Seeing the best in life's challenges

How Often are You the Critic?

A post by author Scott Goodknight about his soon-to-be-released book Finding Your Hero is what prompted my thinking, which led to a personal understanding, which I’m writing about in this post…’s what he wrote:

There are two things that most people spend a great deal of energy trying to avoid: Pain and Suffering. Just remember that PAIN is inevitable and suffering is optional.

The Victim suffers not from the original injury which eventually heals. They make themselves suffer over and over and over for years by holding onto a burning resentment towards their perpetrator and not owning their part in the situation. Sometimes owning your part just means you admit you are being resentful. Forgive.

The Critic suffers because the voice they use to criticize others runs 24/7 against themselves. They are their own worst enemy. And in truth they are secretly “projecting” their own character flaws onto others to distract people from seeing those flaws in THEM. If you spot it you got it. Don’t Judge.

The Bystander suffers from a long slow agonizing death of envy and shame. Envy because they aren’t doing what they KNOW they are capable of. They then watch helplessly from the supposed safety of the sidelines at others on the playing field of life. But they die a thousand deaths of shame. Get in the game.

The HERO knows that the PAIN of rejection, ridicule and opposition from others in INEVITABLE. S/he knows that people WILL shoot the arrows of sarcasm at ANYONE that attempts to stand up on a stage and speak their truth to the world, or crawl out of the bucket of crabs and into the light.

They know this is the price of leadership, creativity, innovation, discovery and breakthroughs of EVERY nature. The HERO knows that opposition is a sign that they are on the right path. Because if it were easy….everyone would be doing it.

Like I said: I’m not telling you its going to be EASY, I’m telling you its going to be WORTH it. The mindset of the Hero will enable you to endure the inevitable pain that comes with learning and growth, (with grace and poise) and not suffer unduly.

Be the Hero!

So, I started thinking about these mindsets, and how and when I fit them, and how and when the people around me fit into them.  I already agree with the observation that people will go to great lengths to avoid pain and suffering.  It’s HOW people go about that avoidance that is really interesting.

It seems to me that we all fall into these categories at times.  But it also seems that if you observe yourself or someone else enough, you can see that some people are very attached to certain mindsets.  And groups of people can get into the groove of a mindset and magnify it.  My personal revelation was, that for a good part of my life, I have had a front row seat in a theatre dominated by Critics.

Please remember, I am motivated by trying to understand.  I have no interest in making someone else wrong for the way they are.  I believe everyone has their place, every situation has its purpose, and by understanding these interactions, we can learn lessons and gain wisdom.  As I look at the dynamic I have observed over all these years, I cannot tell you how grateful I am for having this experience.  It’s exactly what I needed to experience and understand, so that I could grow as a person.

It seems to me that most of us start out life assuming that other people are pretty much the same as we are.  We grow up in a family with certain dynamics, and that’s all we know, and we accept that without thinking about it too much.  When we meet others and interact with other groups of people, we assume they will react and interact and make decisions pretty much the same way we do.

For those who remain in a pretty homogenous culture, this might be mostly true.  If the accepted norms are well-defined and followed, it’s a pretty good bet to expect certain behaviors and interactions.  If we can assume agreement with our belief system, there won’t be much questioning and therefore any reason to defend it.

But these situations are less and less common in the world today.  Even if the people you see on a day-to-day basis are “like you,” there is still a lot of exposure to people who are very different.  And we are all familiar with the conflicts and disagreements that result.  It’s harder and harder to find another person who thinks exactly like you do on every topic.  Maybe impossible.

So, what do we do when we have that realization that others aren’t operating the way we expected them to or believe what we believe or have different priorities?  When they aren’t doing what we think they are supposed to do?

Well, we don’t like it.  It doesn’t make sense.  We want to continue following the dynamic we were taught.  It feels right to us, even if it was dysfunctional at some level.  It’s comfortable.  We know what “they” should do and how “they” should act.

When we experience this conflict, we can feel sorry for ourselves that these people don’t get it, we can go inward and put up a wall and feel protected that way.  This is the emotional response of a Victim.  We can also step back and detach and become a Bystander and avoid the interaction.

But I want to talk about the Critic mindset as observed through the eyes of a social scientist in their midst.  The Critic feels safe knowing that his belief system will keep him on track.  He has a personal paradigm that he feels is “right” and the way he maintains this feeling of safety is to defend this belief system.  If another person or culture questions this belief system, this is seen as a threat that must be eliminated.  There is such a strong attachment to the belief system that it must be defended at all costs.  The belief system becomes the Critic’s identity.

