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6 Lessons to Remember When Someone Judges or Criticizes You

young man tired sitting at sofa

“Every judgment, all of them, point back to a judgment we hold against ourselves.” ~Lynne Forrest

I sat across from my good friend Anna over a cup of coffee. We had been having issues in our friendship and had finally gotten together to discuss them. I’m not a fan of conflict and call myself a “recovering people pleaser,” so I was very nervous.

I noticed immediately that the conversation didn’t seem to be going very well. I addressed my issues concerning our friendship and tried hard to own my part. But Anna kept saying things like, “There are things that you do that really bother me as well, but I don’t say anything about saying them.”

After hearing a variation of this phrase for a third time, I asked what she was talking about. She had never addressed any of these issues with me.

She took a deep breath and said, “Angela, I don’t think your relationship with your higher power is very strong. Also, you know those Facebook posts you write about peace and mindfulness? I don’t see that reflected in your personality. One more thing: Your relationship with your mother seems poor, and I think that’s why you are emotionally needy.”

I stared at her in absolute shock. I felt like I was punched in the face. The worst part is this girl was a very genuine person, so the fact that she saw these qualities in me broke my heart.

My spirituality and my sense of peace are things I have been cultivating intensely since I was sixteen. Here I was sitting across from this girl, who’s supposedly my best friend, and she doesn’t even see these positive qualities in me. I was devastated.

I walked out of that get-together saying I needed some time to be alone and process. I was deeply hurt.

Before we met, I had envisioned us having a positive conversation, fixing our relationship, and spending the rest of the coffee date laughing. Instead, I left feeling like someone had ripped out my heart and like I was going to throw up.

It’s been quite a process wrestling with this event, and I’ve had the opportunity to learn (and relearn) some amazing lessons.

1. Someone’s criticisms and judgments aren’t the problem. Believing them is the problem.

I’ve been criticized before, but these judgments particularly crushed me. I couldn’t stop crying. I felt exposed.

I realized the reason I was having such a hard time with what she had said was because there’s a part of me that believes her judgments about me. For example, if she had told me I was mean, I would have shrugged it off, because I do not believe that about myself.

On the other hand, I do have insecurities concerning my spirituality and sense of peace in the world. While I try to cultivate both of these aspects in my personal life, I’m not perfect. I struggle just like everyone else.

Once I realized I was upset because I believed her accusations to be true, I could stop blaming her. I was in pain because I was torturing myself with these beliefs and blindly believing them.

2. When someone shows us how we’re out of alignment with ourselves, we have an opportunity to change our beliefs.

I’ve seen again and again that the world is a mirror. When we think a thought and believe it, the world will give us an example to prove that thought to be true. Anna showed me the part of me that believed these insecurities. She gave me the beautiful gift of questioning if I wanted to hold onto these beliefs. Remember, we do not have to believe our thoughts.

I heard an example about thoughts once that has stuck with me. Thoughts are like cars zooming on a highway. The highway represents the mind. We get to decide which car we want to jump into. Do we want to jump into the car and believe the negative thought? Or do we want to take the positive route? (Highway pun intended.)

So, I get to decide. Do I really want to hold onto the belief that I don’t have a strong spiritual relationship? That seems like a painful story to believe about me. Instead, I am choosing to reframe the belief. Instead of believing that my spiritual relationship is weak, I choose to believe that it’s a work in progress. It’s beautiful because it’s not perfect, but even still, I spend time cultivating it every day.

3. It’s not our business how other people see us; it’s our business how we see ourselves.

A lot of the time when we are feeling in emotional pain, we are not in our business. It’s not my business what other people think of me. My thoughts and assumptions of me are my responsibility, and that’s enough to keep me busy.

Once I get clear on what’s actually my business, it’s amazing how many of my troubles simply vanish. It also gives me the opportunity and the time to change my thinking and take care of myself.

 4. Look for the truth in the criticism and leave behind the rest.

Take this piece of advice with a grain of salt. If you can find what’s true about the negative things people tell you, it can be a great tool to strengthen your character. But it’s not an excuse for self-abuse.

