Destructive criticism

Joey Garcia

My boyfriend of nine months says being honest means saying what’s on his mind at all times, even if it is hurtful or insensitive. He says he learned this in a course on spirituality. For instance, my boyfriend (who is Asian) told me he’s not attracted to pale skin (I’m a blue-eyed blonde). He repeatedly tells me everything he wishes were different about me. He wishes I would get in shape (I have lost 25 pounds), and he gets upset that I don’t spend money as indulgently as he does. He tells me anything he feels might become a problem. He says I am a victim of the Western paradigm. I don’t know if I can take this. I think he is self-indulgent, insensitive and cruel. I believe you don’t need to tell everyone every thought. Obviously, I can’t help my skin color, so what’s the point of telling me he doesn’t like it?

Control. As Zen teacher Cheri Huber writes in There is Nothing Wrong with You: Going Beyond Self-Hate, “Constructive criticism is a scam run by people who want to beat you up. And they want you to believe that they are doing it for your own good.” If you are accustomed to a romantic life that repeatedly peaks and plummets, then you will avoid establishing boundaries that will end the abuse. People often remain in abusive relationships because they believe things might get better. Change is possible but not until both of you commit to a plan that specifies how to transform the problem.

So, think about what you want in a relationship. Then, you will have criteria to use to discern whether this relationship is good for you. Otherwise, you may be stuck: He will never be so bad that you will leave, but he also will never be so good that you will feel content.

Truth is a prerequisite for trust and commitment, but your boyfriend clearly is not practicing truth or spirituality. Spirituality requires that he apply each criticism to himself first. For example, “I need to get in spiritual shape and lose the weight of my critical thoughts,” or “I need to reject this version of myself that is pale with fear of being equal, vulnerable and loving.” Truth also requires full disclosure. That means he would share his fears: “I get really invested in criticizing my partners as a way to avoid growing closer.” And so would you: “I allow others to criticize me as a way of indulging my insecure self.” Now, that’s truth-telling! The result is compassion and intimacy.

I felt a connection to the column “Why am I invisible?” (SN&R Ask Joey, August 28). Moving to another state to resolve issues is what compelled me to come to California. You are correct when you suggest that moving would not resolve deep-seated issues. You are correct to state that life is not fair. What most impressed me was not only your comprehension of the ways of measuring and working with time (in a biblical sense) but also your ability to express this to someone who may not take anything spiritual into consideration when experiencing hardship or disappointment. I only wish that I had had someone to tell it to me when I was feeling the same. I learned it the hard way.

So did I! If this column rings true, it’s because I have made many mistakes and thoughtless choices in my own life. Gratefully, I am also genetically predisposed to discover the reasons behind my mistakes and apply that information to my life. It’s a privilege to share what I learn.

Meditation of the week
When I was a child, my mother liked to remind me that she gave me life. As a teenager and young adult, I rebelled against this idea and pushed limits to prove that my life was my own. Now, I’m 42 and living with this question: In what ways do I control my life and treat it as my possession rather than embrace it as God’s gift to me?

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