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Responding to Criticism by Crying: Is it a Sign of Immaturity?

calvin argumentReaders of this blog know that I have put forth a model of how to respond maturely to criticism.  To help readers to rate their own skill level, and that of others, I have, in earlier posts, outlined five levels of maturity. Level 1 is viewed as the most immature level, level 2 is viewed as a little more mature, and so on. Let’s take a quick look at the first four levels:

Four Levels of Responding to Criticism

1.  This level requires displaying one or more of the following:

  • Weeps or sobs with tears or pouts
  • Physically attacks the criticizer
  • Damages property

2.  This level requires displaying one or more of the following:

  • Insults the criticizer (either with words, hand gestures, the sticking out of a tongue, the rolling of the eyes, or smirks)
  • Glares at the criticizer
  • Threatens the criticizer
  • Punches, kicks, or throws an object without physically hurting someone or damaging anything
  • Criticizes the criticizer without first fully addressing the original criticism.

3.  This level requires displaying one or both of the following:

  • Displays defensiveness without directly insulting the criticizer (raising voice’s volume or pitch)
  • Displays a lack of interest either by verbally indicating this, or with nonverbal cues, or complete silence. 

4.  Level 4 individuals listen to the criticizer in a supportive, warm, friendly style, and then make it clear that they fully understand what was said.  Moreover, they put the criticizer at ease by making statements that indicate that the wise learn from criticism.  Some time is spent on showing that they are thinking about the criticism.  If, after thinking about the criticism the criticism is deemed to be correct, they make a statement frankly indicating, “I can see your ideas have merit and I intend to use them in the future.”  If they are not sure if they agree, they make a statement indicating that they are very interested in what was said, plan to think a little more about this over the next few days and then they will be ready to discuss this further.  If, after thinking about the criticism, the criticism is deemed to be incorrect, a statement is made designed to disagree without being disagreeable.  More specifically, a sense of humor, some listening in a caring way and a few smiles help to traverse rough terrain.  As the episode winds down, the criticizer is encouraged to feel comfortable communicating suggestions in the future.

The Most Immature Level

cryingAs you can see from the description of level 1, if you respond to criticism with weeping or sobbing with tears, this is viewed as among the responses viewed as very immature. I have placed this type of response at level 1 for three reasons.

First, I recalled that when I was very young, at times when I was criticized I would start to cry.  As I became older, I didn’t cry as much to such provocations.  And now, even when facing the most harsh levels of criticism, I’m pretty cool with it. From these recollections, it seemed to me that I had gone through some developmental levels as I became at least physically more mature, and part of this involved a reduction in crying when criticized.

Second, as I spoke to others, I found that this developmental change of crying less and less in the face of criticism as they became older is rather typical.

Finally, when I observed people crying in response to criticism, often people said things like the person was a cry baby or acting like a baby.  Since I have argued that one reason to respond to criticism in a manner that matches the more mature levels is because it increases the respect people have for us, it didn’t make sense to put crying into one of the higher level descriptions when it appeared to decrease the respect that people had for the criers.

crying manBut, since I came up with the five levels of maturity, I have met some individuals who seem rather remarkably mature to me in many ways, and yet they have revealed to me that they find themselves crying quite often when they are criticized.  They say that they are very sensitive individuals, that they don’t hurt anyone or anything when they go through this experience, and that I should consider removing crying from the description of the lowest level.

Well, therefore, let me propose a change to you, my readers, and see what you think.

Proposed Change

Weeping, sobbing and crying will only be viewed as the lowest level of maturity if the person responding to criticism does nothing else but that, or if he or she does that along with the other lowest level responses such as physically attacking the criticizer or damaging property.  If, after crying, he or she then begins to display responses consistent with level 4 or 5, crying will no longer be viewed as a sign of immaturity.

Although I could make this change after I get some feedback, I hasten to point out that it won’t change the fact that many people will still consider crying in the face of criticism as a sign of immaturity.  Some will lose respect for those who cry.

Perhaps these sensitive individuals can help to reduce the lack of respect that they might encounter.  They can explain that their sensitivity helps them to more deeply consider the criticism.   Moreover, they might suggest that for people who feel uncomfortable around someone crying, they can provide the criticism at first by email, snail mail or voice mail.  This will allow the sensitive person time to process the criticism. Then, a follow-up meeting to further process the criticism can be arranged.

I hope to hear from readers on this.

My Best

Jeff

——————–
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 intelligence. To begin at the very first post you can click HERE.