For example, some of the things Anna said, I don’t find to be true for me. But I do sense that sometimes I can be emotionally needy with my friends. This doesn’t mean I beat myself up about this character quality. I can reevaluate how I am sharing my emotions and with whom I’m sharing them, and see if I am becoming co-dependent with certain people in my life.

I believe the depth of my emotions makes me beautiful, and sharing it with others has positively deepened many of my relationships. But it’s a good reminder for me to evaluate if I was sharing my emotions in a healthy way or if I was dumping them onto my friends to make me feel better.

5. Find gratitude in every situation.

I believe it’s important to find the gift in every event so we can grow. If we look deep enough, we can find the seed of gratitude in any situation. I realized after sitting with this experience for a week how thankful I was for my friend, for giving me the opportunity to see the painful beliefs I held about myself. Now I had the opportunity to clear them. What a blessing!

I also realized how thankful I am to have a friend who will be honest with me and tell me what she believes to be true. This does not mean that I have to take her judgments on as my own, but her reflections of me are pertinent in my journey to releasing these painful beliefs.

6. Always try your hardest to forgive people and yourself.

Forgiveness is one of the most difficult but powerful processes. I believe forgiveness is twofold. Not only did I need to forgive her, I needed to forgive myself. While I realized it was a blessing that she said these things, letting go of my anger for “exposing me” was hard. I knew intellectually I needed to forgive her, but actually doing it was a different story.

Once I realized I needed to forgive myself first, letting go of my anger became easier. I had to forgive myself for blindly believing these judgments about myself and not questioning if they were true. I had been holding myself hostage; she had just shown me that I was the one keeping myself behind bars.

Our relationship is not back to the way it was before we started having issues. While I hold a deep sense of respect and love for Anna, I realized at this point in my life that I didn’t want to be best friends with someone who saw me that way.

This doesn’t mean I don’t love and respect her. I have a deep sense of gratitude for what she has shown me about myself, and I have hope that our relationship will be even greater one day, because it will be more honest.

I still have to questions these judgments about myself, because after carrying them for so long, they don’t magically go away.

Once I become secure about these qualities and come into a more loving relationship with myself, I will think about rekindling the friendship, but maybe not. Only time can tell. Till then, I will keep on forgiving myself, questioning these beliefs, and reframing them to come into a more loving relationship with myself.

What has helped you respond well to criticism and judgment?

Profile photo of Angela Lois

About Angela Baucom

Angela Lois is a twenty-year-old musician, writer, and optimist who works for a life coach/personal growth mentor. She has big dreams of combining her love of music and all things mindfulness in a creative business venture. She's working on starting a blog about finding peace, mindfulness, spirituality in her twenties. Email her at angelalois1996@gmail.com to join her mailing list.

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  • sian e lewis

    perhaps it is more beneficial to discuss personal problems with someone less close to you

  • I prefer to look at feedback that hits close to the heart (and feels like a honest stomach punch!) as the person caring enough to take time and provide information that helps me improve. Of course, sometimes people just say rotten things so it’s up to us to decide which feedback to incorporate into our lives.

  • Hummingbird40

    Hello Angela!
    Ironically enough my name is Anna but if I were your best friend with your dignity and self-respect in mind never would I not have spoken down to you; played therapist by analyzing your relationship with your mother; and above all else questioned your relationship with your higher power. The article made me experience a feeling of toxic energy coming from your friend. Being spiritually or otherwise judged is never kind. I am only saying this out of respect and kindness toward you and from having traversed and continuing to journey down the spiritual path of self-compassion and lovingkindness.
    And if I were in your shoes I would hope to run fast from that level of emotional and spiritual negativity. Sure, everything in Life is meant to wake us up for our evolution but it is up to you to be in tune with your inner voice and self that loves you 100 percent nomatter what your “story” is and would never make you feel belittled, judged, humiliated or filled with self-loathing.
    Consider if perhaps it is rather a wake up call for you to choose to surround yourself with love and light energy… Not toxicity

