The Blog

The Critic Within


From the moment we wake up until the moment we go to bed, there are so many things we can get annoyed with: traffic noise, your partner leaving a newspaper on the floor, people saying things we don't want to hear, rude commuters during rush hour... If we let our negative critic have its full sway, we can remain irritated all day! A budding writer or artist may shy away from submitting a work, never thinking it is good enough. The scrutinising process occurs automatically and much faster than we realise. Eventually it becomes a habit. Nothing escapes our scrutiny. The mind stays busy, focused and on edge. The accumulation of our dissatisfaction and irritation stimulates the release of stress hormones. Our bodily organs and muscles are put on alert: facial, neck and shoulder muscles tighten, blood pumps faster....

But why should we suffer unnecessarily? In its neutral state, the mind is at peace. When it moves from its normal stance, due to our liking and disliking, its peace is disrupted, giving rise to further thoughts and emotions. Satisfaction and happiness is not the same thing. The former derives from getting what one wants, the latter is the mind remaining at peace - without clinging to what one does or doesn't want. When something - regardless of how insignificant it may be - catches our attention and we choose to bother with it, we bring it into our mind. We prefer things to be in a certain way, the way we like it, the way we understand it. We judge things, people and the situation accordingly. Even if we get what we want, the critic in us can still find fault with it. This habit leaves us forever dissatisfied, our mind contaminated.

There is nothing wrong with being a critic. A well-balanced criticism, made at the right time and in the right spirit, with the aim of improving a situation or raising a standard, can represent a positive contribution to our well-being. A criticism made in haste, with the aim of hurting, showing off, putting down, condemning, annoying, belittling or threatening others, is like a poison that aggravates both its creator and its target. What's more, we may be too quick to jump to the wrong conclusion without knowing the true reasons behind the other person's action. If we bring this habit to a relationship, we no longer play the role of a partner but of an authority, putting down our partner, making him or her feel small, hurt and agitated. We become difficult to live with. Instead of blossoming forth, the relationship withers and closes up.

When the critic turns towards the self, depression can ensue. This does not mean that we should all shut up completely. On the contrary. We should switch on the critic mode when necessary - but there is no need to be one at all times.

A critical habit may engender a negative effect on one's appearance: the eyes look harsh, the face drawn, long and lack lustre. It not only makes you feel miserable but you look it too. To combat the constant critic in you, try injecting humour. Don't take yourself too seriously. Or try generating loving kindness to others when you wake up and before bedtime. The kinder the heart, the less one looks for faults in others.

Being mindful of your habit also helps. For example, when you know that you are mentally criticising or complaining about others leaving a stack of dirty dishes in the sink, the thought process on this matter will come to a halt. Should agitation arise, be mindful of it. Know that it is just a state of mind and it will work its way out naturally.

When we reduce our indulgence in criticism, things begin to bother us less; our mind becomes lighter, we feel better. The noise from the traffic is just the way it is, the newspaper seems happy enough lying on the floor and when people disagree with us or commuters are rude to us, who cares? We can carry on the day with a smile on our face and happiness in our heart, knowing that these mundane things are no big deal at all.

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