The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong. Mahatma Ghandi
There’s a large object partially covered with a decorative blanket in the corner of our living room farthest from the front door. Under the blanket, there lives a creature with gray hair and dark eyes, similar to the little fuzzball in the image above.
I know what you’re thinking. How cute!
You want to reach out and touch it, don’t you?
That’s what all the children who come to visit us want to do. They want to hold her close, run their fingers through her soft fur and feel the gentle touch of her little hands on their skin. That’s what leads them to stick their fingers into the cage.
I know what you’re thinking now. Oh no!
You think I should stop them, right?
Imagine my sinister laugh. Do you think I’m cruel? I assure you that I’m not. You see, I know a few things about our furry little friend that our unsuspecting young guests don’t. Based on that knowledge, I let them stick their fingers in the cage.
Here’s what I know about our chinchilla -
First, she almost always bites.
That’s why the children usually squeal and jump away from the cage a few seconds after their fingers go in.
Second, she never bites hard.
That’s why they always laugh and go back to the cage once they make sure that their fingers are all still there.
Third, everything else about her is soft.
That’s why they love her so much, even after they’ve been bitten.
In reality, when our chinchilla bites your fingers, it’s a sign that she likes you. If she doesn’t like you, she just hides. Her little bites let her know what you’re made of. If you simply hold still, you find a friend. It helps your hand stay steady if you know what her nibbles really mean.
Humans Beings Have Been Known to Bite Too
Relationships can be hard sometimes. We too often set fires next to the bridges between us and the ones we love. When we’re the ones being criticized, there are things we can do to settle things down.
1. Be still.
It’s natural to get frustrated when someone you love is riding you like a rented mule, but that doesn’t mean you have to get jumpy or bite back. It really is possible to feel the frustration without letting it control your response. When someone is on your case, your stillness can reduce the anxiety in the room before you even say anything.
To be still in difficult situations, you’ll need to develop your capacity to accept suffering as a part of life, to challenge your own version of reality and to remain true to your core values even when you feel like abandoning them. These skills make it easier to take criticism calmly.
2. Be curious.
It’s tempting to think that those who criticize us don’t care about us, or even hate us, but that’s almost never true. In fact, their intensity, even when directed in unproductive ways, may actually be a sign of how much they actually do care about us after all.
Consider alternative interpretations of the behavior you see. Your accuser may be testing you to see if you’ll love them even when they’re not particularly lovable. They may want to know if you’re willing to validate their legitimate concerns or make reasonable changes. They may also want to see if you can be strong for them when they feel weak. Or, they may want to see if you’re really as nice as you seem, even in challenging circumstances.
In each of these cases, a harsh response will only add to the doubts people have about you. You don’t have to figure out why they’re upset. Just know that their motives may be more reasonable than they seem on the surface. If you’re open to a reality beyond the obvious, you may find that they didn’t bite you as hard as you initially believed.
3. Be fair.
Keep things in perspective. Don’t let the ugliness of a moment distract you from the beauty of a whole life. A difficult moment doesn’t have to ruin a day. A bad day doesn’t define a whole week, let alone an entire life. When others tempt you to reject them, remember why you loved them in the first place, and choose to see them that way again. People are usually much softer than they seem when they bite.
The words “always” and “never” almost never apply to human beings. The strongest among us make mistakes. The weakest will experience some success. High anxiety tends to lead us to think of others in extremes (blessed or cursed, brilliant or stupid, good or evil). Whether we put people on a pedestal or kick them to the curb, we deny the reality of who we are. When you find the way you see people drifting in either direction, gently return to a more balanced point of view. When in doubt, err on the bright side.
When people are down, they need a chance to stand up again. When they struggle, they need the benefit of a doubt. You can let go of resentment without receiving an apology from a person who has treated you unfairly. Even when you don’t trust them, you can find the strength to forgive.
What have you found helpful when people criticize you?
Note: These suggestions don’t apply in cases of genuine cruelty and actual abuse. Sometimes, people really do go to extremes. In such cases, do whatever you have to do to be safe.