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Section 4
Self-Critical Response Styles

Question 4 | Test | Table of Contents

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In the last section, we discussed the pathological critic.  I find that these critics begin with an arsenal of shoulds which can be linked to five determining factors of the strength of the self critic.  These five factors are the degree to which issues of taste, personal needs, safety, or good judgment were mislabeled as moral imperatives, the degree to which parents failed to differentiate between behavior and identity, the frequency of the forbidding gestures, the consistency of forbidding gestures, and the frequency with which forbidding gestures were tied to parental anger or withdrawal.

In this section, we will discuss responding to the critic.  Once your client, like Sam, begins to hear internal criticism as dysotonic, he or she can begin responding.  I find that ineffective response styles manifest in three different ways.  These are passive response, aggressive response, and passive aggressive response.  To foster effective response styles we will discuss techniques for acknowledgement, clouding and probing in later sections.  As you listen to these three cognitive behavior therapy techniques for effective response styles in the next two sections, consider your client.  How might you implement these techniques to help your client improve his or her self-esteem?

First, let’s discuss ineffective response styles to criticism.  I find that there are three basic ways to go wrong in responding to criticism.  They are being aggressive, being passive, or both. 

♦ 3 Manifestations of Ineffective Response Styles

# 1 - Aggressive Response
The aggressive response to criticism is to counterattack.  For example, a client may feel bad about his television viewing habits and counterattacks by thinking about his wife’s affection for TV soaps.  Or perhaps a client’s husband makes a snide remark about her weight.  She then counterattacks by mentioning his blood pressure.  In this case the critic is external, but the point aggressiveness as an ineffective response styles remains the same. 

# 2 - Passive Response
The second ineffective response style that we’ll discuss is the passive response.  As you already know, the passive style of responding to criticism is to agree, to apologize, and to surrender at the first sign of attack.  Silence can also be a passive response to criticism. 

# 3 - Passive Aggressive Response
In addition to the aggressive response and the passive response, the third ineffective response style which we will discuss combines both styles into a passive aggressive response.  The passive aggressive style causes clients to apologize or agree to change when they first feel criticized.  However later they get even with the critic by forgetting something, failing to make the change, or some other covertly aggressive action. 

Two ways passive aggressive responses lower client’s self-esteem:
1. First, self-esteem suffers because the client agrees with the critic regarding shortcomings.
Second, self-esteem gets taken down further when the client covertly strikes back because he or she feels bad for being sneaky or for being fallible if the retaliation takes the form of an unconscious mistake.

Would you agree that a consistently passive aggressive response style is hard to change? I find that because passive aggressive response styles are so indirect, it can be difficult to break the cycle and foster honest, straightforward communication. Let’s discuss ways to do this through effective response styles.

♦ Effective Response Styles
As you already know, the effective way to respond to criticism is to use the assertive style.  The assertive style of responding to criticism doesn’t attack, surrender to, or sabotage the critic.  Assertiveness disarms the critic.  When the client responds assertively to a critic, he or she clears up misunderstandings, acknowledges accuracy, ignores damaging criticism, and puts an end to unwanted attacks without sacrificing self-esteem.  I find that there are three techniques for responding assertively to criticism.  These three techniques are acknowledgement, clouding, and probing. 

CBT Technique: Acknowledgement
In the rest of this section, we will discuss acknowledgement.  The other two CBT techniques will be described in further detail in the next section.  As you are aware, acknowledgement simply means agreeing with the critic.  This technique is best used when the client can agree with the criticism and wants to immediately stop the criticism. 

4 Steps to Help Sam Acknowledge Accurate Criticism
Step 1: "First, say ‘you’re right.’ 
Step 2: Next, paraphrase the criticism so that the critic is sure you heard him or her correctly.
Step 3: Third, thank the critic, if appropriate. 
Step 4: Finally, explain yourself.  Again, also if appropriate.  Keep in mind that an explanation is not an apology.  While you are working on raising your self-esteem, I would encourage you not to apologize and seldom to explain.  Remember that criticism is uninvited and unwelcome.  Most critics don’t deserve either an apology or an explanation.  They will have to be satisfied with being told they’re right. 

