Thursday, September 25, 2014

Am I Open To Constructive Criticism?

Today I was nattering to Robert about something, and he replied in his laidback way, with a grin, "Thank you for making me aware of those alternatives," at which I burst out laughing. That's his gentle way of saying - "I know that, I can think for myself, you're being controlling."

Constructive criticism used to make me squirm and writhe, with shame and anger. I had no way of understanding that criticism didn't necessarily mean that the person was condemning me as a human being, perhaps they were offering me a different way to do something, another viewpoint about a topic, or a new way to frame a problem, which reduced it to a manageable size, and allowed me to have a completely changed outlook.

I took criticism as an insult and a betrayal. I couldn't hear it, I wasn't interested in receiving it, I'd go miles out of my way to lay the blame at the feet of anyone else, so I didn't have to be told that what I had said or done was not the best way to do it.

When anyone would offer me even the gentlest of criticisms, my first response was first a hot anger, then self-pity, and then a seething resentment. How dare they? Didn't they know that I was already struggling with an unmanageable home life? That I'd had a rotten childhood? That I was exempt from the normal feedback because I was unhappy and depressed?

When I consider what it must have been like for my first sponsor, I have to laugh. That woman offended me more times than seems humanly possible for anyone acting from the best of intentions. She'd offer me a constructive criticism miles more delicate than the one of Robert's mentioned at the beginning of this post, and I would swell up like a puffer fish and take serious offense. I will never forget the day that she said gently to me, "Well, you know, righteous indignation is delicious, but it's not the best way to go about things."

I thought she was talking about the drinking alcoholic. I said, "You mean him."

She looked at me with loving eyes, and replied softly, "I mean you."

I was shocked and mortally offended. I wasn't righteously indignant! I had a darn good reason for my feelings. I was a martyr! I had a right to be obnoxious, because I was only responding to what I received with like behavior. And with my first husband, that may very well have been true. But it wasn't helpful to him or me, it wasn't kind, it wasn't loving, and it got me exactly nowhere at all in working my program.

That was one of the first times in which I slowly came to believe that what my sponsor was offering me was a way to see more clearly, and a way to change. It took a while from her comment until my grasping dimly what she was on about, but it did slowly happen.

When I can accept my character defects without blame, shame or guilt, I am free to behave differently. I can accept that I am not perfect, and never will be. I can clarify Step Seven for myself:

"Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings."

I need help to change my behavior, I cannot do it on my own, because I have only my mind and my personality to do it - I need a power greater than myself to be able to stop, admit, accept, and then let go, and try a new way of responding.


  1. Thank you. Your last paragraph it me right in the heart. I havent looked at blogs in a long time. Your words are just what I needed to hear. Once again, a prayer was answered. It is wonderful to see you sharing. And what a beautiful, caring man you have to journey with. I appreciate your thoughts and effort in posting so very much. God bless.

  2. I certainly need help to remove my defects and the trouble is I keep taking them back! Maybe because I like some of them too much, they are old familiar friends and I need to see them for what they are, unhealthy coping systems that not good for me. This takes time for me and I have to work on my self awareness to what is good for and what is not .

  3. I think that as a controller I can spot even a tiny bit of control in another person. I smile at this now. I say if I spot it, then I've got it.