Dealing with Criticism: A Calvin and Hobbes Lesson
My Answer to the Question, Are People Who Cry When Criticized Immature?

About the Author

Jeffrey Rubin grew up in Brooklyn, received his PhD from the University of Minnesota and has taught conflict resolution there as well as at a psychiatric clinic, a correctional facility and a number of public schools. He has published articles on anger and conflict resolution and has authored three novels.

22 Comments

  1. Jeff,
    I would think that you need to take into account the type of criticism offered. It could be anywhere from shockingly mean to constructive. It could be offered privately or publicly to humiliate or demean.

    If it is a mean, inappropriate or humiliating criticism, crying might be quite a mature response compared to counter attacking or planning revenge.

    • Thanks for your comment, Dr. Linda Saadin. I see your point about taking into account the type of criticism offered. And I fully agree with you that crying might be quite a mature response compared to counter attacking or revenge. I had tried to put my ideas into some succinct format, and now all of the ifs, ands, and buts are coming to the fore. I guess in the end I’ll have to tweak my wording so it more reflects the solid feedback that I’m getting. My Best.

  2. I would agree with Dr. Saadin with one addition. I find that my sensitivity depends a great deal upon what the relationship of the criticizer is to me. The more important the relationship, i.e. spouse or other loved one vs. complete stranger or mild acquaintance, the more likely the tears will appear.

    • Hi Robin McKinney. Yes, good point! The more important the relationship is to us, the more likely we will respond to negative criticism with deep down feelings that may be expressed with tears. Much thanks for taking the time to let me know how you feel about this. I’m always making important changes to my model because of the valuable comments I get from people like yourself.

  3. Normally I would say that I react to criticism on what you call the Most Mature Level. I try to make the situation easy for all. But sometimes, especially in close relationships, I don’t. Especially if the criticism is offered in a way that there is no room for sober arguments. Sometimes I feel really cornered, and all I want to do is to get out of the situation and come back when emotions have calmed down. I do not react on a mature level, as you put it. But it doesn’t have anything to do with immaturity, just that I know that there is nothing I can do. I may scream and walk away if this happens in a close relationship. If it happens with people I don’t need to interact with vrey often, I just won’t – and I most certrainly won’t let them see me crying. But if I do cry, in my own time and space, it is NOT a ssign of immaturity, but a relief. I rid myself of emotions. I can even get rid of a migraine by crying. I know this, as I am very sensitive and cry easily when watching movies or reading literature when I don’t worry about what people think. Crying is to me noe a sign of weakness or immaturity, but I do control it when it fits the situation. I don’t know if that is a sign of maturity or simply a cultural reaction because our society doens’t approve of emotions…

    • Hi Trude. I very much appreciate your thoughts and feelings on this topic. I think that your actions of getting yourself out of a situation that you don’t feel comfortable in, and then giving yourself sometime to calm down before returning to work on moving forward makes a great deal of sense. I’m not so sure about the screaming first part of your strategy before you walk away. But over the years I’ve come to know some people that I came to love dearly who act that way. Still, for me, I think it would be wiser to learn to respectfully say to the person that you are feeling uncomfortable with, “I’m going take a little time to think things over. Please excuse me.” By rehearsing in your imagination reacting in this way to someone you recall who had acted in a way that made you feel particularly uncomfortable, in time you may come to find that you can avoid the screaming part of your otherwise excellent strategy just long enough for you to get to a place where any screams won’t be heard by others. My Best.

      • I only mentioned the screaming to illustrate that one can be both rational and irrational. I only scream if I can’t get a word inn edgewise. I would have dine ; exactly as you suggest if I could, but some people have really loud voices and never stop yelling. That’s when I feel trapped and need a way out. I think some people cry for the same reason, it’s merely a reaction.
        For my part it only happens once or twice a year and it really means “stop yelling, I am never going to accept that kind of behaviour.” The resultat being that they daren’t hell anymore. It works, but it isn’t the sensible strategy. Sensible doesn’t always work, because other people aren’t always sensible.

  4. Thanks for clarifying your position, Trude. By the way, although I seek to be “sensible,” from time to time I’ve had a few lapses of my own. My Best, Jeff

  5. My Answer to the Question, Are People Who Cry When Criticized Immature? | Name Calling, Insults and Teasing
    August 10, 2014 - 4:44 pm

  6. It help

  7. I like the proposed amendment! I’d add that crying can actually be a little more complex than, “Oh, dang, someone is criticizing me, and I hate that. BOO.” Generally, if someone gives me criticism over something at work, I handle it very maturely according to your guide (whether it is constructive or not). Because underneath it all, work is work, and it’s important but not my #1 priority in life.

