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Excerpt from "Breaking Free From Critical Addiction"

by Kalie Marino


What Is Critical Addiction?

Some people look at a glass and see it as half full,

while critics look at the same glass

and see it as almost empty.

Our society has become addicted to criticism and other forms of negativity, which is a social disease of epidemic proportion that goes unnoticed as a silent killer of both life and happiness. The news media focuses on disasters and bad news, because good news does not sell nearly as well as the bad. From true-life horrors to anticipated natural disasters (and everything in between), movies filled with violence and impending doom do quite well at the box office.

We live in an atmosphere of fear and doubt, one in which everything and everyone is scrutinized and judged. Even small children are under pressure to compete and perform as never before. Spouses find fault with each other, and the divorce rate climbs. Many carry grievances that perpetuate cycles of attack and vengeance, reviving old conflicts and creating new conflicts—even wars.

The emotional stresses of society are seen in the rise of addictions of all kinds. As anxiety and stress grow, illness and disease becomes more prevalent, because criticism and negativity wear on the body and weaken the immune system. Viruses mutate and multiply as their underlying emotional cause goes unnoticed and untreated. This hidden addiction is a social disease that is fueling the fire of spiraling emotional, physical, and social problems.

Political campaigns are fought and won with negative ads that criticize opponents or try to ruin their reputation. Politicians talk about what they stand against instead of what they stand for. Our national campaigns are focused on resisting evil. Even though we are fighting a war on poverty, a war on drugs, and a war on terrorism, we are not winning any of them. In fact, the things we are fighting against are growing. Something is wrong.

What happened to resist not evil[1], the advice we were offered in the Christian Bible? Instead of constantly fighting against what we don’t want, what has happened to fighting for that which we value … like our forefathers did when they declared our independence from Great Britain and identified our human rights?

It is time to shine the light on our society’s critical approach to life and reevaluate if the approach is in fact working to bring us desirable results. There is overwhelming evidence that criticism is a destructive force. Is this is how we want to live our lives? Is there another way to live? Are we willing to change?

In the next chapter, I show why habitual criticism alone qualifies as a dangerous addiction. In the third chapter, I give examples of how this pervasive negative attitude has become a part of our everyday life, and I list symptoms of critical addiction. Part two of this book focuses on solutions and treatment plans. Part three offers Four Steps to Freedom, while part four explores the energy of consciousness—a new paradigm for understanding behavior that enables us to make major changes or shifts in consciousness more quickly and more easily.

Tragically, most people are unaware of the impact of criticism and negativity on society and themselves. If they are aware, they simply go along with it because everybody’s doing it, and they feel helpless to change it. By publicly acknowledging the personal and social problems caused by this judgmental pattern, and by working together for a positive future, we can take steps to make changes that will be rewarding for everyone.

Criticism, while only one aspect of negativity and pessimism, is symbolic of the problem as a whole. It is a mental and emotional process—one of faultfinding in seeking out what is wrong or lacking in each situation, instead of simply noticing what is present and its effects, and then proceeding to choose what we want to come of it.

Criticism can be done with harsh words, name-calling, sarcasm, a put-down, a frown, a sigh of disgust, or a disdainful glance. Worrying about a person making mistakes instead of having faith in them is a covert way of criticizing. Many people realize they worry a lot, but they may not recognize that they are using this anxiety to criticize through various ways. Instead, they may feel virtuous about worrying. Notice here that criticism is a little like dreaming; everybody does it, but not everyone is aware of doing it. Some people criticize out of habit, while others just seem to enjoy doing it. Pessimists are critical and often act superior because they notice possible problems, but research shows that optimists live longer.

Most doctors recognize negative thinking as a contributor to disease, and some doctors go so far as to say that negative thinking is the number one cause of all disease. As a therapist, I have seen clients go into remission once they resolve related emotional issues. If there truly is a relationship between emotional health and disease, our society’s critical approach to life has created a social disease that rests at the heart of many maladies plaguing our world.

Educators point out the importance of rewarding positive behavior and showing children the natural consequences of negative behavior. The same thing is true in the workplace. A negative or critical atmosphere lowers productivity and increases costs. Criticism is destructive to self-esteem, toxic to self-confidence, and hinders team building. It simply does not work at any level of our society.

Identifying and changing this addiction is crucial to our survival and wellbeing. While a negative perspective on life is only an attitude, it is itself a critical addiction. Attitude and perspective make the difference between whether we are happy or sad, productive or unproductive, healthy or ailing, and at peace or in conflict in all areas of life. Understanding critical addiction is absolutely necessary to successfully treat and all addictions and most of our social problems.

Criticism is mistakenly seen as normal, expected, and even desired as necessary. Most people today are unaware of the negative impact their own criticism has on others and on themselves. Doctors once endorsed cigarettes as good for you until their destructive and addictive qualities were proven. Behavior that is clearly co-dependent, or symptomatic of love addiction, was once romanticized and glorified in the movies as the way life ‘should be’, until its destructiveness was identified. The process of habitual criticism, worry, and negativity must also be understood and named for what it is—a destructive addiction and social disease. Once identified and named, recovery is possible.

