Question: Dear Luise: I have a terrible time when I am criticized. I’m an adult but I don’t feel like one when someone is unkind to me and puts me down. I recently had a family member call and, using a very serious tone, tell me that she had been keeping something back that she needed to discuss with me. As she went on and on about how hard it was to say it, I was running multiple scenarios in my head about what I must have said or done. I just knew I wasn’t OK, acceptable, good enough, etc., etc. When she finally got to the point, she said she’d been sick. I felt so foolish. Can you give me any insight regarding how I can deal with this reaction? Alma D.
Answer: Dear Alma: You noticed the pattern. Good for you. That’s step one. Often when someone points a pattern out to us we try to explain it away and deny it’s existence, but when we see a defect this clearly, help is on the way! By that I mean we are able to start helping ourselves.
We all have short suits, and broken places within us that we have dragged along through life…emotions that come uninvited and reactions, like the one you described so well, that seem to have a life of their own. It’s important that we all know that no matter how alone and weird we feel, we belong to a large club called “Being Human”.
That said…the key here is to know that whatever another person says is about them. You were let off the hook this time but/and what if she had said “I feel – – – because you did – – – ”. That’s what you were dreading, right? When that happens, and you feel your gut take over, tell the person that you will have to process the information and get back to her. This gives you time to react privately and get you feet back under you. Then find a disinterested, third party to talk with about it.
You can’t make anyone feel any particular way, it’s their choice, and they can’t make you feel a certain way, either, that’s your choice. When you have that sorted out and feel balanced, call the person back and let her know that you are sorry she feels that way and tell her how you feel. Let her know that you don’t feel responsible for how she feels and don’t hold her responsible for how you feel. You may find a solution or you may not, but you will at least get past blame and shame. Blessings, Luise