You Have Permission to Like Yourself

There comes a time in your life when you can decline other people's efforts to fix you
BY Nancy Colier TIMEFebruary 24, 2022 PRINT

Is there someone in your life who frequently critiques you, and often points out what you’re doing or have done wrong, and how you should improve? Is there someone close to you who gives you the feeling that maybe they don’t quite like you as you are?

We all know people who seem to know how we should behave—better than we do—people we feel constantly judge us, who don’t seem to approve of who we are.

As human beings, we’re a fairly judgmental lot. We have a lot to say about each other, and a lot of it is critical. We come up with a lot of thinking about what other people shouldn’t be doing, and should behave and feel. We tend to do this within our families more than anywhere else. In fact, families are a place where criticism and judgment can be a way of life. Often there’s a running commentary on what’s wrong with everyone and much of it is shared, all in the name of good fun and wanting “what’s best for you.” When you’re raised in a judgmental family, you get used to being criticized; it feels normal to be perpetually told what’s wrong with you, how others perceive you negatively, and of course, how you should change.

No matter how much this judgment stings, you may feel reluctant to ignore or reject it. To do so would be to stop listening to those who know you the best, whose approval matters, and who, more than anyone else, want what’s best for you. And furthermore, these people may see issues that you can’t or refuse to see. Turning away from criticism and judgment from your familial jury would imply you think you’re perfect or have no interest in improving yourself. It may feel akin to saying “This is who I am, take it or leave it.” It could even be narcissistic, a declaration that you only want to be with fans, people who think you’re great. Sure, it could be all of those things, but it’s far more likely that none of this is true.

The fact is, sometimes even people who respect us, trust our judgment, and know that we’re good tell us things about ourselves that are difficult to hear. But when people who are genuinely on our side, who like and respect us, offer such comments, their words land differently: kindly, gently. Criticism that comes from love, even when the words are hard to hear, feels loving.

This kind of feedback or advice usually contains a willingness to include us in the conversation, a curiosity about our experience. There is an effort to understand why we’re doing what we’re doing, and what our intention is. Such comments are offered with respect and contain a flavor of helping not harming, including not rejecting.

In truth, what we tend to consider “criticism” actually includes many different things: from advice to guidance to condemnation. If we check in with our own experience and intuition, we can almost always tell when a comment or commentary (on us) comes from kindness and a desire to help us. We know if the person sharing it wants to create more closeness and honesty in the relationship and intends to maintain our dignity and respect even as they point toward our shortcoming. We can also sense when a critique is a condemnation, a blaming or shaming of us, and when the speaker is convinced they know how we should be different. We feel the difference when someone offers an opinion on us but owns it as their experience as opposed to some universal truth about who we are.

Judgments of this latter sort tend to be riddled with shoulds and also noticeably absent of curiosity.

But here’s the thing, and the point of this article: It’s OK to stop being interested in what other people think is wrong with you, and furthermore, to stop taking in their ideas about who and how you should be. It’s OK to stop making yourself available to everyone’s ideas about the validity and rightness of your choices and behavior, and the quality of you.

It’s OK to turn away from judgment and criticism—in any form you choose—even when it’s being presented as in your best interest. There comes a time in your life when you’re allowed to stop being available and present for what everyone else thinks of you. Maybe that time is now.

Even if we stop taking on other’s people’s judgments and criticisms and decline to fix whatever behavior they think is wrong, it doesn’t mean we pull the covers over our eyes or declare that we don’t care how we come across in the world. We’re not saying we know everything and we’re always right. It doesn’t mean we’re now bulls in a china shop, insensitive and immune to other people’s feelings or experiences. What we are saying, however, with dignity and power, is that we are OK with our choices and who we are. We like ourselves. In reality, we can deeply care about another’s person’s experience and at the same time, not be terribly interested in fixing ourselves so they’ll approve of us. We can, in fact, take ourselves off their list of those looking to be fixed.

This article is a permission slip of sorts: I’m offering you permission to surround yourself with people who genuinely like and respect you, trust your judgment, and fundamentally enjoy who and how you are. You’re allowed to choose not to put yourself in the company of people who make you feel badly about yourself. And furthermore, you have the right to decide not to spend your time and not devote your energy to listening to what’s wrong with you. You don’t have to feel guilty for putting yourself in the company of people who appreciate you. To do so is not a cop-out, nor a free pass to ignore your own weak spots.

Starting today, you can decide that you want to be with people who are, at a core level, on your team.

This is your life and it’s OK if it feels good. When it comes to the company you keep, it’s OK to take the road of ease, of inviting in what actually feels good and loving, and rejecting what doesn’t. Just because something is hard to hear doesn’t mean it’s good for you; it may be hard to hear because it’s not good for you. To take yourself out of the company of people who disapprove, judge, and criticize you can be an act of supreme self-kindness and intentionality, which is good for you. We’re not taught this, but it’s actually OK to feel good about yourself, and also, to choose and keep company with people who also feel good about you.

Nancy Colier
Nancy Colier is a psychotherapist, interfaith minister, thought leader, public speaker, and the author of "Can't Stop Thinking: How to Let Go of Anxiety and Free Yourself from Obsessive Rumination,” “The Power of Off,” and the upcoming “The Emotionally Exhausted Woman: Why You’re Depleted and How to Get What You Need” (November, 2022.)
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