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Why do we seek criticism?

To quote Dean Burnett from his book "The Idiot Brain",


" 'Sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me,' This claim doesn't really stand up to much scrutiny, ....if names and insults genuinely don't hurt at all, why does this saying even exist? There's no similar saying to point out: 'Knives and blades will slash you up but marshmallows are pretty harmless. "

So, we are affected by what others say - and we can be hurt by perceived criticism. And this may be hard-wired into our brains.


Our brains are constantly on alert - assessing the situation and the environment, looking for dangers. When a danger is identified the brain reacts at breakneck speed to get us out of the way. So our brains are scanning the environment for negative stimuli and helping us to recognise it by coding the emotion (eg fear). This way we can learn from it for next time. Criticism may not be "sticks and stones" to hurt us physically, but it is a negative stimulus and our brains will react in the same way as if it was.


In the scanning process the brain will also be looking for things that are out of the ordinary. Most of us live in a world of social norms and etiquette - where the majority of people are 'nice' and polite. So, when somebody is critical or rude it stands out from the norm. (Social media to one side). So criticism stands out like a beacon and therefore we focus on it more than niceness or praise.


In general we also like to think we are good at things. When things go well we take the credit, when things go wrong we blame others (people or things) - "I'm pleased with that piece of artwork - apart from the bit in the top corner - but I didn't have the right paintbrush". So, if we personally get criticised it can hurt all the more because it can attack our own self worth.


If we already have low self-worth or depression - then we already believe that we are not good at things. The criticism confirms and deepens the self-loathing. It becomes a "see, I told you I was useless". The brain likes confirmation that it is right!


So, how can we cope with criticism?


Being aware of what the brain is doing can help.

  • it is important to recognise that what other people say is more likely to be a reflection of their own issues rather than anything to do with you.

  • consider keeping a gratitude diary - writing down each day three positive things that have happened and one thing for which you are grateful. Your brain then learns to search out positives and not just negatives.

  • learn to stand back from situations and see them for what they are - rather than your own skewed view

  • if your self-worth is adversely affected and deepens to depression consider therapy. BWRT is a great new therapy which can help deal with this.



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