I wrote this book for the purpose of identifying and naming this insidious addiction and social disease. I wrestled with names, deciding that “critical addiction” best described it. My insightful editor suggested I would do the work of future researchers justice by outlining a specific definition. The best I can do at this time on such a broad term with so many implications is as follows:

Critical addiction is a broad term for problems with habitual negative and critical thinking to the detriment of the addict’s self-esteem, relationships, and/or health, causing either low or aggrandized self-esteem, anxiety, anger, depression, paranoia, self-absorption, defeatism, pessimism, and/or feelings of overwhelm, often leading to other forms of addiction of which critical addiction is the primary addiction. Addicts have a compelling attraction to negativity that expresses itself through faultfinding of self and others, anger, guilt, and fear. Critical addiction is spread through social contacts, making it a social disease of immense proportions.

Criticism Destroys Relationships

Your best friend is the one who appreciates you the most. We defend ourselves from critics. So when people carry the habit of criticism into their ‘love life’, they do not have a love life anymore. They find themselves living with the enemy or divorcing them. As society becomes more critical, the divorce rate rises.

Criticism is experienced as an attack, because it is not based on respect for who we are at our core. When we are criticized, we feel attacked and defend ourselves in one of several ways. We may attack back by finding fault with our attacker, we may comply in an attempt to ward off more criticism, we may be passive aggressive and ignore what they say, or we may actually do even more of the thing that bothers them just to get back at them or try to prove that we are not in the wrong. Even if we use these tactics unconsciously, defenses of any kind only escalate problems in the relationship.

This does not mean that you lack the right to complain and tell someone when you don’t like his or her behavior. However, understanding must precede the complaint or advice and respect for the person. If you want another person to really listen to what you have to say and respect your opinion, you must first show that you respect them through using words of understanding, empathy, and validation. This establishes you as someone safe who does not want to hurt him or her.

A suggestion is just that and not a demand, so harping on a point is just trying to prove you are right, which is conflictual and negative. Have faith in the other person to do what is best for them in that moment. They don’t have to take your advice. If they don’t take your advice, and they fall on their face, be there for them in a supportive way so they can learn and grow from the experience. “I told you so,” is a criticism and is not supportive.

If a person who appreciates you for the person you are makes a suggestion for improvement, you are more likely to listen to that person than someone you think is just criticizing you, pointing out your negatives, or worrying about you unnecessarily because they lack faith in you. When a person is supportive of you, their comments are seen as suggestions and not criticisms.

How do you like people who criticize you? Not much, I’d venture. We don’t usually feel good about ourselves when we are around people who are critical of us. We enjoy being around people who accept and appreciate us just the way we are. No one likes a critic! While we can overcome our reaction to them, they may still be at the bottom of our popularity list.

I remember comforting a young teenage girl who was jealous because a new girl was getting all the attention of her friends. When I asked her to describe the new girl, the first characteristic she could think of was how accepting and nonjudgmental the new girl was of everyone. I asked, “Do you like that?” When she replied that she did like it, I asked her if she thought she was that way herself. With a shocked look on her face, she reflected on her own judgmental nature and admitted that, like her friends, she would prefer being around the nonjudgmental girl too. She was a fast learner and began altering her critical attitude, which changed her popularity with her peers.

Origins of Critical Addiction

We are not born critical. Criticism is a learned behavior that does not serve us, yet it is widespread, destructive, and goes unrecognized and undiagnosed as a highly communicable social disease. There are two primary ways we learn criticism: we learn it through our culture, and we learn it through traumatic experiences, which teach us fear and distrust.

There are millions of sufferers who believe that a critical state of mind is a necessary part of being responsible, simply because they were taught to criticize at an early age. This belief has been passed down through generations.

Many people are taught there is something innately wrong with them and that being self-critical will help them improve and become better people. They fear making mistakes, which makes them critical of everything, looking for possible problems as a way to prevent them. Some believe they have to be better than others just to be worthy, so they are constantly comparing and/or competing to prove themselves. Social values support these and other false assumptions, spreading this communicable disease, while criticism erodes the self-esteem of everyone it targets.

Critics are usually people who express the desire to “be good” and “do the right thing.” However, no matter how hard they try or what they do, they never feel good enough and never think they have done enough. They must live up to some imaginary standard that seems to constantly change and exist just outside their reach. Sometimes they take solace in the faults and inadequacies of others so that they can feel better about themselves.

Some addicts are self-critical, while others are so afraid of being weak or inadequate that they deny their own mistakes or perceived shortcomings and focus all of their criticism on others. But under this veil of secrecy and denial (and even the appearance of superiority), these critics share the same feelings of inadequacy as the ones who are self-critical.

Habitual criticism paired with negative thinking has gone unrecognized as an addiction in itself, because it is not based on any external dependency and cannot be evaluated on appearances. Critical addiction is an addiction to a thinking process that distorts awareness, destroys self-confidence, and interferes with the ability to enjoy life. Addicts have difficulty enjoying life, because they must be constantly on guard against making mistakes or being the victims of the mistakes of others. Understanding criticism addiction is necessary for the healing of all addictions and social problems. We cannot have peace or real freedom until we see life from a life-affirming perspective.