    But if my brother says something like, “Hey, that voicemail you left me sounded kind of rude and dismissive,” I might cry out of a feeling of “Gosh, you’re right, I agree, and now I feel really terrible because I see how badly I hurt your feelings.” If that’s accompanied by validation and apology, it may not be ideal, but definitely not Level #1 either.

  8. Hi Everyone, Thank you for both comments and reflections! I was recently exposed to a situation where I was at a table with 4 other people. One of them asked me my view on Ayahuasca journey (shamanic medicine journey) and since I have been on a personal healing journey for over 27 years and never used plant medicines for a very good reason, I basically ended up sharing my personal ‘view’ on the matter, and that I felt taking plant medicines is unnecessary as far as I am concerned particularly when considering that one can have similar experiences through ‘deep meditation’ and the reason I was sharing that is because after listening to the many stories of those who take ayahuasca I have noticed that some of the things they experience I have experienced without taking the medicine. I was also quoting a great teacher Mantak Chia who was interviewed once and ‘warned a little’ about the effects of ayahuasca and the reasons why it’s not an advisable way to tamper with the body as the chemical it induces int he Pineal gland are similar to the ones released at the time of death. So in other words there is a lot of stress on the body whilst under the influence of the medicine. In any event I was speaking passionately about it, and at one point one of the people at the table who was an acquaintance rather than a friend, became extremely irate, very quickly and begun to insult me, saying I was ‘offending’ his friends, and although I stood up to him questioning in what way he thought I was doing that as I was only expressing something through ‘my personal experience’ and at no time did I say others should not take the medicine, he continued to insult my view. It was pretty harsh, he was yelling and the more I was seeking clarification the more he became dismissive, and pointing the finger, he used a lot of “YOU” statements he threatened that it was ‘his table and these were his friends’ and that I was offending them. So I managed to hold myself in the obvious ‘one way street’ dialogue as at no point did he offer me a true explanation as to ‘when was I being offensive’ I told him I was speaking about my experience and at no time did I suggest others should not do it, however that was not good enough. In the end he belittled me, saying things like I was ‘defensive’ and that I ‘had lost my centre’ he became quite condescending as I was trying to get an explanation from him he kept saying things like this is ‘absurd’ and ‘I am not having this drama with you’ rather than responding to my question. In the end he banged his fist on the table and said that’s it this is ‘my table so leave’! needless to say I did not comply with his ‘leave’! I sat for a few more minutes in silence! then I proceeded to embrace the other people at the table however by then tears where flowing down my face! I as not sobbing but I left with tears in my eyes. I did not acknowledge him at that point I left without even looking at him as I was far too upset and disappointed about the humiliation that he exposed me to, one that I felt was totally uncalled for. It’s been days since the event, and I still find myself crying about it. As soon as I visualise the scene, the deep sadness and disappointment but also anger about the event is still lingering. I have tried release work, forgiveness work, clearing, being with the pain, taking responsibility for myself, yet I still cry when I think about it! As I healer I am always aware that we attract what we need for our own personal healing, but this incident is one that I am still unclear as to what the lesson is and also how to process it, so that it does not effect me. Whichever way I look at it, all I see is having been treated unfairly, disrespected in front of the others, and totally humiliated for no reason at all. I even went to scan again and again what I was saying and I can’t see how I was being disrespectful to the others which makes it even worse it makes me feel devalued as a human being and that who I am is insignificant. It pretty hard…I can’t even think about it without crying again. Anyway thank you for your wisdom here, any help is appreciated! Many Blessings to all.

    • Hi Elohisa,
      Much thanks for sharing with us your experience with harsh criticism. It seems to me understandable that it will take some additional time to begin to feel more comfortable with what you went through.

      I have read some research by professor Pennebaker (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Writing_therapy) that writing about this type of experience in a particular manner on 4 occasions can be enormously helpful to work through what you are going through.
      Wishing you well,
      Jeff

  9. I think it matters when the crying is done. Is it in private, after the fact? How much energy had the person put into the activity that was criticized? Was the criticism particularly harsh, or completely unexpected? Was the criticism a one-time event, or part of a relentless chronic pattern? As someone already mentioned, what is the relationship between the people in question?