The Critic impulse comes from a place of insecurity.  Maybe this insecurity is associated with a very specific aspect of the person, so that the critic behavior is only seen when this vulnerable spot is poked.  Or maybe the insecurity is more pervasive, resulting in a prevalence of Critic behavior.  The Critic desperately wants to feel good about himself/herself and by putting others down and pointing out their faults, the spotlight is deflected onto others and away from his own vulnerability.  Another way to describe this is that a Critic fears being bad and unloved.  If the belief system, as in many religions, requires that you must follow the rules or else you are punished for eternity, then this is way too scary to face, so the Critic must follow the rules at any cost.  And because Critics do care about those around them, they will desperately try to force others to conform, or persuade others to do or think as they do.  Anyone can have and express strong opinions, but the Critic takes this one step further and is very invested in spreading his paradigm.  He’s an evangelist who won’t take no for an answer.

Because Critics focus on being right, that means anyone who thinks differently is wrong.  The mindset is very competitive.  As long as a Critic can defeat the competition, everything is in order.  Critics will tell you there are a lot of idiots out there.

Critics are easily offended.  They react with anger.  They are strong in defending themselves.  They see others as enemies.  They want justification.  The ends justify the means; if someone else gets hurt along the way, well, that’s just the way it is.  Deal with it.

Their inability to question their own belief system means there is limited or no ability for Critics to self-reflect.  They have no interest in understanding and thinking about other viewpoints, because this would cause a crack in the armor of their safety net.  Critics can see this behavior in others, but it is almost impossible for them to see it in themselves.  (HINT:  If this all sounds familiar because you see this behavior in your parents or other family members….well, you may not be as strong a Critic, and you might have a more tolerant belief system….but you probably incorporate more Critic behavior than you’d like to admit.)

When Critics are faced with situations where their beliefs are in conflict with the reality around them, they would rather change their belief system than admit they were wrong.  What was unacceptable a few years ago, may suddenly become acceptable now.  To the outsider this looks like hypocrisy.  To the Critic, he is only maintaining his wall of safety at whatever cost is necessary.

A distinction that is really important to understand is this:  the victim/critic/bystander/hero dynamic is TOTALLY separate from differences in belief system.  By this I mean, you can share the same basic belief system, yet have a vastly different balance of dynamics.

The Critic might have a very “good” belief system.  And one of the methods of the Critic is to spend a lot of time talking about how “good” it is.  But defending the belief system is more important than the actual beliefs.

Two people or groups can share a mostly Critic mindset, for example, yet have vastly different belief systems.  This is where we get the conflicts that lead to hate and war.  Each side feels justified at defending their view and desperate to defend themselves at the same time.  There is no room for conflict resolution here.  It’s fight to the death or until one side breaks.

It can be very confusing for a person who does not come from a background with a Critic mindset, to interact with Critics, even if they share a similar belief system.  A person who is used to self-reflection and questioning in order to learn and grow finds themselves viewed as a threat and treated as such when they speak up or disagree, even if they are just pondering or musing.  Critics won’t necessarily render harsh judgment on others if they don’t come on strong – they more likely will express their opinions in a powerful way, making their stand very clear.  If they are contradicted in gentle ways, they are likely to use ridicule or to discount as foolish opposing views.  One learns not to disagree, lest you incur the wrath of the Critic.  The critic uses Power and Fear of Reprisal to keep others at bay.

Critics have a hard time with constructive criticism, even from a person who they know has their best interests at heart.  Critics assume that others are Critics too – and if you disagree with them, you must be attacking them!  And don’t call them on the fact that they are judgmental – then you are being too sensitive!

The very sad part about interacting with Critics is that their mindset makes it impossible for them to heal their insecurities.  This reminds me of a wonderful sermon I heard over 20 years ago that talked about how we help people when we share our vulnerabilities, not when we put up a false façade of perfection.  Critics have a hard time being vulnerable, because they have to retain the illusion that they are perfect and they always know what’s right.  They can’t give themselves permission to have faults or weaknesses.  They cannot be wrong.

So why does any of this matter?  As I see it, the dynamic of the Critic is at the root of most of the conflict in this world.  If the world is going to become more peaceful, we have to break the cycle of the Critic.  This cycle is an impediment to tolerance and understanding.  Only by breaking the cycle will those who are using this mindset to avoid dealing with their inner pain learn to heal it.  And we must heal ourselves first before we can heal our relationships with others, which is the path toward tolerance and understanding of our sisters and brothers across the globe.

Critics need unconditional love.  This can be tough to give when being pushed around by a Critic.  At the core of a Critic, is the inability to believe that unconditional love exists.  A Critic never feels good enough.

One of the toughest challenges I have faced is to have my personal worth attacked directly by my own child, as he repeats the model of Critic behavior he has seen in action.  I have had to learn to remain detached, not let my ego take hold and get defensive, while still remaining confident in my own self-worth and still affirming that I love him despite his actions.   This has been my own personal walk across the hot coals in pursuit of becoming a Hero.