When we look back with nostalgia on the good old days, we usually remember a time when people appreciated what they had and what they could do. Life was simple. Today, thanks to television and the Internet, we know more about the world and different lifestyles. This is wonderful if you find appreciation for our collective differences, but it is painful if you compare yourself to others. Critics make comparisons, focusing on what they don’t have and can’t do, instead of noticing what is possible and seeing life from a perspective of abundance.

We are happy when we appreciate what we have and feel grateful for what we can do. This is an attitude of gratitude that is available to everyone while we enjoy the process of creating a better life. We need only to change our perspective—but to change it, we first need to identify the problem and value seeing things differently.

We also learn to be critical as the result of traumatic experiences that leave us with a negative outlook on life. Our society has increasing numbers of people involved in combat, crime, violence, and child abuse who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other forms of trauma. They need professional help to heal. However, trauma distorts perception and causes problems in every area of life, including employment. It is often the people who need help the most that do not have the health care resources to obtain it, resulting in more crime, violence, and drug dependency, perpetuating the problem. Therefore, health care reform is a matter of national security and far less expensive than building more prisons.

Negativity and Illness

I want to add a special note here about illness. It is important to acknowledge that it is more difficult for a sick person to be in a positive state of mind than a healthy person. Because of the direct relationship between body and mind, toxins and disease take a toll on the mind. Some diseases and energy imbalances are especially toxic to the mind, causing people to feel anxious and depressed. Dehydration can also cause depression. So, it is important to drink plenty of water, eat healthy foods, and exercise as part of healing the mind of negativity.

That being said, even though it may very well be more difficult for a sick person to be positive than a healthy one, it is absolutely essential for sick people to take charge of their minds and turn their thinking around if they want to make a full recovery. The shift will help them get well faster and open the door to the possibility of full recovery, instead of just masking symptoms or experiencing temporary relief. We get sick from the outside in, but we get well from the inside out. Our thinking has a huge impact on the body, and focusing on the positive is what plants seeds for miracles. Anyone can do the Four Steps to Freedom found in part three of this book, even if they are ill.


Addictive and Dangerous

Criticism is a guilty pleasure that, once indulged, attracts the user again and again like an addict to a drug. Whenever the critic feels down or has problems, he or she uses criticism like a drug to feel better. It gives the user a false sense of superiority or power over others, even though that power is purely destructive to others and themselves. Not only are they attracted to being critical of others to feel better, but because critical energy is negative, they attract criticism to themselves as well. This perpetuates a vicious, self-destructive cycle as they become the target of criticism from others, lowering their self-esteem and causing them to become even more critical.

Although criticism is not a substance, it is as addictive as any drug, and I propose that it poses a threat that is actually more insidious. Habitual criticism has all the characteristics of a drug:

· Criticism is habit forming.

· Criticism is mood altering.

· Criticism can be life threatening.

· Criticism distorts awareness.

· Criticism leads to destructive behavior.

· Criticism adversely affects mental and physical health.

It is truly a social disease that affects whole families, organizations, and societies. Like drug addiction, criticism affects everyone; it affects the person criticizing, the person being criticized, and the people around them. However, there are many aspects of criticism and negativity that present a more insidious danger than drugs, for the reasons that follow.

No Product Involved

Criticism’s threat can be considered more insidious than drugs because there is no product involved, making it completely accessible to literally everyone at all times. It is available to the rich and poor alike. Anyone can use it, including young children. In fact, it is an equal opportunity addiction available to every person, regardless of income, age, sex, nationality, education, sexual preference, or political party.

Masked by Social Popularity

Criticism is incredibly dangerous because, like alcohol, the danger of criticism is masked by social popularity. Not only is it socially acceptable to be critical, but people are also expected to participate in criticism at most social functions. Gossiping, faultfinding, worrying, and complaining are national pastimes.

People are offered a sense of belonging when they ban together to blame someone or some group for their problems. For example, complaining about the opposite sex can give individuals a sense of comradeship with others of the same sex. As another example, children of divorced parents often feel insecure, criticizing one parent to feel more connected to the parent they are with at the given time.

People habitually complain about their work, family, and government. Sales of newspapers and gossip magazines increase sharply when there is a scandal to report. Virtually anyone who is first to report a scandal or deliver bad news receives special attention.

We also value our critics. Professional critics are paid well for their critiques of politics, movies, books, restaurants, theater, art, etc. There is snob appeal in being a critic who looks down on and degrades what he or she believes to be inferior products, ideals, and people. Sadly enough, our society rewards critics with high salaries, special privileges, respect, and popularity. While there are those in this profession who fairly and respectfully evaluate strengths and weaknesses, they are often the exception instead of the rule.

Unfortunately, those who are more critical appear to get higher ratings and be more popular than their less critical counterparts, possibly because this social disease has become so prevalent. The Judge Judy show is a good example. People who feel bad about themselves may get vicarious pleasure out of watching someone like Judge Judy bash people that the viewers perceive to be even more reprehensible than they see themselves to be. There is a reason that this scathingly critical woman is often reported to have the most popular show on television.

Shows in which people are degraded become tantamount to hangouts for critical addicts, because they are attracted to guilt and negativity. Such shows offer them the opportunity to vicariously inflict guilt on others and get a temporary high or sense of superiority out of putting others down. But, at the same time, seeing others hurt triggers their own unhealed memories of being hurt, which feels bad and feeds the addiction, ultimately leaving them filled with even more guilt and negativity. This attracts criticism from others, starting the cycle all over again.

