“My boss is making me nuts!”
For the last few weeks, Ben* has been upset by the way his new boss talks to him. “He’s so demanding. He’s so accusatory.” Ben mimics him with an imperious tone: “‘Are you making this a priority?’ ‘Did you get back to the client?’ He gives me the feeling that he thinks I’m incompetent.”
“Sounds familiar,” I say.
“You mean me and Susie?”
Since I have known Ben, he has been bothered by the tone that his wife occasionally uses with him. “She talks to me like I don’t know what I’m doing!” he has often complained. “‘What temperature did you run the kids’ bath?’ ‘Did you remember to fill up the gas tank?’ As if I don’t know how to do anything. She’s gutting my self-esteem.”
“My boss is worse than Susie,” Ben continues now. “And anyhow, Susie is doing better. For my birthday she agreed not to criticize me anymore.”
“How did you get her to agree to that?”
“I told her that I couldn’t take it anymore, walking around my own home feeling like an idiot all the time.”
“You really felt like an idiot?”
“Well….” He continues without answering my question: “It’s not pleasant, having someone who is supposed to love you talk to you like you’re a moron. I told Susie I’d had enough of that when I was a kid.”
From our work together, I know that Ben spent his childhood listening to his mother compare him, unfavorably, to his older brother.
“So I told Susie that she needed to understand my history and start giving me a break.”
Ben is raising an important issue:
What do you do when someone you are close to unjustly criticizes or judges you? Do you need them to change their mind, or can you find a way to feel ok about yourself on your own?
“I wonder how it will work for Susie to ‘give you a break’ when you do something she really doesn’t like,” I ask.
“Look,” replies Ben. ” I feel really bad about myself when I feel criticized. So why not ask for a break from the criticism?”
Ben doesn’t realize it, but he is in a precarious position. What will happen when Susie gets annoyed with him and doesn’t feel like holding back?
Though it feels great to have the constant goodwill and support of those you love (and those who employ you), it can be dangerous to rely on them to keep you feeling good about yourself. When they’re critical (and they will be!) you will be in a jam.
A far more solid approach to self-esteem:
Figure out how you need to live in order to be a person you respect, and adhere to your own standards. This will help you to believe in your own worth, even when others, including those whom you love, are critical.
A necessary ingredient here: Developing the resilience to tolerate the judgment of others without letting it overwhelm you.
Want to get better at taking care of your own self-esteem? I’ll be glad to help. Feel free to contact me.
*All names and identifying details altered in this article.