Do you ever play criticism ping pong, where one critical comment leads to a quick defensive, critical shot back. Unhelpfully, I used to be an expert player, especially with teenage children in the house. We'd have matches on all sorts of topics, including mismanagement of the food in the pantry, over-contol, limit setting, responsible parenting, respect, and tidying up.
It is so easy to to slip into the habit of criticising back, when we are criticised. I remembered or was mindful of this last week when I watched my mind quickly build its defence case, for criticising back a driver who was frustrated with me for not passing a tram. The driver, expressed his frustration by giving me the two finder salute, the OMG arms up in horror and a toot. I could see all this happening in my rear vision mirror and watched my mind ready to give the criticism back and defend my position.
Fortunately, I remembered a much more helpful response and avoided a criticism ping pong match disaster. As I have mentioned previously this month, I find it useful to think of mindfulness as simply remembering to pay attention to what is happening and meditation, as thinking about or putting the mind on something (useful). Criticising back never helps, even though oddly, somehow defending ourselves seems helpful. I am not recommending being a doormat either, as it is important to speak our truth in order to help others prevent harm. It is not helpful to let others abuse us, it is not good for them. So, how do we speak our truth in helpful ways. And, how do we speak to ourselves without criticism and judgement either? I don't know about you, but I can speak to myself very harshly, often more unkindly that I would ever speak to anyone else. The Answer is KINDLY. Be that kind encouraging friend to ourselves and others.
So when I had my criticism button pushed by the other drivers, stares, gestures and beeps, instead of criticising back, I mindfully remembered a more helpful response - The ABCD
AWARE - to be aware that my criticism button had been pushed and that criticising back was not going to be helpful,
BREATHE - do 3 mindful breaths. This allowed me the freedom to respond from that wise spot, instead of reacting from the unhelpful habit of criticising back. Or criticising myself either.
CONNECT with KINDNESS
What came up, from that wise spot was PLEASE BE KIND'. FULL STOP
And I thought to myself - I am doing my best - I felt I couldn't safely overtake the tram, and that is ok.
And the other driver is doing his best too. How do I know why he is in such a hurry. He is a victim of unhelpful habits, just like me. I also find it useful to remember, happy people are not in the business of being critical or judgmental of others. Compassion for him and me too, is the most appropriate response
DO - from that wise spot
And that is what I did - when we drew level at the lights and he was glaring across at me, I smiled and said "Please be kind". FULL STOP.
I am not in control of how the other person responds to my 'please be kind', but I know I have heard myself say it, which reminds me to be kind to others and myself. And they have heard it too, even if it appears they haven't. The driver opposite me looked a little bemused and then returned my smile. Even if he had continued to be critical - I would have tried to remember to be compassionate toward him and myself
I find this a very useful strategy to deal with criticism, as it prevents the criticism ping pong match that inevitably leads to disaster. I have used it many times as a parent, (remembering the full stop - as it is so tempting to go on with the justification and criticism). As I said, it also helps me to remember to be kind to myself as well. We are all doing our best, with what we know at the time. Mistakes are how we learn. I have found, PLEASE BE KIND, with compassion for myself and others very helpful. Maybe you will too.
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