Being the best partner — 05 September 2010
Criticism may be as painful as prejudice

All good relationships, whether they are between family members or business colleagues, casual or deep, are based upon mutual respect, friendship and belonging. They may withstand some disapproval of one’s actions opinions or feelings but may crumble with personal criticism.

The dictionary definition of the verb Criticize reads: “to judge critically; estimate beauties and defects; to pick out faults; to utter censure.”

Since self-esteem is not innate, we instinctively learn from infancy that our survival, security and belonging depend on endearing ourselves to earn approval. Criticism of our being shakes the foundation of our worth and devastates our lovability and connection to others.

Harvard Professor Jill Hooley studied the effects of family members’ expressed emotions (EE) on psychiatric and depressed patients. She describes “the three key elements of EE: criticism, hostility, and emotional over involvement. The most important element is criticism. The second element of EE is hostility. Hostility can be regarded as a more extreme form of criticism. Hostile remarks criticize the patient as a person, rather than something that he/she specifically does. These are the remarks that indicate rejection of the patient.” She found that a high level of EE was associated with a higher rate of the patients’ relapse.

In love relationships, the opinion of the mate is the most important view of all. Approval bolsters lovers’ esteem and disapproval deflates their egos. The magic of courtship is in the unconditional acceptance each partner feels. Criticism is the antithesis of unconditional love.

Being criticized is also associated with worries about being ostracized. Being alone and unloved sparks the deep fear of perishing. Though people are usually unaware of this connection, they feel panic and will do whatever it takes to regain acceptance.

Prejudice is defined as: “An opinion, judgment, or evaluation, favorable or more often unfavorable, conceived without proof or competent evidence, but based on what seems valid to one’s own mind; a bias against a race, group, creed or the like; harm or damage done to one by unreasonable action or judgment of another by others.”

Though criticism is not equated with prejudice, they share the personally held negative view of another that hurts and threatens the judged individual. Many people who abhor prejudice are unaware that criticism violates the other in a similar way.

Harsh criticism of the person may evoke in the criticized individual the same fears and panic of isolation and possible demise that commonly arise in being the object of prejudice.

• Remember that your partner is still the cherished person you initially loved unconditionally.
• Abstain from criticizing your mate’s being. You can be displeased with his/her doing and may request that your beloved consider modifying it to accommodate you.
• Realize that if you disavow prejudice, criticizing your partner’s being has a similar impact on his/her feelings of self-worth.
• Practice validating your partner’s preciousness regularly. As a result, you will both enjoy a sense of security and the exhilaration of a loving union.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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