Society Values Criticism

Critical addiction also poses a deceitful threat not carried with drug addiction, because society actually values criticism, judgment, shame, worry, and guilt as productive and necessary. Condemnation of “wrongdoing” is considered to be the right thing to do.

There is an underlying false assumption that if people feel guilty enough, or if they believe that what they are doing is wrong or bad, they will stop doing the unwanted behavior. In other words, most people falsely believe that guilt and shame motivate positive behaviors. Until this insane assumption is challenged and changed, there is no hope for addicts, because the belief justifies frequent faultfinding as the right thing to do.

Do you ever do things you know you will later regret, like eat junk food, drink too much, stay out too late, or tell someone off? Of course you do. We have all done things that we believe are wrong or bad for us. We knew we would feel guilty if we did them, but we did them anyway. Our fear of feeling guilty did not stop us. Knowing that drugs, cigarettes, and alcohol are unhealthy—and may even result in death—does not stop some people from using them.

Neither shame nor guilt motivates people to take positive action. In fact, people who feel shame or guilt are more likely to have destructive behavior than those who feel good about themselves. Shame and guilt only magnify a person’s low self-esteem and problems. Drug treatment programs only work long-term when they help people to like themselves.

Mistaken for Problem Solving

Criticism poses a threat because it is mistaken for the productive process of problem solving. A problem exists when there is interference with desired results in a given situation. Therefore, problem solving is a supportive process for considering ways and means to get the results we want or to reach a goal. Problem solving evaluates available resources and skills and how they can be used more productively. It identifies, but does not dwell on, what is lacking in the situation or what can’t be done. The problem solving process focuses on solutions; it concentrates on what can be used and what can be done. Unlike critics, problem solvers make suggestions that help people get the results they want without degrading them for the present condition.

While it takes skill to solve problems, anyone can be a critic. Critics seek problems, not solutions. Critics point out limitations and flaws, often without even attempting to pinpoint the recipient’s strengths or ways to use those assets to improve performance. Criticism can easily be done by anyone, even those who have no intention of doing anything to improve the situation.

Communicable Social Disease

Criticism is a particularly insidious addiction, as it is a highly contagious and communicable social disease that is also self-replicating. Targets of criticism eventually catch the disease as their self-esteem erodes. People with low self-esteem blame themselves and others, passing on the disease to even more recipients. Thus, the critical addiction of one person spreads to many.

Critical thinking is passed down from one generation to another as the children of addicts are exposed to this critical influence starting at birth. It is sad to see small children already hate themselves and others because they believe the negative things their parents tell them. Adults and mentors may model critical beliefs, attitudes, and ways of thinking. If the people we were brought up to respect are critical, we assume it is desirable to be like them without even realizing how negative they are. Some people have never even known a positive role model.

Used for Social Control

Criticism is dangerous because it produces shame, guilt, and fear, which are used for social control by people and institutions that cannot dominate physically or otherwise. Almost every day, I talk to adults who still suffer from memories of being degraded and humiliated by a schoolteacher. This is sad but true. And it happens far too often.

Historically, might made right, and those with the strongest army conquered and ruled the land. Because of their superior physical strength, some men had all the power, conquering and ruling weaker people by force. Women and weaker men were often helpless to protect themselves from physical abuse, which was allowed in most societies. The vows of church clerics prevented them from being physically dominant and taking up arms against oppressors; their job was to serve others and bring peace, not war. Some women and clerics gained power by being the guardians of moral standards. They were often able to use shame, guilt, and the fear of God to control those over which they had no physical dominance.

Traditionally, mothers and religions have been in charge of our children and their moral education. That tradition continues today. Many people believe they must meet the standards of their religion and parents, and they feel shame when they don’t meet these standards. They believe they are not as good as they should be and that they will be punished in some way for their shortcomings. Therefore, it is possible for those who set moral standards to use shame, guilt, and fear for social control.

Evidence of this moral abuse is seen in the common negative stereotype of mothers ‘laying guilt trips’ on their children. These guilt-tripping mothers are depicted as having a delusional sense of entitlement, which they use when they manipulate and coerce their children with statements like, “How could you do this to me after all I have done for you?”

Condemnation, a particular form of criticism that shames the other, can even be used to control those who are bigger than us or have authority over us. Therefore, small children learn to use condemnation in their defense, and may continue to use it as adults whenever they feel controlled and helpless, resulting in name calling as a habitual way of protecting themselves.

Children’s fairytales are filled with stories of people who are characterized as being either all good or all bad. Many, if not most of these stories, are highly polarized. Good people were always right and did the right thing, while bad people were always wrong and did the wrong thing. This gave us unrealistic standards and expectations of others and ourselves.

Some children conclude that they cannot compete and will never be good enough, because the standards are too high and the path is too difficult and painful. They believe they cannot afford to sacrifice what little they have, so they give up on being ‘good’ and identify with the ‘bad’ children in the stories. They are unhappy and grow up with negative self-images, seeing themselves as villains, victims, or both.

