You were just given some negative feedback, and you’re feeling defensive.
Maybe your boss didn’t like a project you submitted, or your spouse criticized the way you’re dressed, or your mother disapprovingly commented on the way you’re raising your children.
What do conscious vs unconscious responses look like?
This reminds me of Goofus and Gallant from Highlights magazines for children. Do you remember them?
The idea is that Gallant is the role model for how to behave while Goofus shows us what not to do.
Let’s use Goofus and Gallant to simplistically demonstrate unconscious vs. conscious ways of coping with negative feedback.
(To be clear, none of us are Goofus or Gallant. We are not an either/or. Sometimes we are partly conscious, other times we are on autopilot, but rarely are we fully conscious. Consciousness takes intention and is a path for spiritual growth. None of us will achieve a steady state of consciousness in our lifetime.)
Let’s take a closer look at how to move out of unconsciousness and towards consciousness. We’ll use the above example of the mother who was offering unsolicited negative feedback about her son’s parenting.
What would Goofus do in this situation?
Goofus is offended and defensive. He angrily tells his mother to mind her own business and storms out of the house. Or he doesn’t talk to her about his feelings, but instead glares at her, harbors resentment towards her, and talks about her behind her back. Or he explains that he is super busy and stressed at work, and that the kids are at a tough age, and that his wife isn’t very helpful with the kids, and the dog ate his homework.
Part of him feels ashamed because he has misgivings about how he’s parenting his children. Another part of him feels small and remembers what it felt like to be a kid who is being told by his mother that he’s being bad. Another part feels angry because his mother wasn’t a perfect parent.
In short, he’s responding defensively. He’s created a war in his head and with his mother.
“She doesn’t understand.”
“She’s just so critical.”
“I’m not good enough.”
“Who is she to judge?!”
Does this sound familiar?
Our knee jerk reaction to perceived criticism is usually defensive.
When we are unconscious, we want the pain to stop. We may lash out, shift the focus elsewhere, seek approval, or try to prove our innocence. Whatever it takes to get the spotlight off us.
Unfortunately, none of these strategies work very well. When we push our feelings of anger, hurt, guilt, and shame under the rug, they don’t magically go away.
In fact, the very act of trying to suppress them, ironically, amplifies their intensity. Then, sometimes when we least expect it, those feelings find a way out. We may displace them on someone else, and perhaps we yell at our spouse, or children. Now we’ve created more turmoil in our relationships and still haven’t resolved the original source of our discomfort.
Let’s see what Gallant does
Gallant likely feels upset. However, he knows that when he’s upset, it’s time to become fully conscious. He’s doesn’t want to behave impulsively and regret it later.
Notice that he doesn’t deny his feelings. He allows himself to feel his feelings and is curious about them. He knows that his ego is feeling wounded. However, Gallant knows that his ego isn’t seeing the larger picture.
Once he calms down and becomes more conscious, he considers what his mother said.
At this point, he may consider what he knows about his mother over the course of his life. Has she tended to be mean-spirited or thoughtless? Has she been supportive and kind? How much credence does he want to put into her criticism?
He knows that what his mother said wasn’t about him, it was about his mother. Her personality, her perceptions, and her opinions.
Gallant asks himself if there’s anything he can learn from his mother’s feedback. Is his mother expressing concern about her grandchildren’s well-being? Does he see any validity to her concerns? Are her comments helpful in any way?
If he knows his mother to be consistently negative in her view of the world, he might surmise that his mother is just being herself. He may choose to accept her for who she is and knows that deep inside she’s in pain. Or he might tell his mother directly that he doesn’t like it when she is negative and critical towards him.
If he knows his mother to be generally loving and supportive, he might ask her to tell him more about her concerns. Or he may decide to set a boundary and say that he knows that he’s not a perfect parent. He knows that she loves him and her grandchildren. However, he wants to parent his children his way, and would prefer not to have her feedback unless he asks for it.
Gallant practices the pause. He pauses to connect with his higher self. That higher self loves and understands his ego, yet he doesn’t put his ego in the driver’s seat. His higher self knows that love is all there.
This is the foundation for accepting any feedback. In our next post, we’ll apply this to harsh feedback and learn to accept it gracefully.