  • netc23

    I don’t really understand how anything Anna had to say was even useful to improving your relationship. I mean really? who says well I don’t like your level of spirituality to a friend? how is that impactful to a relationship? and who isn’t working on their spirituality and doesn’t try to focus on that as we want it to improve or change. or you don’t have a good relationship with your mother and it makes you needy? what!? sure, maybe you’re needy. I had someone that said that to me once and I laughed and laughed and laughed as I walked away because I am one of the least needy people I know. It just seems like she knew exactly what to say to upset you and take the focus off of herself. I’d just say “next” and move on to being friends with someone who sees the best the in you and helps you, if you ask, with becoming your best.

  • Susan

    This really resonated with me, having gone through something similar with my best friend several years ago. Her comments left me feeling devastated because I worried that I really was the way she saw me. It took me years to realize that I didn’t have to believe what she told me. Some little bit of this truth hit me at the time because I remember walking away from her feeling relieved that I would no longer have to deal with her and her opinion of me. But it lingered, and I thought there was something wrong with me. It was quite a blow to me, because on some level I believed I was fragile. But I’m not fragile…..like you, I tend to share my deepest emotions with my friends, and I think it not only makes me who I am, but it’s also why I have such deep friendships with people. And I agree with the comment netc made…..what purpose does it serve to tell someone just what you think of them? Who do you think you are that your opinion should serve as constructive criticism for how another chooses to live their life? I don’t judge my friends….even if I sometimes have an opinion about something they’re doing, if it doesn’t affect me, and if she/he hasn’t asked for my input, then I keep it to myself. Help when you are asked, and even then, tame it back a bit. Thanks for the article, it was really great timing.

  • DarkGyro

    Also, and this is risky in itself(various on use)- You can be emotional stoic in small dosage of what you choose to accept and what you choose not to accept.

    Others:

    Just leave or ignore them.

  • Agreed. Feedback from those closest to us is often the hardest to hear. However, because they are so close, their opinions are often validated

  • LesAnonymes

    “What we criticize in others, we often see in ourselves.”

    I think that we should only criticize each other in terms of how our behavior affects our relationships. For example, if Anna thinks that you are too emotionally needy for her standards, she should say: “sometimes I feel drained when you act emotionally needy, I believe it’s because of your relationship with your mother.” That is way more constructive because she is setting a boundary with you, because she didn’t like the behavior and it makes her feel upset. Everything else, is as if she’s watching TV, deciding what is wrong or right in your life, and telling you how to live. Is that her business? ABSOLUTELY NOT. If it doesn’t affect her, it is NOT her business. She isn’t being spiritually fit if she’s judging you like this, she is being hypocritical, which is a result of unnecessary criticism. My parents are the true warriors of unnecessary judgment and criticism. 1/100 times, will I take their criticism seriously, the other 99 is usually nonsensical shit, related to their own perception of whatever-the-hell.

    Another related situation is that I embarrassed a friend of mine in a work situation, I reacted angrily to something unfair that happened. My friend judged me and lectured me, rather than say the truth, which is that she felt embarrassed, and wanted me to behave in a certain way to gain popularity among coworkers. If the tables were turned, I wouldn’t have judged her. The scenario woke me up to how self-centered and immature she is, and how she likes to orchestrate all situations to revolve around her. I don’t talk to her anymore. The drama she created while we worked together didn’t stop there, she found plenty of other things to make a stink about, involving me. Now I see why people would be put off by my angry reaction, but I wouldn’t have judged her for it. In fact, she is insecure and will sit with a weird pouty look on her face in boisterous social situations, which makes me uncomfortable. I never said anything because it has nothing to do with me, and I have no right to tell her how to be.

    Don’t feel bad about yourself because of this, there are plenty of friends who won’t rip you apart because of what they THINK is appropriate.

  • LesAnonymes

    And becoming your best shouldn’t include people who put you under fire.

