A few months ago I wrote a post titled PROVIDING NEGATIVE CRITICISM: FIVE LEVELS OF MATURITY. When I gave examples of people using the five levels, they typically involved someone providing criticism to someone else. And yet, if you think about it, you probably criticize yourself at least as much as you criticize others.
So, it is time that we begin to take a good hard look to see if the five levels of maturity apply equally well when we think about providing negative criticism to ourselves? To do so, please take another look at the five levels, which I shall provide below. As you do, imagine a recent time that you criticized yourself and see which of the levels best matches your style of criticizing yourself.
PROVIDING NEGATIVE CRITICISM: FIVE LEVELS OF MATURITY
Below you will find preliminary descriptions of how people at five developmental levels of maturity provide criticism, that is, criticism that points out what we don’t like about someone’s actions, beliefs, or appearance. Level one is the most immature and uses observations of babies as its starting point. Each successive level is more mature:
- This level requires displaying one or more of the following:
- Cries without stating what the crying is about
- Physically attacks the person being criticized
- Damages property
2. This level requires displaying one or both of the following:
- The criticizer does not explain what the offending behavior is, but instead expresses displeasure with glares, insults, shouting, silence, or threats that do not involve bodily harm. (For example, someone might be making too much noise and the criticizer might turn to the noise maker and glare, or cry out, “Jerk!”)
- Threatens bodily harm regardless of what else is said.
3. The criticizer clearly states the criticism with enough detail so the criticized person, if he or she wills, can improve the behavior, idea, or appearance, but couples it with glares, insults, shouts, or threats that are not about bodily harm.
4. The criticizer states the criticism without bodily attacks, damaging property, glares, insults, threats, or shouts, and with enough details so that the criticized person, if he or she wills, can improve the behavior, idea, or appearance. If the person receiving the criticism becomes defensive or angry, the criticizer empathizes without returning, glares, insults, threats, or shouts.
5. When the criticizer provides criticism, he or she does so in a manner very similar to a level four response, but beforehand, the criticizer considers the person who is the target of the criticism, and the situation that he or she is in. As a result of such considerations, the criticizer may decide to alter the criticism.
APPLYING THE FIVE LEVELS TO SELF-CRITICISM
One of the last times I criticized myself, I was playing golf, and when I swung at the ball, I missed it.
I found myself crying out, “Man, that was stupid!” As I saw myself doing this, I quickly realized that such a response was not very helpful. I moved away from any more insults and just took a moment to experience the frustration within me. After about five seconds of this, I then realized that I was with other golfers, and they had just seen me calling myself stupid. I looked each of them in their eyes and smiled. Then, I reviewed in my mind what a perfect swing in that situation is suppose to look like. Finally, I stepped into position and took another swing.
How Did I Do?
Well, at least I didn’t break my club slamming it to the ground, as I had done a few times before. A couple of times when I did slam the clubs down, I broke the club and had to go buy a new one–thus, it was a costly mistake. If I had acted that way–that is, by breaking my club–I would have acted at level 2.
The way I acted the last time was a little more mature than a level two.
You might have noticed as I was describing my recent incident of self- criticism that my criticism and my response to the criticism seems to have merged together, and it is not easy to tell at what point “providing criticism” and “responding to criticism” is actually taking place. Therefore, it is a good idea, as we think about these issues to spend some time reviewing the lessons I presented earlier on responding to criticism.
As I recall what happened the last time I was out on the golf course, I’m going to say that I initially responded at level 3, but then quickly recovered and then responded at level 5.
Our next example of self-criticism is from the comic strip of Calvin and Hobbes by the brilliant Bill Watterson. Calvin’s stuffed tiger, Hobbes, is criticizing Calvin’s remark about his summer vacation coming to an end. We understand, of course, that what Hobbes says to Calvin is, in actuality, what Calvin is saying to himself. After Hobbes criticizes Calvin’s remark (“Oh come on, you spent half the summer complaining how bored you were.”) Calvin responds. Please study his response, and then see if you can rate what level of maturity it is at.
My answer: Hobbes has criticized Calvin for exaggerating about how awful life will be now that summer vacation is over since he often complained of being bored. “I did?” he responds. It seems to me that Calvin is really asking this of himself. He then curls his pointer finger and puts it on his lip. This is a classic pose indicating deep thought. While he is doing this, he says to himself, “How strange. I must have been delirious from having so much fun.” In the next scene, we see Calvin imagining the type of fun he had had over the summer. It depicts Calvin and Hobbes watching TV with the sound blasting, eating Sugar Bombs, with Calvin’s eyes in a delirious, hypnotized stare.
I’m leaning toward giving Calvin a level 4 rating because he is showing me that he is giving some real thought to the criticism, and I like his apparent sense of humor as he imagines in an almost burlesque type of way his wasting all of his time over the summer.
Now, I understand that some might look at this image of Calvin wasting his summer in front of a TV and think he is mocking his choice of summer activities, thus insulting himself. When people use humor while responding to criticism, it can be taken as an insult, or as a good-natured way to smooth over some rough parts of the processing that goes along with criticism. Only Calvin, in this scenario, would be able to say if he felt it as an insult, or as something comical.
Let’s Try Another One
Here’s a young teenager who provides self-criticism at a pretty obvious level 2.
Here, the young lady kinda tells herself what her criticism is about–She recalls missing an important basketball shot and she declares that she let her team down. But she doesn’t say how she can begin to improve the situation. Instead, she begins to insult herself.
What if she had handled the situation a little differently:
There’s Some Controversy About this Example
Some of my students argue that the example in which the girl insults herself should be given a higher rating then the second example. Here’s their reason. If you insult yourself, they claim, it will more likely prod you into doing something constructive than if you ignore it. Therefore it should be viewed as at least as high a level as the example in which the girl decides to take some time to calm down before deciding what next steps she might take.
Here are two quick explanations for why insulting yourself deserves a lower rating than the taking some time to calm down approach. First, just because someone takes some time out to calm down doesn’t mean they will forget what happened. It is possible that their efforts to take some time to calm down will lead to calming down sooner than throwing insults at themselves, and within that calmness a more reasoned approach may come about.
Second, theoretically those people who get into the habit of insulting themselves when they criticize themselves are at an increased risk of insulting someone else who criticizes them. This is oftentimes not a good thing because when people are insulted it increases the likelihood they will do something that is harmful to the insulter. It is, therefore, a good idea to practice not insulting yourself when you criticize yourself because that practice will make it easier to avoid criticizing others when they criticize you.
Well, there’s your lesson for today. It was designed to begin the process of thinking about the most mature way to criticize yourself. I will have a lot more to say about this in future posts.
For those of you who seek to become masters at dealing with name calling, insults and teasing, here’s an important exercise to do over the next week. Put aside three five-minute periods to do the following:
Think about the last time you criticized yourself. Recall what led to the criticism and how you felt. Spend a full minute just observing the feelings that come up as you recall the incident. Then write down what you said to yourself as you provided the criticism. Finally, write down what you think would have been a maturer way to handle that situation.
Thanks for visiting this week, and I hope you come back soon.
Some people will enjoy reading this blog by beginning with the first post and then moving forward to the next more recent one; then to the next one; and so on. This permits readers to catch up on some ideas that were presented earlier and to move through all of the ideas in a systematic fashion to develop their emotional and social intelligence. To begin at the very first post you can click HERE.