I have noticed a welcome trend in some television and movie storylines today. These plots reveal the good qualities that lie within the villain, as well as negative characteristics that plague the hero. Today’s Superman makes mistakes and has a dark side with which he wrestles, while Lex Luthor, the villain, has a heart that was hurt. He frequently tries to do something kind, only to be thwarted in his attempt. This humanizing of people is a progressive change. I don’t believe that anyone is all good or all bad. We are just human beings with human frailties that challenge us.

Basis for All Addictions

Criticism is more dangerous than drugs, because critical thinking is the basis for all other addictions, including drugs. Alcohol does not cause alcoholism any more than drugs cause drug addiction. People who feel good typically do not want to consistently alter their awareness. Drugs interfere with their natural high on life.

With the exception of newborns of drug addicted mothers, drugs and alcohol do not cause addiction; they merely keep it going once it has started. These and other addictions are secondary addictions, which are precipitated by a primary addiction. Critical thinking is the underlying primary addiction.

When the pain of criticism (self-inflicted or otherwise), guilt, worry, fear, and shame become too great, most people try to alter their mental state with drugs, sleep, food, shopping, physical activity, or redirected mental and emotional activity. The form of pain relief that they use most becomes an addiction and is their best coping strategy. It is the only way they know to temporarily block negativity from reemerging in their consciousness. The problem is … it doesn’t work to stop the mind from being critical. It just causes more issues in their life, perpetuating the cycle.


Symptoms

Criticism, like germs, spreads dis-ease.

When infected, cover your mouth and

find something to appreciate.

As a recovery addict of critical addiction, I know that each person suffering from critical addiction has an Inner Critic analyzing and judging their every move, comparing them to others, worrying about the future, making life uncomfortable, and lowering their self-worth. Everyone wants to feel good, but we can’t feel good when we are critical of others and ourselves. So we find ways to silence the Inner Critic, even if only temporarily.

How we silence the Inner Critic manifests in a variety of coping strategies and secondary addictions, which are all symptoms of this social disease. These are ten of the most common ways that we silence the Critic. This is not a complete list. I am sure you can think of others.

Perfectionism

People who are addicted to self-criticism often go under the guise of being a perfectionist, which is a virtuous sounding title for an advanced form of this disease. Perfectionists can make it sound like they are part of a superior race of beings that have higher standards than others. They claim they do not expect this excellence from others, while those around them feel pressured to excel, compete, or avoid mistakes.

Some people assume perfectionists think they are better than others, but that is not really true. Perfectionists actually have feelings of lack or insufficiency that they try to hide from themselves and others. They don’t believe they are good enough, do enough, or have enough. They must constantly strive to prove themselves, whether it is with the perfect body, the cleanest house, the highest sales, etc. Perfectionists are driven by criticism addiction and therefore have great difficulty in just letting go, being spontaneous, and having fun. This is because they are suffering from the tyranny of their Inner Critic.

Self-Righteousness, Prejudice, and Bigotry

Self-righteousness, prejudice, and bigotry are all forms of judgment that produce an artificial high by condemning others. This is a highly addictive form of criticism, because it appears to elevate the critics, making them superior to others. It lulls users into a false sense of security in which they erroneously believe that they belong to an elite group that is uniquely qualified to make righteous judgments on others. However, the high they get from judging does not last long, forcing the users to constantly find more people to criticize in order to maintain this good feeling.

Condemnation and looking down on others helps these critics feel better about themselves at the expense of others. It is their fix, because they set the standards for judgment and can exclude anything they do not want to see about themselves. This form of critical addiction has special appeal to some religious people as a way of avoiding self-examination and feeling the effects of their own judgment. I find it very sad that many Christians judge people harshly even though Jesus repeatedly told them not to judge.

Sarcasm

Sarcasm is a covert and seemingly polite way to hide critical and often hostile comments, such as saying, “don’t work too hard” to a person you think is lazy. While those who use sarcasm to hide their hostile feelings may consider this humorous, sarcasm is offensive because it is a veiled attack. Sarcasm also requires a certain level of sophisticated understanding, which may be lacking in people who are very innocent or who have certain forms of brain damage, dementia, and autism. They hear sarcasm as a statement of truth.

When a person is offended by the sarcasm, the critic often blames the victim by making statements like, “I was just kidding,” and “You are just too sensitive,” or “Can’t you take a joke?”

Many highly paid comedians have become famous for their sarcasm in ridiculing people for their looks, ethnicity, shortcomings, and handicaps. The audience participates in this form of cruelty when they laugh at the jokes and the person being humiliated, revealing their own judgmental nature and insecurities.

This type of humor is very different than when a comedian helps us notice characteristics we have in common by laughing with us at some of the things we as humans do. George Carlin’s famous monologue on “stuff,” and how we even buy stuff to put our stuff in, is a great example. It does not attack the character of any person or group, but it instead focuses on common behaviors that are humorous and sometimes even endearing. This kind of humor can be both revealing and healing.

Worrying

Worriers have a critical view of the future with little faith in others. Our society has taught many of us that responsible people worry. Worry is a negative habit that causes some people to feel fearful and anxious, while also feeling important—because they believe they are being responsible for others by worrying about them. They keep their Inner Critic focused on others and finding fault with them. This is quite nonsensical when you think about it. Being fearful does not prevent problems. Worry never paid a bill. Taking action to do something that will change a circumstance is helpful, but simply worrying just produces negative feelings.

