There are certain personality types that are sensitive to being judged, and I have one of them. It takes very little criticism for me to feel ashamed that I have done something wrong. Sometimes I interpret neutral comments as criticism. And in some cases, I’ve even interpreted positive feedback as criticism.
Once my first husband was talking about a picture of Alicia Keys and commented on how she had big hips. I replied with, Are you calling me fat? Which really annoyed him. I kind of thought it was funny but true. Even if I get what is intended to be a compliment about having an athletic build, I take this to mean that I look fat. This is why it’s better to refrain from comments about women’s bodies in general.
Although I have never had an eating disorder, I can relate to being obsessed about my body. I also have a similar personality to the types of people who develop anorexia. I am prone to anxiety and depression. I am perfectionistic. I am highly motivated to avoid harming others, even if it means hurting myself. And I am so sensitive to criticism that I never forget a mistake.
This is why I am drawn to Buddhism–especially the practices of mindfulness and compassion. I find comfort in the idea of letting go of what I “should” be thinking, feeling, and doing. That I can accept whatever is true of myself at this point in time, without judgment or criticism–even if it’s something that I hope to change.
I often point out to clients when they are using judgment words to describe their feelings. For example, if you say I feel pathetic, the word pathetic is not a feeling. There is no emoticon for pathetic. Sometimes it’s actually hard to come up with a feeling word. Usually when you can’t think of one, you’re probably feeling ashamed.
Even when we’re successful in describing our feelings, we often get judged for them. For example, if I say I feel depressed, someone might say You shouldn’t feel that way. You should be happy because you have so much going for you. This is meant to make me feel better about myself, and perhaps it works for some people, but it never works for me.
Sometimes I have tried to point out to the person that they are judging me, but people who judge others are often sensitive to being judged. So they usually get defensive and say they were just trying to be helpful–that I’m being too sensitive. So then I judge myself for being too sensitive.
But I am all about controlling what I can control. Today, I realized that I can’t control whether someone else chooses to practice nonjudgmental acceptance of my feelings. I can only control what I say to myself.
I can also choose not to share my feelings with people who judge me. I think I’m going to start doing that, too.