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Are you being too critical?

Recently, as I scrolled through Facebook, I came across a post in which a young Maltese singer was introducing his first single, which I gathered he wrote and produced himself. Although the majority of people congratulated him for his achievement, one particular person commented that the music was ‘trash’, mocking his decision to pay for its promotion on Facebook. Whilst the singer replied rather graciously, considering, I found myself reflecting on the value of and need for constructive feedback, which includes criticism, as opposed to what seems to be a culture in which tearing people down and ridiculing them is acceptable, particularly online.

So, how does constructive feedback differ from destructive feedback? Apart from the manner of delivery, the crucial difference is the intent behind the feedback. Constructive feedback involves providing someone with information about their performance, behaviour or work with the intention of helping them learn and grow. This involves pointing out both positive and negative aspects of performance. Whilst constructive feedback is intended to support the other person in enhancing self-awareness, identifying areas of growth and working on any weaknesses, the intention behind rather blatant and harsh criticism is not so well-meaning. To use the earlier example, constructive feedback could have involved a more experienced musician pointing out to this singer what he enjoyed or appreciated, as well as highlighting aspects of the song which could be improved. Destructive feedback, however, is designed to crush or hurt the other person. Using this same example, I doubt that anything good or constructive could come from telling a singer that something he took the time and energy to produce is ‘trash’. In fact, such feedback could be quite devastating.

We’re all guilty of being overly critical or judgemental sometimes and this is particularly easier when we have the distance and ‘safety’ of a screen to speak to rather than a real-life person standing in front of us. As human beings, making judgements comes naturally and is our way of making sense of people, things and situations we encounter. However, after the initial, almost automatic internal judgement, we then have some crucial choices to make. Firstly, we can hold onto this judgement or we can choose to let the judgement go and take a more open, accepting stance. Secondly, we then need to make a decision as to whether or not, and how, we express our thoughts and feelings about someone or something. If you have a tendency to criticise and judge quite frequently, I’d like to invite you to reflect on the following:

Where did you learn to be critical? I notice that people who tend to be quite judgemental and critical of others usually had experiences growing up whereby they were treated harshly or in a critical manner. This could be in the form of a critical parent, teacher or other significant adult. The child would have learnt from a young age that this is how you treat people. They would also then internalise this critical voice and judge and criticise themselves. As an adult, you now have a choice as to whether you wish to continue being critical towards yourself and others or if you’d rather develop a more compassionate, patient attitude.

If you feel negatively towards someone, reflect on what it is about that person which is causing you to feel this way. What is it about their actions that make you feel anger or disdain towards them? Do they remind you of someone from your past (e.g. rejecting parent, ex partner)? Has this person achieved something you long to achieve? Could the criticism be coming from a place of resentment, insecurity or hurt?

Do you feel happy within yourself? If you feel happy and at peace within yourself, you’ll naturally feel more positive towards people and situations you encounter, making you less inclined to be negative towards others. Our treatment of others and attitude towards the world is a reflection of what’s going on inside us.

What is it you want to achieve through your criticism? There’s no question about it, there are times when we need to give negative feedback, whether it be in the workplace or in our personal lives. The way in which you deliver such feedback, whether constructive or destructive, has the power to lift a person or crush them. If you’re unhappy with someone’s behaviour, performance or attitude, chances are that constructive feedback is most likely going to lead to change and growth. Harsh criticism, on the other hand, is often met with defensiveness, anger or shutting down, making it unlikely that such feedback could be used as a catalyst for growth or change. If, on deeper reflection, you realise that the purpose of your feedback is to hurt the other person rather than help them improve, it would be wise to try to gain a better understanding of what this person and their behaviour bring up in you i.e. anger, resentment, bad memories, insecurity, etc. Once clearer, you’d then be in a better position to decide how to deliver the feedback and if it’s even necessary in the first place.

Whether you decide to give feedback or not, doing so with awareness, as well as an attitude of patience and compassion can have a tremendously positive impact not just on the receiver but on yourself. As the popular saying goes – ‘In a world full of critics, be an encourager instead’.

Danjela Falzon - Malta therapy clinic

About Danjela Falzon

Danjela has been practising as a Psychotherapist since 2011, having read for a BSc in Psychology at Birkbeck, University of London, followed by a Masters in Gestalt Psychotherapy at GPTIM. She works therapeutically with individuals, adopting an approach which is warm and empathic, yet direct and challenging when necessary. She also works with groups, teaching mindfulness and providing support and guidance to reduce stress and anxiety.

TherapyPacks Terms and Conditions

1. TherapyPacks come in bundles of 5 or 10 sessions. Prices of bundles:

  • 5 sessions – €270 – must be utilised within 3 months from date of purchase
  • 10 sessions – €520 – must be utilised within 6 months from date of purchase

2. Bundles are not transferable. This means they cannot be used by, or gifted to, anyone else but the person whose name is listed as the TherapyPacks bundle holder.

3. Bundles which are purchased for Couples Therapy and Family Therapy can only be used by members of the couple or family with one therapist. If members of a couple or family decide to take up individual therapy with another therapist, the bundle will only apply to sessions with the therapist originally referred and cannot be also used for the individual sessions with another therapist. Exceptions will be made if the original therapist is unable to see the client or family and the couple or family are referred to another therapist. After referral, the same conditions will apply.

4. Bundles are valid for a limited time period, as listed above. This means that the bundles will expire once the respective time period has elapsed. Any sessions not utilised within this period will be lost. This means that a refund will not be given for unused sessions. Start date commences on date of purchase of bundles.

5. Bundles are only valid for full price sessions (charged at €60) and not for sessions with trainee psychotherapists, reports or assessments.

6. Full payment needs to be made on purchase, via bank transfer, cash or credit card.

7. Management reserves the right to terminate or suspend the use of the bundles. Reasons for such are at the discretion of the clinic.

8. Refunds or extensions of time period within which bundles may be used is at the discretion of management and will only be granted in exceptional circumstances.

9. Management reserves the right to modify or replace the terms and conditions. In such circumstances, clients will be given adequate notice and time to adhere to such.

10. The clinic’s cancellation policy is applicable also to bundles. Late cancellations or no shows will result in the forfeit of a session within the bundle allocation.

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