Worriers sometimes create a lot of drama, which brings attention to themselves. Seeing impending doom rallies other people to support them. Habitual worriers are often called “worry warts.” They spend their time worrying, often thinking that their worrying is genuinely productive. While worrying does not reap a benefit, it can actually cause a host of physical problems like high blood pressure and stomach issues. On top of that, worriers upset others and typically engage in additional addictions to sooth their fears. Alcohol is a common drug of choice for worriers because it depresses anxiety.

Denial and Secrecy

When people don’t own their actions or mistakes, and when they cannot accept responsibility for themselves, they often use denial and secrecy as a self-defense. Denial and secrecy are used in the traditional, macho ideal of manhood. According to this ideal, a man must always be strong, courageous, aggressive, unemotional, and right. Any weakness must be denied. According to this doctrine, a real man is not allowed to have feelings, make mistakes, or be wrong. Emotions, errors, and weakness are hidden with denial and secrecy. Since people do not notice things for which they have no label or frame of reference, many men have not developed an internal dialogue that languages their emotions.

There was a time in history when a man’s survival depended on looking outside for the cause of pain so that he could defend against physical attacks. Thankfully, this is rarely true in most civilized societies. More and more, men are allowed to be human, make mistakes, have feelings, and still be considered good, strong men. After all, it takes a strong person to own up to his or her mistakes.

Some women also use denial and secrecy. They are unaware of having self-doubts or feelings of inadequacy and shame, even though they feel the effects of these emotions. They only know that they feel bad, and so they look outside of themselves to find the cause of their pain, blaming others. This habit of projecting blame leads to anger in both men and women.

Unfortunately, denial and secrecy became a traditional way to handle many family problems. When this exists, no one shares their feelings or talks about their feelings or the metaphorical elephant in the living room (like an alcoholic or abusive parent), which is the real problem. Instead, they pretend as though the problem does not exist, despite the fact that it is obvious. This infects everyone involved in the situation as they participate in the deception.

We can deny our problems and shortcomings and do everything possible to hide our mistakes from others. Denial moves perceived faults out of sight, giving us the appearance of peace, even if it is superficial and temporary. However, the problem with this solution is that we really do know what happened and what is going on. We cannot ‘not know’ what we know, and this knowledge will eat at us deep inside and manifest in undesirable expressions, such as ill health and anger projected onto others.

Anger

Anger is another way to attempt an escape from the Inner Critic. Just project the guilt on others as the cause of our problems. We would be okay if other people would just do what they should do and quit messing us up. Does this sound familiar?

We can wear anger as a punitive mask to make us feel strong when we feel weak, vulnerable, or guilty. Anger hides our vulnerable feelings of hurt, insecurity, shame, helplessness, or inadequacy caused by self-criticism and self-doubt. If you want to know the real source of your anger, ask yourself what you are afraid of or what hurts. Someone else may have hurt you, but the self-doubt that it caused is now the actual source of ongoing anger. It is now self-inflicted by the Inner Critic feeding on your insecurity.

When we can’t deal with our vulnerable feelings, we try to blame thers for our weakened condition. Attack thoughts fuel our fire as we lash out at whomever we perceive to be the blame, seeking to punish the offender. We may actually be angry with ourselves. If we have denied our own part in a perceived problem, we may project blame on others to protect ourselves from the wrath of our own inner judgment, which keeps us from feeling guilty.

People frequently get a euphoric rush and adrenaline high from their own anger, even though the chemicals produced by the anger are actually destructive to their nervous system and health. Anger has a negative effect on the body for up to six hours after we are no longer angry. Anger is not only abusive to others but to ourselves as well. You can read more about the destructive effect of anger and other negative emotions at www.heartmath.org.

Habitual anger is a particularly dangerous symptom of an advanced stage of critical addiction that has consequences as serious as death itself. I believe that domestic violence and road rage are the result of critical addiction. Anger is used to discipline children and others by making them afraid to make us angry. If habitual anger was publicly recognized as an advanced form of critical addiction, addicts would receive treatment earlier, and the number of injuries and deaths due to domestic violence and road rage would decrease significantly.

Disease

More and more, health practitioners are recognizing the impact that stressors such as anxiety and criticism have on disease. I have met doctors who believe negative thinking is the number one cause of disease. When we stuff or deny our negative emotions, the stressful energy has to go somewhere, so it is held in our bodies. This causes illness and all of the feelings of helplessness and insecurity that go along with poor health. It is well documented that there is an emotional component to all illnesses.

Negativity impacts the body and immune system. It is either expressed emotionally and processed consciously, or it is expressed unconsciously and processed as ill health. Guilt and shame literally eat away at the body’s defenses.

Depression

We become depressed when we believe it is not okay to feel what we feel. We depress our anger and vulnerable feelings, believing that it is not okay for us to be angry or hurt. Depression is a mask woven out of apathetic feelings of not caring what happens and a disinterest in life. We tell ourselves that a situation in our life “should be” okay with us and we really “shouldn’t be” complaining about it. We may either think there is nothing we can do about the situation or that we would lose something important to our security by complaining or doing something about it.

