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Is it Concern or Criticism?

Do you ever feel like someone’s concern for you is really thinly veiled criticism? As in, “I’m concerned about your weight” or “I’m worried about your eating habits”?

Or it might not even be veiled at all – some people are pretty direct about these things. But either way, I’ve never found this type of approach to be helpful. If anything, it just makes me dig in my heels on the issue.

I got this type of critical concern a lot when I was younger, but I didn’t realize until recently how else this has impacted me.

I’ve discovered that these days, when someone expresses concern for me, more often than not my immediate response is to be defensive. Even if it’s not anything to be defensive about. I also find myself suspicious of their motives and likely to be guarded in my response.

I doubt I’m the only one who’s run into this, so I wanted to share some thoughts on how to be mindful of these kinds of situations.

Are they being critical?

The first thing is to consider whether the other person is being critical. Even if it feels like they are, try to step back and be objective. Are they judging you, or are they legitimately concerned?

It can be a fine line, and it’s also not always one or the other. Someone commenting on your body size could feel concern and be judging you.

But if it’s simply concern, then try to accept that and thank them for it.

If they’re critical, then it’s a little less straightforward.

Is the criticism accurate?

Remember that being critical of something doesn’t always mean being negative. It can be a way of looking at something with a very focused, detailed eye.

Of course, most comments about food and weight tend to be negative, unless you’re losing weight. Then people often say a lot of complimentary and positive things.

On the other hand, I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone say to me, “I notice how many fruits and vegetables you eat – I’m not concerned about your health at all.”

But if the critical comment is accurate, then it may be worth thinking about. Like if someone says they notice how much coffee you drink and that you seem awfully jittery, they might be correct.

Do you want to act on it?

Just because someone makes an accurate statement, though, doesn’t mean you’re obligated to change anything.

You might choose to do something differently if this calls attention to an area of your life that you’d like to improve. Or you might make an adjustment if you realize your actions have a direct negative impact on someone else.

But you may also not want to make a change, or at least not the one they suggested, and that’s fine. It’s your decision.

Should you respond negatively?

For me, the crux of the problem comes down to this - is It worthwhile to say or do something in retaliation for the comment that upset you? This is where I’ve often struggled.

I used to respond negatively all the time. If someone commented on my weight or what I ate, I’d do the opposite of what they suggested. I knew in my head it wouldn’t change anything for them, and it might hurt me, but I was too angry to care.

These days I’m trying to take a different approach. I don’t really get these remarks anymore in relation to food or weight. But it comes up in other areas, particularly with one person who likes to comment (in a critical way) on how I take care of my cats. It royally pisses me off, to the point where I don’t want to consider anything she says about cat ownership, or sometimes even talk to her about my cats. She might have a good suggestion, but I’m not necessarily receptive to hearing it.

But I’ve at least gotten to the point where I recognize what’s happening, and I don’t lash out. This means that even though I don’t agree with some of her own cat-care behaviors, I don’t point them out to her.

I also simply refuse to engage or discuss further. I’ll change the subject, or sometimes simply not say anything if I can’t trust myself to speak.

In an ideal world, I could reply in a very adult manner with something like, “I hear your concern and I’ll consider it. But unless I bring it up in the future, I’d ask that you let it drop.” I’m not there yet, but maybe someday.

Remember it’s not usually about you

One of the things that can be hard to remember is that criticism is often about the other person, not you.

Very often, the critic is feeling insecure in themselves, or they have their own history that makes them judgmental. I know this was true for some of my family members who made the food and weight comments in my younger years. It’s also true of the person making the cat comments.

Keeping that in mind can help you take a step back and relax a little, so you can decide how you want to respond. And this may help you be more compassionate with the other person, although that may be the last thing you initially want to do.

Have you had any experiences like this, or tips to share in terms of handling criticism or concern? I’d love to hear them.

In the meantime, here’s hoping we can all be mindful of how we respond when we receive criticism – and that we can be open to true care and concern when it comes our way.

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