  • Ahlea Armstrong

    What kind of a “friend” would be concerned with your higher power relationship? That’s none of her business and has zero to do with a friend relationship. Women should support other women and celebrate each other for the qualities they like in each other. I love flawed women that are genuine. Authentic women are so much more interesting than a women that pretends to have her life so together that she can judge another woman.
    Good riddance to her!

  • Ahlea Armstrong

    I totally agree with you. I went through something very similar with a friend who said I was to insecure to be her friend. She was/is the most insecure woman I have ever known. She tries to cover her insecurities while I own up to mine. She taught me a huge lesson in life about women friends and who I am and whom I choose to surround myself with.

  • Cate

    An insightful post; thank you! I agree with commentors who point out that what your friend said had little to do with your relationship. It was more a judgment of you, and further, in areas in which she is no authority. While it is good to consider the merit in criticism from those close to us, it is also good to consider the self-awareness and accountability of the source. Rather than look at their role in creating relationship issues, some people simply like to point the finger. For those of us who care to evolve, it’s best to invest energy in kindred spirits who are are least as interested in doing their own work as in pointing out where we fall short. 🙂

  • sas318

    If you want to keep a friendship, there are some things you DON’T SAY, such as the conversation you had with Anna. Both sides will feel judged, as you both did. You spoke first, and Anna felt judged, so she attacked you back with all the wrong things about yourself.

    After such a judgmental conversation, you will never see each other the same away again. No one likes to be judged, and you both did a heck of a lot of judging.

    If you feel the friendship is having problems, let it drift apart.

    Be SUPPORTIVE of your friends, even if you disagree with them. Just nod and agree because that’s what they want. They don’t want to be judged. You wouldn’t either.

    It only takes 1 set of bad feelings to ruin a friendship and you never see each other the same way again. You think that means the friendship wasn’t strong enough to begin with? Nope. I’ve had a good friendship end because of not seeing eye to eye with each other. We even had a conversation about it, but neither of us could shake off the bad feelings we had of each other. The other friendship was at work, and she felt like I was judging her work badly; after that, she stopped speaking to me socially. It’s not fun.

  • Ed (E.J.) Godwin

    Angela, first let me say that it took great courage to share such a deeply personal experience. I, for one, think that speaks more of your character and spiritual growth than anything Anna has to say.

    I’ve been there — responding to a criticism that was so harsh that it evoked a visceral, physical reaction that took days to recover from. What I didn’t realize at the time that just because someone is right in a logical sense doesn’t mean they said it in the right way or with the right motivation. Key phrases in Anna’s criticism, such as “bother ME,” are indicators of a self-centered, bottled-up resentment. What she said has more to do with her flaws than yours.

    The biggest myth being perpetrated today is that truth has to be spoken in harsh, unforgiving words, and if you can’t take it, well then that’s your problem. Here’s the REAL truth: Friends — real friends — don’t do this. If Anna is really as sincere as you say it’s her responsibility to make absolutely sure that you never doubt her compassion, never doubt her desire to help you grow. Only THEN can you make sound judgments about her words, because they are no longer filtered by the lie of self-doubt. And so what if it’s true? You deserve friends that accept you with all your “ugly warts,” and are as just as ready to cheer you on as they are to be straight with you when the need arises. Why? Because they are flawed human beings like all the rest of us, and they haven’t forgotten it.

    “Angela, I think your relationship with your higher power has great potential. Just keep believing in yourself, and it will happen.”

    (See, Anna, how easy that is?)

  • stefany

    Insightful and deep post. It totally resonates with me. I have a friend who loves to manipulate people and pit people against each other. One day when I was heartbroken and emotionally vulnerable he lashed out to me telling me that everything i do and believe in is a lie and that I will never reach my goals because of that. I should submit to his way of thinking in order to progress in life (his way of thinking is manipulating and hurting people) Luckily for me I always listen to my gut feeling and let his words slide. Not long ago he asked me to become the manager of a company he wants to start. I declined saying i’m moving with my boyfriend ( knowing very well he doesn’t like my boyfriend) Well the verbal abuse that started afterwards was on another level. I wasn’t upset a bit because I expected it. It was more entertainment to me. But I have to say the relationship haven’t been the same since then. And I don’t feel bad at all. Just like you pointed out, we are a work in progress. I’m also a work in progress and i love the progress. thanks for this uplifting post.