    Besides being sensitive about what is said, sometimes it is just sad that people can be so cruel, mean, and unhappy. The world, and the people in it, have such amazing potential – and yet so many live angry and dreadful lives. I sometimes forget this is true. I mourn for the loss of the joyous, creative, brilliant lives that might have been lived (and for the pain and suffering that must have taken place to cause such anger, entitlement, and willingness to lash out at others). Violent communicate is just such a waste of energy – and blocks creative ideas and solutions.

  10. This is a much more complex idea than first meets the eye.

    As a plaintiff in a medical malpractice law suit, I am repeatedly subject to common tactics: discredit, dismiss, accuse and attack, designed to inspire plaintiffs to drop their actions. Further to this abuse, I have a right temporal lobe brain injury which resulted in a dramatic personality changes for me that I wasn’t even aware of for some years. Although not a daily event by any means, I do find myself crying uncontrollably for maybe an hour or two in court triggered by sometimes the most unexpected comment, as if a dam broke and there nothing that can be done to stop the grief until it is released. I have also told people where to go and how to get there before I even realized that I was even angry. Apparently there is rehabilitation for this but not a my local branch.

    I just wanted to add to the mix that there are many reasons why people may react “inappropriately”, including that they may be taking drugs/”medication” that have negative affect on their ability to self-regulate. Psychotropic drugs for example, which 1 in 4 people consume, are well documented to cause suicide, homicide as per the black box warnings and can create many undesirable states that a person taking them is unable to control and at times even be aware of.

    There are many medical conditions that cause people to act and react in ways they normally would not, such as thyroid disease, brain tumors, exposure to toxins, chronic lack off sleep, extreme prolonged stress, nutritional deficiencies and other life crisis’s that they may be unequipped to deal with.

    I don’t know if you would consider including another level that includes responses triggered/caused by unknown/unconsidered factors such as adverse effects of drugs, injury, disease, trauma and other life crisis or not Dr. Rubin. Nonetheless, I would urge everyone to consider that assuming we can place where someone fits on a”maturity” scale, might not be as easy as it appears on the surface. We may need to incorporate a lot wider lens and a lot taller sliding scale to account for the many variables that make us who we are; some of which, we may not be able to control the way that others expect to and assume we can.

  11. I think the context of the criticism is very important. If both parties are behaving in a rational and thoughtful manner then crying is a much less likely response. However, if the person doing the criticising is unreasonable, is themselves acting with low emotional maturity and is not allowing sensible discussion then often crying is a result of frustration. However much the person being criticised may start off reacting in an emotionally mature way, they can be worn down by unmerited criticism and a lack of opportunity to put forward their case.

  12. This feels like an exercise in emotional shaming to me.
    Tears are a physiological response, much like sweating. The discomfort experienced by those who observe the crying (or sweating) process is also a physiological response. Responding to criticism is about accepting and considering the content and context of the critique which includes processing how you feel, rather than denying (or suppressing) how you feel. It is the work of the person levelling the criticism to gauge the response which includes processing their own reaction (discomfort) to content and context. We all have a right to feel however we feel. The challenge is to respond empathetically which may not happen if either party denies or shames the other during the experience.

    • Hi Kris Girard,
      Thanks for giving me a peace of your mind. How you view this makes a world of sense to me.
      Jeff

  13. If you cry, it really isn’t a sign of immaturity. My friend is basically the most mature person you could meet, and when she is criticized she cry’s. It also matters on how sensitive the person is. Myself, I am not very sensitive. But my friend on the other hand, is very sensitive.

  14. Dr. Rubin, I’m not sure if you’re aware of this but there are stress hormones (specifically, adrenocorticotropic hormone) in our tears so when we cry, we’re literally releasing stress from our bodies. That is why we generally feel better after crying.

    I’m inclined to think that people who shame others for crying are experiencing their own sort of emotional disconnection or insecurity. Furthermore, I think socialization creates a barrier for males in particular to express their emotions in the form of tears as there is significant societal shaming that occurs toward men who cry. Crying is also seen as “feminine behavior” because we live in a patriarchal society and whatever women do more often than men is automatically seen as inferior, even though that position is irrational.

    • I’ve been crying all day and this makes me feel a lot better.
      Thanks for sharing that Dr. Kashani.

    • Hi Dr. Fereshteh Kashani,

      Thanks for bringing in the hormonal research aspect of this discussion, along with the socialization issues. Like you, I think our society would be wiser if it held the experience of crying as natural and of value as part of processing stress.

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