I’ve been exploring an idea for the past few years that I’d like to share here.
The idea is that I never react to others’ criticisms, only to my own (self-criticism). When someone says something that resonates with my self-critic, that self-critic is activated (resonance). It’s due to that resonance that I classify another’s words as criticism, rather than praise, playful banter, or some sort of emotionally neutral information. Thus when one of my internal critics wakes up in resonance with another’s words, that critic reminds me about the corresponding still-unloved part of myself.
My personal goals include wholeness and unconditional self-love. In other words, I want to own and cherish all aspects of myself. So a current practice of mine is to embrace the criticism as much as I’m able, instead of trying to neutralize it through self-protective reactions or empathy for the other person. This inner practice is very difficult for me. I’ve spent a lot of my life insulating myself from others’ criticisms, and am finding it a tough habit to break. I’m making slow & steady progress. It took me a while to notice that some of Marshall’s techniques for neutralizing judgment & criticism were feeding a personal pattern that I want to move past. (For instance, never hear what a jackal-speaking person thinks of me.)
How does this practice (expanding self-love through embracing criticism) relate to NVC? I don’t see it in Marshall’s teachings. To relate to NVC, I’m now thinking of the practice as “fifth pair of ears”, besides the inner & outer jackal and giraffe ears. The new pair is an inner pair, and there’s a corresponding outer pair as well.
As with criticism & insults, similarly with praise. When I’m uncomfortable with someone’s praise, I can usually find a way to release my resistance and own the praise.
For instance, when someone says to me “You’re inconsiderate” or in NVC-ese “That doesn’t meet my need for consideration” (yuck), at first I have an ouch and then defensive & offensive thoughts. I could turn my mind toward the idea of “unmet needs” and look for empathy for myself and/or the other person. My new practice (in addition to the jackal & giraffe ones) is to ask myself how I can honestly own the assessment of me as inconsiderate. Eventually, when my emotional turmoil recedes, it’s so easy to see that the “criticism” of me is right on. After all, when I focus my attention on one thing, I often lose sight of other things. And so of course I’m inconsiderate. The praise “considerate” is also accurate, as I’m almost always considering something. (Since it’s a big universe—and there are lots of others real or imagined—I’m much more inconsiderate than I am considerate.)
My experiments with embracing criticism are connected with another long-term project of mine, which is to unconditionally embrace Reality. In other words, developing my ability to love What Is, dropping any resistance. (I distinguish wanting reality to be as it is from wanting reality to stay as it is. The former is about the present.) Since the world is full of people whose words awaken my inner critics, it’s important for me to find ways of benefiting from those people and appreciating their gifts to me. As with self-love, I’m lousy at reality-love. And maybe these two projects are really the same project. Work(s) in progress.