Not caring feels safer than caring without being able to do anything about it. Depression or loss of emotion can become so strong that we are no longer motivated to struggle for survival. Life itself may seem like too much trouble, which can lead to suicidal thoughts and actions.

Substance Abuse

Critical addiction is a primary addiction that starts as simple self-criticism and frequently escalates into a variety of advanced forms of this social disease. As we mentioned earlier in this book, when the pain of criticism becomes too great, people often seek to alter their awareness through external stimulation or depressing substances, such as drugs and alcohol. Frequently, people go through a recovery program to stop one addiction, only to find that they have replaced one addiction with another addiction … or they discover they already have other addictions such as co-dependency, love addiction, sex addiction, work addiction, food addiction, etc. The list goes on and on, because the primary addiction—critical addiction—is not being addressed or treated. Critical addition is the underlying cause of all addictions.

Prescription Drugs

We use prescription drugs to control anxiety and depressing thoughts brought on by the Inner Critic. These thoughts can be disabling. Fear and dread are created in our minds by our vivid imagination. We image what might happen in the future, and we imagine that what happened in the past as still happening.

The brain does not know the difference between a physical event and images in our mind, so the body reacts to our mental images as if the events are real. For example, if we expect something dangerous to happen, our body reacts accordingly by producing adrenaline, and we panic even though we may be safely tucked in bed. We use pills to control our emotions, pills to sleep, pills to calm us, pills to give us energy, pills help us focus, etc. The Inner Critic keeps the pharmaceutical industry in business.

Resistance Does Not Work

Attempting to silence the Inner Critic does not work, because if we use any of the preceding coping strategies, we believe the Inner Critic is telling the truth—a truth so foul that we must hide it. By hiding our negative beliefs about ourselves, we actually affirm to our subconscious mind that these judgments must be true. The problem is, when we hide them, we don’t question their validity. What if these judgments are wrong? What if we are suffering needlessly? What if we are wrong about these beliefs that hurt us?

When we deflect, disguise, or redirect our attention, we actually cause more problems. For example, when we use criticism or worry to solve our problems, we think it can get us something of value, when in reality we get nothing from it but unhappiness. Recognizing the self-destructiveness of criticism can be a turning point in life.

What We Resist Persists

I was in my early twenties when I first noticed my own critical nature handed down to me through generations of well-meaning puritan souls. My discontent with my husband led me to the uncomfortable recognition of my own critical mind. I noticed that the things I was criticizing my husband for were the same kind of things I disliked in myself. I was projecting my own self-judgment onto him, because it was easier for me to recognize these faults in him than in myself. Every judgment I made of him was actually a judgment on myself.

That revelation filled me with revulsion. I realized that I was just like my parents, and I hated how critical they were. This was not the kind of person I wanted to be. Being critical did not feel good, no matter which person I was judging. Regardless of the target, I was the one who had to live with the negativity.

I decided to take the direct approach and silence my Inner Critic. I would simply stop being critical. I would go cold turkey and kick this nasty habit. I wanted to be free of it once and for all.

I firmly resolved not to be critical any longer, but the harder I tried not to criticize, the more critical I became. Now, not only was I still critical but I was also critical of myself for being critical. It became a nightmare as the intensity of my criticisms increased. The end result? I was still critical and judging myself to be a failure as well, because I wasn’t accomplishing my goal! It reminded me of the time I tried to stop smoking and all I could think about was how much I wanted a cigarette. I had failed at that too. My negative emotions were spinning out of control.

Without realizing it, I was giving power to criticism by focusing on it as an object of scorn and rejection. There is an old saying … “Whatever you resist persists.” I was finding out how true that really is, but I did not know what else to do. I felt like I was drowning in a sea of critical thoughts that bombarded my mind. There was a petty tyrant, and it lived inside of me.

One day, a wise friend said to me, “Kalie, if you don’t want to be critical, what do you want to be?” I knew what I did not want, but I had never thought about what I wanted to replace it with.

The idea of being the change I wanted to see was foreign to me. What did I want to be? After thinking about it for only a moment, I happily replied, “I want to be a loving, accepting person.”

My friend told me that is it is impossible to admire a quality in someone else that we don’t already possess within ourselves, even if we aren’t expressing it or have it fully developed. Qualities we value the most are actually qualities that accurately express our true nature. We have a basic need to be ourselves and quite often only recognize our own valuable qualities in others.

Then he said, “As of this day, recognize yourself as a loving, accepting person, because those are the qualities that express who you really are. Now, go live your life as a loving, accepting person, and focus on doing what loving, accepting people do.”

Wow! The truth was so simple. That perspective made all the difference in the world. All I had to do was focus on how I wanted to be and claim it as the truth of who and what I am. In each situation, I could ask myself how to handle it with love and acceptance.

As I focused on being more accepting of others and life situations, my life began to change for the better. Do I ever have critical thoughts now? Of course I do, but not often, because my identity changed. Criticism is now out of character for me, as it does not express my real nature and the person I have come to realize I truly am.

Before, I saw myself as a critical person who was trying hard not to criticize—a seemingly impossible task. Now I am aware that I am a loving, accepting person who criticizes only occasionally. That is a big difference.

