Thoughts on… being criticised



“What the public criticizes in you, cultivate. It is you.” ― Jean Cocteau

I’ve spent a large portion of my mortal life being criticised.

Either for one thing or another.

I’m fairly certain I was criticised for the way I was born and chose to take my first breath.

Damned if you do… damned if you don’t.

How on earth do you not get damned by someone else… or yourself.

Let’s face it, if someone else isn’t picking on us for this, that or the other thing… we’re probably doing it, and doing a far more effective job of it than anyone else because we know how to really hurt ourselves.

The hurt others inflict on us is just a flesh wound. It may feel like more… but that only happens when we help them push the sharp knife in… sometimes we’ll even give them a sharper knife because theirs is just not doing the job.

We say to them – That’s not a knife (film quote alert!) – we pull out a bigger and sharper one – This is a knife! – and then we show them exactly how to hurt us, slice us open and leave us with a wound which never heals and always bleeds… because just as it starts to heal naturally we stab it again, maybe with the help of the same person or someone else… but we’re still helping them do it.

We all know the pain of criticism and variations on the endlessly painful theme…


“What uniform can I wear to hide my heavy heart?
It is too heavy. It will always show.
Jacques felt himself growing gloomy again. He was well aware that to live on earth a man must follow its fashions, and hearts were no longer worn.” ― Jean Cocteau

But what about the flip side of criticism.

Such as…

What if what we’re being reproached for is not a weakness, not a fault, a flaw, an imperfection… but the greatest thing about us.

What if what disturbs others about us is… that we are proud of ourselves. Of our uniqueness. Our individuality. Our life. Our experience. Our thoughts. Our feelings. That what we say and do shows others that being yourself, authentic, real, expressing yourself as is… is something to revel in, something to cultivate and propagate. Whether it is liked or not. It is us… something to be celebrated in some way, perhaps using a form of celebration which offends… some… but not everyone.

Why does our celebration of ourselves offend others.

Perhaps it disturbs them because they’re not being themselves… so… we aren’t allowed to do it either.

Misery of a certain sort loves company… the more the unmerrier.

Doing something, anything at all, even just breathing… can disturb someone else, piss them off and make them want to criticise you for it.

Your existence offends them in some way.


“When I write, I disturb. When I show a film, I disturb. When I exhibit my painting, I disturb, and I disturb if I don’t. I have a knack for disturbing.” ― Jean Cocteau

When you do something like blogging… you put yourself out there and anyone can become aware of you.

If they like you because you’re being yourself and doing it publicly, and it encourages them to be themselves and do it publicly… it’s amazing, a rush, a communion of beings saying ‘yes’ to life in all its complexity.

If they don’t like you… there’s that too.

They don’t always see you as a person. A human. A living breathing life form like themselves. You’re a thing compared to them, one which offends them. A wrong compared to their right. Or something like that.

There are endless variations on the theme of being human.


“It is dangerous not to conform with people’s image of us, because they do not readily retract their opinions.” ― Jean Cocteau

What is more valuable. A compliment or a criticism.

Both… when they show you something about yourself which you need to know, to be aware of.

But don’t see it like they see it… their perspective is their perspective. It is skewed whether they love you or hate you or anything else. They see you through the filter of themselves. But it does inform you… sometimes about yourself, sometimes about them… sometimes a bit of both.

Mirrors - jean cocteau


  1. One thing the narcissist taught me is: I might as well be myself and proud of who I am because there is always going to be somebody who thinks you should do or be something else no matter who you are. I have learned that no one is perfect and very few people are authentic. What someone thinks is the best thing for me may be the worst thing for me and the best thing for them.
    It’s funny (not really funny) but I noticed the more my ex criticized me the more I looked at the things he did. I wouldn’t even be upset with him about anything but he would start pointing out all my flaws and it made me go, “Hey! what about you?” It is true that when a person points a finger at you he has 3 pointing at himself.


    • There’s always a gift in the curse of being with a narcissist, in some ways they help us to accept ourselves as we are because we become allergic to their way of seeing us and the world. They seek perfection, to transcend being human, and their way of doing that is so negative that it inspires us with an appreciation of everything they hate.

      One of the things I’ve learned from narcs is similar to yours. I learned to listen more closely to the criticism, the words used and the intention behind them. To pause and contemplate before reacting. With narcs everything they say is always about them, so a criticism aimed at you is not about you at all, it’s about whatever they are trying to say about themselves, the image they need to have of themselves. So when they say we’re wrong, what they actually are saying is that they are right. But for them to be right, those around them have to be wrong. They can’t do it any other way. Their criticisms are designed as compliments for themselves and have nothing to do with us, we only exist for their benefit.

      Being around narcs has also changed the way I perceive compliments. They never say anything nice to you unless there’s a goal behind it. That too is all about them. So I always pause and contemplate before reacting when I get a compliment. This used to cause problems with those who are not narcissists because it can come across as rude, but it does actually give you an appreciation for genuine compliments because you see how much someone has put into their words, how much they are giving. It adds dimension and words come alive with the essence of the person using them.