Here’s an example of how Sam responded to criticism with a simple acknowledgement.  Sam stated, "When I got in my car to drive to work last night, the tank was on ‘E.’  I almost ran out of gas and was late to work because I had to stop and fill up.  I kept hearing my critic downing me for not filling it up the day before."  I asked Sam, "How did you respond to your critic?" 

Sam answered, "Well, I just thought, ‘You’re right.  I noticed I was low on gas and I should have either put some in then or I should have planned to stop on my way to work.  Thanks for the thought."  Would you agree that is all that needs to be said?  Essentially, no explanation or apology or pledge to reform is needed.  The responding client, like Sam, acknowledges a minor lapse, thank the critic and the case is closed. 

Advanced acknowledgement takes this CBT technique a step further and turns an external critic into an ally.  For example, a client’s supervisor states that the client’s office is a mess and asks how the client ever finds anything.  The client may state, "You’re right.  My office is a mess, and I can never find what I want.  How do you think I could reorganize my filing system?"

Using acknowledgement as a technique for effective response has several advantages.  How might your client benefit?

In this section, we discussed responding to the critic.  I find that ineffective response styles manifest in three different ways.  These are passive response, aggressive response, and passive aggressive response.  To foster effective response styles we discussed a technique for acknowledgement. 

- Lee, J., Joo, E., & Choi, K., (2013) Perceived Stress and Self-esteem Mediate the Effects of Work-related Stress on Depression. Stress & Health: Journal of the International Society for the Investigation of Stress, 29(1), 75-81.

In the next section, we will continue our discussion on effective response styles by focusing on the technique of clouding the critic.  As you will see, clouding is done by agreeing in part, agreeing in probability, and agreeing in principle.
Reviewed 2023

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Barnett, M. D., Maciel, I. V., & King, M. A. (2019). Sandbagging and the self: Does narcissism explain the relationship between sandbagging and self-esteem? Journal of Individual Differences, 40(1), 20-25.

Burke, E., Pyle, M., Machin, K., Varese, F., & Morrison, A. P. (2019). The effects of peer support on empowerment, self-efficacy, and internalized stigma: A narrative synthesis and meta-analysis. Stigma and Health, 4(3), 337–356.

Dapp, L. C., Krauss, S., & Orth, U. (2023). Testing the bottom-up and top-down models of self-esteem: A meta-analysis of longitudinal studies. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 124(5), 1111–1131.

Dunkley, D. M., Starrs, C. J., Gouveia, L., & Moroz, M. (2020). Self-critical perfectionism and lower daily perceived control predict depressive and anxious symptoms over four years. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 67(6), 736–746.

Henninger, M., Plieninger, H., & Meiser, T. (2023). The effect of response formats on response style strength: An experimental comparison. European Journal of Psychological Assessment. Advance online publication.

Joeng, J. R. & Turner, S. L. (Jul 2015). Mediators between self-criticism and depression: Fear of compassion, self-compassion, and importance to others. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 62(3), 453-463.

McGrath, D. S., Sherry, S. B., Stewart, S. H., Mushquash, A. R., Allen, S. L., Nealis, Logan J., & Sherry, D. L. (Jul 2012). Reciprocal relations between self-critical perfectionism and depressive symptoms: Evidence from a short-term, four-wave longitudinal study. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, 44(3), 169-181.

Paivio, S. C., & Pascual-Leone, A. (2023). Transforming guilt, shame, and self-blame. In S. C. Paivio & A. Pascual-Leone, Emotion-focused therapy for complex trauma: An integrative approach (pp. 207–233). American Psychological Association.

“Self-critical perfectionism and depressive and anxious symptoms over 4 years: The mediating role of daily stress reactivity”: Correction to Mandel et al. (Mar 2017). Journal of Counseling Psychology, 64(2), 232.

What are three ineffective response styles?
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Section 5
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