to limit your exposure to that situation.
Meeting criticism with criticism may also arise out of an unwillingness to feel the hurt and grief of needs unmet.  This situation often occurs in families.  In my own family, my brother has cut off all contact with our family and especially me, due, superficially, to religious preferences.  I find that when he comes up in conversation with other family members there is often a heart hardening feeling that passes over me. The pain and grief of losing him is so immense that I often choose (unconsciously) not to feel it and move my awareness into my head. My words tend toward criticism.  Sometimes I hide the pain in a psychological diagnosis of him.
Despite the personality differences you have with your family, the specialness of that bond remains and it is natural to want an evolving and fulfilling connection.  Giving yourself plenty of compassion is a good place to start.  Receiving empathy from someone outside the family is a helpful next step.
This week notice when you find yourself meeting criticism with criticism.  Take time to reflect on the situation and notice if any of the above is true for you.

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6 Responses

  1. Mar 22, 2012
    Robbie Lapp

    At our Gorge practice group, someone shared a family member typical comment that you are too sensitive. Upon arising this morn a giraffe response came to me, "I appreciate your awareness of sensitivity and that we have differing amounts of it."

    I see this helping me to free lots of the karma around my "typical" responses with those I am most entwined.

  2. Mar 22, 2012
    Orla Nelson

    I have just read "Meeting Criticism with Criticism" and recognize myself in the equation. What do you suggest as a step beyond giving yourself plenty of compassion and receiving empathy from someone outside of the family? Knowing full well that the only person I can change is "ME", and recognizing that my needs for belonging and acceptance aren't being met, yet putting a high priority on healing relationships how can one proceed to dissolve blockages in a constructive way?

  3. Mar 22, 2012

    Opening your Gem today was literally a turning point for me today. I have been trapped in this very cycle with someone who is very dear to me and reading your piece allowed me to see how I was contributing to the cycle even though I didn't think I was. That realization led me to apologize and take responsiblity for those actions as well as to a personal commitment to myself to stop engaging in fruitless criticism and ask myself when I'm tempted, what am I feeling threatened by? Thank you LaShelle -- maybe you should add Psychic to your credits :) Much love and many blessings to you and yours and thanks for what you do for the rest of us.

  4. Mar 22, 2012
    jaci roe

    I resonate with the part of not feeling the hurt and grief of needs unmet. I'm just realizing So Many needs unmet. I've noticed moments when I don't wanna go there and am just critical of the other. But its not always about being unwilling. The grief and hurt underneath the anger has been coming over me in waves to be physically emoted, and its rare that I feel in a safe place to allow it. Tears flowed with the water in the shower this morn though. It annoys me when grief wells up regardless of "appropriate context" of right time and place. Just random triggers... can push people away or disrupt and that hurts too. When I am with someone who feels safe or is giving me attention it feels ready to flow. When held. When alone, I can sense it but it doesn't usually flow because I may fear the overwhelm of the depth/intensity and am afraid of choking or...

    The threat part probably happens a lot too. The language and articulations you use are so unfamiliar. I feel shame and grief over how much could have been "saved" had we all known this language. I need acknowledgement/reassurance that choosing to try and learn this way of relating is courageous... or something. I keep noticing a collapse of helpless/hopeless, lack of trust or some resistance to this work, even though my heart feels its a higher choosing.

  5. Mar 29, 2012

    I'm happy to have found this via the NVC World Twitter feed. A lot of what you wrote resonates with how I react when I feel threatened. I also like how you compared this with your experience with your brother. I have noticed that feelings of threat often comes from the places we would expect to be the safest spaces. As you mentioned, self-empathy is often the key to being able to deal with this sense of threat.

  6. Apr 15, 2012

    I recently had a situation with a cousin where I was criticized as being judgmental. I was quite triggered by it, and realized it went very deep. When I gave myself empathy, I went through the list of needs, and could give myself what was on the list - all except for the need "Emotional Safety". That one I could not give myself.

    Eventually it surfaced that I was terrified of my cousin's anger and criticism, because of my father's anger and criticism when I was a young girl. But I still couldn't bring myself to have a conversation with my cousin about it all. I was still terrified that I would be overwhelmed by my cousin's anger and criticism.

    Then I received NVC guidance to take baby steps in the conversation. To set up boundaries in advance around what we would discuss in our first conversation, and why. And that I may have to leave if the conversation included loud voices, or moved into areas beyond the one topic. This felt safe for me. Now I am ready to have conversations with my cousin, who is so like my father.

    This approach, I know, will serve me well in life when I fear the anger of large men. I am deeply grateful to Marshall Rosenberg and all the NVC practitioners in the world, for this gift.

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