      Narcissists give us the ability to really see the beauty in those who are not narcissists 🙂


      • Amen to that…”Narcissists give us the ability to really see the beauty in those who are not narcissists.” You are always so complimentary and helpful and I’ll never forget your first response to me via this blog months ago. I couldn’t believe you wrote so much to me. I mattered. You really saved my freakin’ ass girl! You have a giving, beautiful, tender way about you. I’m in awe really, and in disbelief that people like you can make it through & turn out to give so much and do good, even after having suffered at the hands of your own narc parents. It is a testament to survival and strength. And you bless us all with the courage that comes along with that. Even when we feel lost and weak. I am convinced that “twinge” you sometimes feel when you help others and know so much is actually a “spark” of enlightenment that you can be proud of. By the way, this compliment is free of charge, no strings attached and the real deal.


  2. I have never been attracted by Cocteau, but reading his quotes here i think I have changed my mind…he sounds as a child of Ns, doesn’t he? very deep thoughts. I love your personal take and comment on the quotes and I share and feel every word with my heart and expreince until you talk about the reason why I have been so intensely criticised all my life, I am not there yet, i am a work in progress, hopefully before dying I will get there. We have had excellent training,:))).Sometimes I happened to think my parents criticised me before I was born, as they had already prepared my life to the utter detail and were already angry at me as they felt I might not have followed their script..which is what happened! Very meaningful and true post.
    i am on the verge to live my life from scratch, for a few seconds sometimes I feel free, it’s really odd, I am my own person, fragments of living to the full, I hope it will replace the misfit skin my parents have sewn on me!


    • That’s wonderful! To feel those moments of being free and being your own person. They’re bright stars in the night to guide you.

      When I’m being critical, either of myself or someone else, I tend to freeze the words and look at them, listen to the voice within them to figure out where it’s coming from and why it is speaking that way. Sometimes it’s not our voice, it’s someone else’s which we’ve adopted. Sometimes it is ours and it helps to know what it is really saying and why.

      People are often critical when they’re afraid. I can see that in myself. My first reaction to something new is often to reject it and be dismissive about it, but I know I do that so I wait for the urge to pass, observe it, because I know behind it is the excitement and curiosity of the new, and the desire to find out more about this new thing. I just need a bit of time to get over the initial fear of the unknown, to figure out whether the new thing is a threat or not. I tend to be very slow to react because of having to pause and have a chat with myself before I react.

      Children of narcs can be a bit growly and on the defensive, at least this one tends to be, so I work with it, with the awareness of it. It has a flip side in that when we get a genuine compliment (as opposed to a narc type of compliment) it’s a lovely surprise 🙂


  3. Thank you so much for this–it’s the central theme of what I’ve been struggling with for at least a month or more (not that it didn’t come up ten thousand times before that!) You state it perfectly, and as always provide that essential guidance that is both elegantly intelligent and gives us permission to be who we are–because in that way you have you make it perfectly clear that that’s the only sane choice–and as Carrie notes above, that’s one thing the Narcissist (or any other Soul Denier) is bent on keeping us from. I have been (and it’s been a lifelong problem) not conforming to others’ image, and they do not wish to retract their opinion–and there’s nothing to be done about it.
    Thank you thank you thank you 🙂


    • Thank you 🙂

      I like to sometimes try and see what exactly it is that the person criticising is seeing, what is this image they have and why do they need to have it, it’s important to them for some reason or they wouldn’t be feeding it so much energy and demanding attention for it, for themselves, what purpose is it serving for them, what is the real intention and the motivation behind it.

      With narcissists and others of that type, what they see has nothing to do with us and our image and everything to do with them using us to create their own image of themselves. They need us to give them their identity. Which is usually why they are so intractable in how they see us. We need to be who they need us to be, so they can be who they are desperate to be. They put us down to build themselves up. Which is a counter-productive thing to do, but they seem oblivious to the pitfalls of their method. I don’t think they can actually see that there are other methods. They have blinkers firmly glued to their eyes. It’s their view or it’s their view and that’s that.

      But we have options with our view. Flexibility. That’s partly why their criticism gets to us, because we can see how they might be right and how we might be wrong, even if we know they’re not right for us and we are not wrong for us. We tend to respect their right to have their opinion, they expect us to conform to their opinion because they do not respect anyone else’s right to differ from their world view, they can’t entertain alternate realities, there’s is the only version allowed to exist and it’s a very fragile one. They’re terrified that one breath from us will shatter it, so they need to control and censor our breathing. We sometimes try to meet them halfway, because that’s what reasonable and logical people do, try to cooperate, but they don’t budge from their position and they expect us to go all the way over to their side and give up our will to theirs. But that won’t please them either because they are constantly under threat.

      It’s very frustrating and can be exhausting, as though we’re being whittled away criticism by criticism. The flip side of it is that dealing with this type of mentality really hones our own mind, strengthens our will and our ability to stand our ground and be true to ourselves. Their criticism whittles us down to our core self and hits adamantine. That’s the moment we stop listening to them and start listening to ourselves. They have the right to be as they are and have their opinions… and we have the right to be as we are and to disregard their opinions.

      It’s interesting to note that Jean Cocteau has Pluto in the 1st (in Gemini). Pluto sometimes works a bit like Saturn, stripping away layer upon layer until you reach the core. It’s also very adept at turning what is negative into something positive – that which destroys can also create. 🙂


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