By David Joel Miller.
Does criticizing people get them to like you?
There seems to be a widely held belief that the way to get people to like and respect you is to criticize them and tell them what they are doing wrong.
Intuitively most people understand that if upon meeting someone for the first time, you began to upbraid them, called them names and told them how worthless they are, this would not be likely to lead to having a large number of friends. We know this but we often do it anyway.
You would expect that each of us would be striving to treat ourselves well and yet we frequently call ourselves names that we would never, ever, dare call a friend.
Ever call yourself “stupid’ or “dumb?” Think for a moment about saying that to a friend. Not once, when they made an unusually poor choice, but consistently day after day. We wouldn’t do that to a friend, but most of us, most of the time, repeatedly call ourselves names.
The danger to calling yourself names is that you will start believing what you tell yourself.
Pictures of cute little puppies and little children inspire us to want to help. They can inspire us to kindness. It is easy to be kind to others. Most of us are afraid to be kind to ourselves.
Why is compassion reserved for other, unrelated people?
Somewhere we got the idea that it was acceptable to be kind to others but if we were to be nice or kind to ourselves then we would spoil ourselves and thereafter be worthless. So year after year we continue to beat ourselves up for one thing after another.
People, who truly spoil themselves, in a bad way, are not those who are kind and compassionate to themselves. The worst sort of spoilage occurs when we tell ourselves we are no good, worthless or useless and then use that self-description as an excuse for behaving badly.
If you tell yourself you are a slob and then stop trying to clean up your living space because after all you are a slob and no one should expect a slob to clean. If you say you are stupid and then use that belief as an excuse to never attempt anything, expecting your family or society to take care of you. You are using your self-criticism to excuse poor behavior.
Some people tell themselves they are addicts, and what do you expect from and addict? Why of course I relapsed and used drugs again, I am an addict. But if you begin to tell yourself that I USED to be an addict, look at the possibilities that opens up.
One form of therapy is called “narrative therapy.” The way I understand this is that we tell ourselves and others stories, not untrue stories, just stories, and then as we tell them more and more we begin to believe our own fiction. So if you tell yourself you are dumb or worthless you become less and less able to accomplish anything.
People who say “I am an angry person,” stay angry and convince themselves they can’t change. If we can get them to start saying I USED to be an angry person, but I am changing, then amazingly they change.
Do you believe that the only way to get anybody to do things is to beat them? We find that this is a poor way to motivate either ourselves or others. Yet many people continue to beat themselves up, verbally, day after day.
One thing we tell parents as part of basic parenting class is to catch their children doing something right. Small amounts of praise, judiciously used are great motivators. If the only way your children get your attention is to misbehave, they will misbehave for attention.
The parent who does nothing but criticizes their child finds that the child may give up. Consider the child who wants badly to please their parent; they study very hard for a big test. When the results come out the child has achieved a score of 99 out of 100 possible points.
What does this parent say? Why did you miss that one? You knew that! The result is that the child stops trying, convinced that no matter how hard they tried they will never be good enough.
Years later we find that person and many others still trying to motivate themselves by telling themselves that how they are is not good enough.
The risk here is that rather than motivate yourself to try harder, you will convince yourself that you are a failure and stop trying.
Ultimately you may become the person you say you are.
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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books