Anything given energy grows, and anything denied energy dies a natural death. This is a law of physics. We give energy to something when we focus our attention on it. The mental images on which we consistently center tend to manifest in our lives. Even though we may not recognize how it is happening or how we are doing it, the answer is simple. We create what we think about most of the time.

The Alchemy of Resistance

The following is one of my favorite stories to explain how resistance affects us. While the story is pure fantasy, the interactive demonstration is real. If you participate with the secret ingredient, you will get more benefits than just reading about it.

Long ago and far away, it was rumored that mighty sorcerers could turn lead into gold through an ancient science called alchemy. This practice was a very controversial and a well-guarded secret, and it remains a secret of powerful people today. If you listen closely, I will reveal this ancient secret to you right now.

First, get a large iron kettle. Into the kettle, pour two quarts of tomato juice and a can of assorted nuts and bolts. Then drop in one small piece of iron, the eye of a gnat, and the wing of a bat. That part is very simple. Almost anyone can do it. However, the next part is the secret ingredient. It will work every single time, producing massive amounts of gold—wealth beyond your wildest imagination—but I warn you that it is nearly impossible to do.

Take a large wooden spoon and stir the contents of this kettle one hundred times without thinking of the word hippopotamus. To practice this prior to searching for gnat eyes and bat wings, simply do not think hippopotamus for the next 10 seconds, and see what happens …

Was it easy? No? Of course, it wasn’t. It was impossible. The harder you try not to think hippopotamus, the more it comes into your mind.

Now, think of the word giraffe for the next 10 seconds …

Was that easy? Of course it was! It was very easy. We are always free to think whatever we want to think. Even though our minds may sometimes wander, we can always choose again and bring our attention back to whatever we select. We have a choice.

‘Hippopotamus’ is the object of the sentence, “Don’t think hippopotamus.” It is also the object of the sentence, “Think hippopotamus.” Since the object of a sentence is also the object of our attention and energy, it does not matter whether we choose to think hippopotamus or if we try to not think hippopotamus. Hippopotamus remains the focus of our attention. Remember, a basic law of physics states that whatever we give energy to will grow. So, in this example, our awareness of hippopotamus grows whether we want to think hippopotamus or not.

The same phenomenon happens when we try to stop an old habit or behavior. We focus our attention on what we do not want to experience, which creates the very thing we fear most. Whatever we resist, deny, or suppress persists, because we are giving it energy through the focus of our attention and the power of resistance. Resistance is a powerful and deceptive creator.

But the beautiful thing is that we are always free to choose again. We can choose to redirect our energy and put it into whatever we want, like we did when we decided to think giraffe. Thinking giraffe is easy. Even though the thought of hippopotamus may have popped into our minds from time to time, when there is no strain to resist it, it quickly begins to fade away. We don’t resist it, we simply choose to think giraffe instead.

It is important to understand that we aren’t making the act of thinking hippopotamus wrong. In fact, we don’t place importance on it one way or another. When we don’t give it energy, the thought of hippopotamus eventually just fades away, because anything denied energy dies a natural death.

The first step in getting rid of any trait is to choose a replacement for it. This allows us to focus on something specific that we want instead of what we do not want. We can make this choice more powerful by setting our goal in terms of becoming the kind of person we want to be instead of just focusing on changing our behavior, because your identity is the foundation on which all aspects of yourself are built.

In truth, we are already the kind of person we want to be, or we wouldn’t value the quality, but because we don’t identify with it, we don’t express it. Our thinking and behavior change spontaneously when we change our identity. For example, let’s take the statement, “I don’t want to be critical.” A simple replacement would be, “I want to be more accepting,” and the identity reframe would be: “I am an accepting person.”

Habits are behaviors and can take time, patience, and practice to change, but people can choose to change their identity or the kind of person they want to be at any time. Identification—who and what we think we are—is the foundation of our behavior. If we choose to be caring people, our thinking and behavior will change spontaneously. When we think the way caring people think, we easily do the things that caring people do.

Do you want to be a critical person or an accepting person? What feels better to you? What feels more natural? Which quality do you value?

I had to affirm my own reality to begin the change. The truth is, I am naturally an accepting person, or my criticalness would not have bothered me in the first place. When my thinking was critical, I saw myself as a critical person, which was in conflict with my essential nature. I didn’t like myself that way. My thinking was taking me out of integrity with myself. It wasn’t natural for me to be critical; it was just the way I was raised to be and the way my parents were raised to be.

The habit of criticism is a way of living that is passed down through generations, so changing this deep pattern of behavior is a major undertaking. I was programmed from birth to be critical by critical parents, as were many of you. I thought it was the right way to be. Since then, I have learned many things that have helped me overcome it.

As I became more caring instead of critical, my world changed for the better. As our society becomes more caring instead of judgmental, our world will change for the better.

As we give more energy to what we want to create instead of what we don’t like, we will create more of what we enjoy in our lives. We will get more of what we focus on most of the time. As we give more energy to being kind and treating others with kindness, the world will become a better place.

It is not natural for anyone to be critical. Children are born as loving and accepting beings. Being critical is a learned behavior, and I was willing to unlearn it. Are you?



[1] Matthew 5:39, New American Standard Bible


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