Criticism Constricts

“If you are willing to look at another person’s behavior toward you as a reflection of the state of their relationship with themselves rather than a statement about your value as a person, then you will, over a period of time cease to react at all.”  - Yogi Bhajan via Light Watkins via Heidi Armstrong.


We spend most of our time ruminating about the past or thinking (worrying) about the future. It’s true. Try to stay in the present moment, and you’ll notice you quickly land in one of these two camps.


Oftentimes, we get preoccupied with trying to figure out why someone would have done or said something to us. We waste precious time in the present trying to solve a puzzle that isn’t all that mysterious. Another person’s behavior toward us has little to do with us.


A glimpse into my mind:

“Why would he have said that to me, and in that tone, when he doesn’t even know me?”

“Why would she act in a way that is hurtful and contrary to her words if she cares for me so deeply?”


According to the Yogi Bhajan quote above, which I happen to buy into, it would be more accurate for me to think:

“He said that because it is a reflection of how he feels about himself, rather than how he feels about me.”

“She did what she did (which contradicted what she said), because of the relationship she has with herself, not with me.”


As I’m typing this, I feel like I’m stating the obvious. We have likely all heard something akin to the aforementioned quote, and probably dole it out as advice on occasion. Yet, when it comes to us personally, it is so hard to remember. For some reason, when we are in the situation, the whole “it’s the other person” bit is definitely not the explanation. We stay busy trying to figure out what we missed…Is there something fundamentally wrong with me that would cause this person to react in this way?


Healthy reflection on experiences and interactions is worthwhile. However, when reflection tips over to rumination (or mental cud-chewing), we have reached the point of diminishing returns.


Rumination tends to focus on our mistakes and shortcomings, an inwardly berating approach to self-improvement.


Why do we ruminate about others’ behavior toward us? Are we distracting from something we want to avoid in the present moment? Are we trying to collect evidence to serve as armor to protect us from future pain?  Are we trying to make it about ourselves so we can better control the situation (i.e., we could be better or do better and it would turn out better)?


As a recovering perfectionist (I’m much better than I used to be and, hey, it’s all relative), I will focus on the last option. My subconscious tends toward believing that I can do or be better so as to avoid discomfort. Regarding the subject of this blog, the discomfort is an unsavory interaction with another person. Avoiding this is a futile endeavor. The above quote reminds me of that. There will be future discomfort, and it will not be in my control.


When we are mulling over situations, or beating the proverbial dead horse, we do not have space and energy to practice self-care. We are down in the self-criticism ditch, which leaves little room to do something - anything - that could help. When we are in this place, we have a skewed version of ourselves, an over-focus on our perceived negative traits. It is harder to help someone you don’t like.


If we can clear out the criticism, we create space for new, kinder thoughts that generate healthier action.


Steps to taking a healthier action:

1.    Notice that you are ruminating.

2.    Remember the quote above (or something similar).

3.    Choose a kind thought.


You might be surprised at the actions you take after changing unhelpful negative thoughts into kind, supportive ones.


The goal is not to become robot-style you. For better or worse, all of this – rumination, unpleasant interactions with others, repeated behaviors that do not serve - is part of the human condition, which is dynamic and fascinating.


As humans, we have the ability to choose. I’m going to aim to focus on the parts of a situation that I can control. I’ve learned (and continue to learn) that this control does not entail me dictating others’ behavior. I can, however, manage how and what I think about myself. I encourage you to exercise the same liberating choice.


Much Love Y'all,