  • LesAnonymes

    I think this is thw healthy way to approach friendships.

  • lv2terp

    Great perspective, thank you for sharing and being so open with your experience and thought process! It is always great to question if something is true about ourselves, and be truly honest to recognize and shift what we feel will help make us a better person. Kudos to you! 🙂

  • scricciolo

    brilliant timing. the challenge of forgiveness resonates at the moment with me. I had a horrible encounter with my next door neighbour last week. she decided to share her opinion of me, which was really not very nice, all whilst shouting at me in my house. my dad had to kick her out in the end. she also twisted stuff I had said about my dad and was shouting this stuff at him too. I was in shock for a few days and whilst I do not believe what she said about me, I am still sad that this shouting outburst happened. I’m at the beginning of the learning curve for this life encounter – it’s hard when the other person lives immediately next door to you

  • Pat68

    You are one wise twenty year old. 🙂

  • arls88

    hello guys,
    i just want to say how greatly helpful this article AND all of your comments are to me! so thank you, from the deepest of my heart, thank you.

    i just had a big fight with my close friend just a few days ago. it started with my simple comment on one of our mutual friend, let’s say B. i said that i had some worries about living together with B, because we’re not that close and so on. none of my comments were about B’s lacking or whatsoever. i just told her my worries, but she took it that i was criticizing B.

    suddenly she began to tell me that it’s because i’m the one who made mistakes, that i was the one with the problem. she told me how other friends are telling her about how i did them wrong, and no one wants to talk directly to me. she suddenly mentioned all of my negative traits, AND all of my past mistakes, even those that happened before i became close to her. of course it infuriated me and i defended myself.

    i asked why was she so angry with what happened between me and other people, but she kept on telling me words like, “see? you never listen to anything someone said to you! i said these things because i’m your friend. i’m just being a mediator here. no one wants to talk to you or hang out with you because they’re mad with you now”. she, herself, had some problems with me that she didn’t get to bring up, but instead of talking about that, she was focusing on my OTHER FRIEND’s problem with me.

    i was deeply hurt by what she said. I too have always thought some things she does or thinks aren’t right, but i know that is my sole opinion. and i have never once judged her for that. but she chose to do that to me instead.

    i went home after we said bye with good attitude, i even hugged her, hoping to reduce the anger in myself. but along the way i can’t help feeling worthless.

    The next day, i talked with my other friends that she said i have wronged, and surprisingly they were fine about it! and i knew they were already cool with me, if not, they wouldn’t even hang out with me the day before. they have even forgiven me long time ago because i already said sorry to them and i remembered i did. i was even devastated to her because of it. what she said was totally unnecessary. it was only to make me blame myself, and somehow “justify” her disagreement about what i do or what i think. just because i did a mistake.

    she was my only closest friend in Germany since we study here together far away from our home country. after i became friends with her a few years ago, i started to develop some really, really bad attitude, and i hated myself because of that, i wanted to change it so i tried to stay away from her because she’s the one who influenced me. of course we’ve had a hell lot of good memories and we’ve been there for each other and through a lot of things together. that’s why i stayed friends with her for so long. but if she makes me perpetually think that i am not good enough as myself, and not confident just being me by constantly criticizing me, (which she often does to other people too),i can’t stay friends with her. After so many years, i finally be able to bring out the courage to cut ties with her.

    I’m going to meet her and talk some days later this week, we decided to do so. and i’m going to tell her that we shouldn’t hang out anymore. after i found this page, i finally sorted out everything i want to say to her.
    wish me luck, guys!

    p.s. we are all our parent’s precious child!! hehe

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