A member of my community asks this question: “I seem to attract the most sensitive partners. They tell me I’m too critical and I don’t think I am at all. My friends all think I’m wonderful. What is in my Shadow that I attract these overly sensitive partners?”
This is an interesting question, because intimate relationships are definitely different than friendships. When you get intimately involved with someone, you unconsciously bring out the behaviors that were deeply ingrained in you in childhood.
They may be behaviors you saw in others that you now unconsciously mimic, or they may be behaviors which are the opposite, having vowed to yourself “never to do THAT.”
Intimate relationships are where your Shadow beliefs and emotions get played out. If you are aware that that is what’s happening, you have the chance to look at them, feel them, process them, and eventually release them so they are no longer an unconscious choice that controls you and has power over you.
Your Shadow uses a defense mechanism called “projection”. If you have not owned a trait in yourself that is hidden “in Shadow”, it will be projected onto someone outside of you.
If you see someone as being “overly sensitive”, there may be a part of you that is overly sensitive that you have not yet seen and owned. Nature is bringing you these types of partners so you can finally get in touch with that part of yourself and bring it to the light of your Awareness to heal and integrate it into your Wholeness.
Ask yourself what part of you is overly sensitive? See if you can get in touch with it, and especially with the FEELING of what it feels like to be overly sensitive. This may bring up a memory or emotions that need to be processed and released.
The other thing is that criticism and sensitivity go together. A critical person was usually criticized in childhood by caretakers, siblings, or peers. It becomes their defense mechanism, usually to cover up a very sensitive and insecure person on the inside.
The funny thing is, people who are critical never think of themselves as critical people.
The defense mechanism is so strong and so necessary, that the projection onto the other person as the source of the fault or blame is automatic and apparently self-evident. Thus, YOU aren’t the one who doles out criticism, THEY are the ones who are overly sensitive.
The way to test if you are an overly critical person, is to notice your behavior – not towards your FRIENDS, but towards YOURSELF. Are you hard on yourself? Do others tell you that you’re really hard on yourself? Do you demand perfection of yourself? Do you ever give yourself a break? Are you able to forgive yourself your mistakes or have compassion for your own humanity?
We tend to treat others – especially our intimate partners – the same way we treat ourselves.
Of COURSE you can’t see that you’re critical – that’s the same way you treat yourself! You’re USED TO IT.
And what is the object of criticism anyway? It’s usually to try to control yourself or the other person. As a defense mechanism in a childhood situation that felt scary and vulnerable, it was absolutely NECESSARY to try your best to CONTROL that situation.
But as we know, none of us likes to be controlled. You don’t like to feel controlled by others, by your friends, your boss, or an overly controlling mom who is still trying to tell you what to do even though you’re in your 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, right?!
Not only do we not enjoy feeling like we’re being controlled, trying to control someone else’s behavior never works. It only ends up in resentment, stonewalling, defensiveness, resistance, and ultimately ghosting. So you end up not getting the love you’re seeking.
Ask yourself what part of you needs to be in control and why? There is usually some unexamined insecurity or anxiety that motivates you to get control of your world, your partner included. If you can pinpoint this anxiety, feel it and process it, you can start being easier on yourself and on your partner, resulting in a more loving relationship.
Here’s how to tell if you are truly doling out criticism or simply expressing something you need in a relationship:
Criticism attacks the other person’s personality, not just the behavior. (“You’re lazy! You’re stupid!” vs. “Were you too tired to take out the trash last night?”)
Criticism is devaluing and blaming rather than encouraging and nurturing. (“I can’t believe you did that! What on earth possessed you to get it SO wrong?” vs. “That surprised me! It’s so unlike you. I wonder if you could have done that differently?”)
Criticism does not request a solution. (“You worked late every night last week” vs. “I missed you and wished you could have come home earlier some night – is there a way you can make that happen?”)
Criticism attempts to control and can be coercive. (“I need you to do it this way because I know the right way to do it, and if you don’t do it this way, you’re going to make me very upset” vs. “I’ve always done it this way, but help me understand why you think your way can get better results.”)
Also, remember that the TONE OF VOICE in which you deliver your message is often more important than the words you use. If you say the 2nd suggestions above with a blaming attitude, it probably will not work any better.
The bottom line is, people don’t change because we want them to.
No matter how nicely we may make a request, people only change if they see a good reason for themselves that they should make that change.
The good news is you CAN inspire your partner to change by showing them something that would be to THEIR benefit about the situation.
Good or constructive criticism is given for the benefit of the recipient: “If you attend to all your household chores early in the day, it’ll give us more one-on-one time together at night.”
Destructive criticism is given for the benefit of the requester. “I feel disregarded and disrespected when you don’t do the things I ask of you.”
And of course, you’re in a relationship together because you both want to feel LOVED. If you are loving in the way you speak to your partner, showing them you care about what’s best for them, one of the perks they get is that you are pleased with their behavior and the result is they want to please you more so they can feel that more often!
In general, love flourishes when we both feel respected, loved, admired, appreciated, safe, autonomous, and connected. When your partner gets too many requests, or feels judged, they may feel like there’s no pleasing you. This can make them feel like a failure in this relationship and they may eventually move on to find someone else they can please.
Ultimately, being more nurturing and inclusive about the way you make suggestions in your relationship will give YOU what you’re really looking for: true bonding and lasting real LOVE.
Are there any lessons you learned about over-sensitivity or criticism in your relationships? Please share them in the comments below or on my Facebook page here.