When Constructive Criticism Becomes DESTRUCTIVE Criticism

Ah, constructive criticism: That which those closest to us can expect to receive in exchange for loving us and making us feel safe enough to express any thought that pops into our head.  We dish it as though the recipient should feel honored by it – as though the very act of offering it should serve as a testament of the intimacy we share.

The word ‘criticism’ is always going to provoke a twinge of anxiety in the person who’s been told it’s-a-coming.  And we can try to wrap it up as pretty as possible by calling it feedback, honesty, our perspective, or our opinion, but the poor soul who sits waiting for it will always be bracing him or herself for the emotional slap of our words, however well-meaning it may be.

Some of the nastiest fights I’ve had have been in response to receiving unsolicited advice, myself as the recipient. The trouble starts with a question for which there is no good answer: “Can I offer you some feedback?” asks a friend, which invariable needles my stomach to lurch into my throat, making me want to scream, “Keep your fucking opinions to yourself! If I didn’t ask for it, I don’t want it.” But because that response might come across as defensive which could lead my well-intended friend to believe that I’m not open to self-critique, or that I’m overly invested in being right - the combination of which means I’m not really on the personal development path that I sell every hour of every day - I respond by saying, “Sure. What’s up?”

Criticism challenges our sense of worth. It implies that the person giving it is judging us. Humans naturally recoil from judgment because during the early years of our evolution, we were thrown out of the tribe (a death sentence) if we were judged negatively by our peers.  And, so, criticism feels like a threat to our very survival.

Bottom line: When it comes to your personal life, constructive criticism will always border on being destructive, so unless it’s directly requested, don’t offer it.