Meeting Criticism with Criticism
You regularly listen with empathy to others and have worked hard to cultivate this skill. Yet, there are those particular situations or relationships in which you can't seem to find your giraffe ears (have empathy for another).
It's likely that in these situations one of two things is happening. You perceive a threat to one of your most basic needs, like safety, security, belonging, autonomy, and/or acceptance. Or you are unwilling to feel the hurt and grief of needs unmet.
Being consciously aware that you perceive a threat to a basic need isn't always as simple as you might think. Perceptions of threat often hide out in political arguments, complex analyses, spiritual pronouncements, grand theories, or any sense of righteousness. Uncovering perceptions of threats is easier if you know the symptoms:
-You can't find empathy for the opposing view or another person.
-You feel tense every time you think of the situation.
-Your are not open to changing your view in the face of new information.
-You find yourself quickly moving to overwhelm or anger.
Once you recognize that you perceive a threat, you can discern if it is real and immediate or not and choose to take an action to meet your needs. You might also discern that a particular situation triggers such a high sense of threat in you that you'll want to limit your exposure to that situation.
Meeting criticism with criticism may also arise out of an unwillingness to feel the hurt and grief of needs unmet. This situation often occurs in families. In my own family, my brother has cut off all contact with our family and especially me, due, superficially, to religious preferences. I find that when he comes up in conversation with other family members there is often a heart hardening feeling that passes over me. The pain and grief of losing him is so immense that I often choose (unconsciously) not to feel it and move my awareness into my head. My words tend toward criticism. Sometimes I hide the pain in a psychological diagnosis of him.
Despite the personality differences you have with your family, the specialness of that bond remains and it is natural to want an evolving and fulfilling connection. Giving yourself plenty of compassion is a good place to start. Receiving empathy from someone outside the family is a helpful next step.
This week notice when you find yourself meeting criticism with criticism. Take time to reflect on the situation and notice if any of the above is true for you.