I bet you can be a pretty good hypnotist. How do I know?
If you’ve ever complained to your loved one about what they did (or didn’t do), chances are you were hypnotizing them to do more of the same. Here’s why.
The Difference Between Complaining and Criticizing
Criticism offends people, even the most well-intentioned people who love you, and mean you no harm (like your spouse). Instead of changing your partner’s behavior, criticism will drive them further away, and make them dig in and continue with the behavior that frustrates you.
The easiest way you can spot criticism is by watching for phrases containing the word “you,” typically followed by a generalization such as always, ever, never, nothing, or all, or such that are implied in the meaning.
- You always __________.
- You never __________.
- Everything is wrong.
- You do this all the time!
- I’ve tried everything.
- No one ever helps me.
- You will never change.
Those phrases are destructive for several reasons.
Criticism Attacks Personality
- Why can’t you ever be on time ? (I just can’t rely on you!)
- I do all the work. (You do nothing!)
- What is wrong with you? (You are not good enough!)
- Why do you always have to be so ….? (You are annoying/stupid/etc.)
Now, don’t tell me you’ve never used these phrases.
I bet you have.
So have I.
The problem arises if criticism becomes your usual way of showing annoyance or discontent, no matter how justified you think that is.
Criticism Doesn’t Work
If you have read this post, then you already know this.
Furthermore, people who are being criticized over and over again start to dismiss it. They anticipate it and when it does happen, they shut off. They don’t listen anymore. They go “Yeah, yeah….” out loud, or in their heads. Nothing much changes, except for another round of bitterness, silent anger, and resentment.
Or they hit right back.
That’s because criticism—even unintended—is aimed at the other person’s character or personality as a whole. With criticism, the blame is placed on the person and not the behavior of that person. The person attacked feels in danger because their self-esteem has received a hit.
In that state, don’t expect them to change in a sustainable way. They might comply with your demands, but they will resent you for making them do it.
Criticism Is Hypnotic
Criticism is even more damaging because its repetitive nature makes it hypnotic. Yeah! When we criticize, we usually repeat our criticism in exactly the same way over and over again.
“Why can’t you ever …?” repeated hundreds of times becomes a suggestion and a command to the other person’s subconscious mind.
Criticism is Demotivating
Let’s have a look at this simple example:
“I do all the work.”
If you’ve ever been on the receiving end, then you know how demotivating this is.
It effectively means “you do nothing.”
Furthermore, phrases similar to the example above are rarely accurate as they are seen only from one person’s perspective. Many times they are gross exaggerations.
Even if such statement is close to reality, there surely are some other areas of life where your partner takes on many, if not all, of the necessary efforts.
Hearing “I do all the work,” with no specifics, makes your spouse feel overwhelmed. Such behavior, if it’s not talked over, builds resentment.
And resentment is exactly the opposite of what you were probably hoping to achieve, right?
How to Complain in a Productive Way
Let’s say your partner has a habit of forgetting to lock the door during the night.
Don’t rattle off: “You always leave the doors unlocked! Are you trying to get us robbed?”
Rather, say something like: “Honey, when you leave the doors unlocked during the night, it makes me feel unsafe in our own house. It scares me. I would like you to check the doors before you go to bed. Will you?”
Feel the difference?
Here are a few pointers to help you approach your spouse in a more mindful way:
- Talk about how you feel. Saying “When you … it makes me feel ….” is a good example.
- Avoid generalizations such as always, ever, never, nothing, or all. They give your partner the impression that their part (whatever that is) is not appreciated at all. It makes them feel overwhelmed and prevents them from listening.
- Be specific. Replace vague generalizations from above with “Last time,” “Yesterday,” “Last week,” “Sometimes,” “Often,” or “Many times.”
A Word of Caution
Be especially vigilant about generalizations in your own head because that’s where they first happen. We say in our heads something like, “You never _________” hundreds of times before we say it out loud to our spouses.
It’s hard to get rid of those negative thoughts when they find a permanent residence in our minds. Remember, it all starts with your thoughts.
Take a piece of paper and divide it into two columns. Name the left column ‘before,’ and the right column ‘now.’
- In the left column, write 10 sentences beginning with the word ‘you,’ and any generalizations that you often use when talking to your spouse.
- Then use the right column to write down more appropriate ways of expressing your discontent.
- Read both versions out loud.
- If those sentences were directed at you, which version would you prefer?