June 21, 2024
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Handling Criticism Using the ‘Fogging’ Skill

Two weeks ago, we covered the persistent skill of repeating what you want until the other person hears you. We now know how to counter any tactics designed to wear us down and manipulate us away from what we really want. We recognize that we are ultimately responsible for our beliefs, feelings, and actions.

All that is great, but what can we do when someone criticizes us?

Criticism exploits a pernicious lie from Adam’s time—the erroneous belief that we are not good enough. When faced with this thought, we might feel anger, guilt, anxiety or fear. The criticism is the tip of the iceberg, and the belief is below the surface. Suppose someone says in a judgmental tone, “You are a terrible father!” What might we do in response?

Counter-criticize by saying, “Not as terrible a father as you are!”

Defend ourselves with “Well I never had a good role model. Unlike you.”

Deny with “That isn’t true” or end the conversation and walk away.

To effectively handle criticism, we have to stop. Stop defending, stop denying and stop counter-criticizing. It is time to replace these with a different coping mechanism. Manuel J. Smith, PhD, the author of “When I Say No, I Feel Guilty,” suggests that we behave like a fog bank. The visual characteristics of a fog bank can help us remember how to behave. A fog bank is persistently hazy, cloudy, nebulous. It doesn’t fight or resist. The fog bank has no discernible striking surfaces. No matter what we throw at it, it remains unaffected. In the same way, we can effectively cope with criticism by offering no resistance or any psychological surfaces for others to strike at.

At the crux of this idea is a spiritual truth. Our self-worth does not come from ourselves or from others, it comes directly from the Almighty. He imbued us with a soul, a piece of Himself. Rav Noach Weinberg, zt’l, would point out how King David in Tehillim described man as “but little less than God. You have crowned him with meaning, honor, and beauty.” To help others appreciate their potential, he would further quote the Mishnah in Pirkei Avot: “Beloved is man that he was created in the Divine image. Even more beloved is he that he was informed that he was created in the Divine image.” (Rosenblum, p 233)

How ludicrous is it to criticize someone so exalted by the Almighty? How absurd to suggest that the eternal soul is “lazy” or “incompetent.” The best we can realistically say is, “I did a foolish thing” or “I procrastinated on this project.” People can only point out their perceptions of our bodies, thoughts, feelings or behavior. Ultimately, we decide whether we agree with those

perceptions or not. When you have an appreciation of who you really are, you set yourself free from meaningless judgments.

Let us now focus on extinguishing criticism with the skill called Fogging. Basically, we respond by agreeing with any truth in logical statements used to criticize us. This might be challenging to some as it may seem as if we are agreeing with lies. This is where we need to develop some discernment by carefully paying attention to what is said and responding accordingly. We can achieve this as follows:

1. Find some truth we can agree with and respond as follows:

“You are right” or “that is true” or “what you say is correct.”

2. Find any possible truth we can agree with and respond with the probability/odds of something being true:

“You may be right” or “you are probably right” or “perhaps.”

3. Find an idea/principle you can agree with and respond with:

“You have a point. I could be more _________ or I could be less _________.”

If we cannot find any semblance of truth in a criticism, we can calmly respond with a persistent and noncommittal “Hmmm” or we can ignore it, especially if it is illogical. If someone claims the sky is green, there is no point in responding unless they are wearing green shades.

Let us illustrate the three categories with an example dialogue.

CRITIC: You are such a terrible mother.

PARENT: You may be right. [Agreeing with the odds]

CRITIC: I am not just right, I am spot on.

PARENT: Perhaps that is the case. [Agreeing with the odds]

CRITIC: You should have said something else to your daughter.

PARENT: That is true, I could have said something else. [Agreeing with the truth]

CRITIC: Boy, did you mess up.

PARENT: I certainly could have done better [Agreeing in principle]

CRITIC: What an atrocious role model you are for her.

PARENT: I can certainly be a much better role model. [Agreeing in principle]

CRITIC: Well, aren’t you the novice fogger?

PARENT: You are right, I am a novice fogger. [Agreeing with the truth]

CRITIC: You will never get good at it.

PARENT: You may be right. [Agreeing with the odds]

CRITIC: Why you bother trying, I haven’t the foggiest idea.

PARENT: I am not sure either. [Agreeing with the truth]

CRITIC: How typical. You have no idea why you do things.

PARENT: I really don’t know sometimes. [Agreeing in principle or truth]

This conversation might end quickly with most people. Criticism for the sake of criticizing is useless. An assertive person who has your best interests in mind will approach it differently. They’ll point out your positive points and then share their concern regarding something you said or did. They might ask for your perspective or ask you to change how you relate to them or others.

The yetzer hara is a master criticizer, using words like “should,” “must” and “have to” in order to guilt-trip and confuse us. It is time to replace those unassertive words with “could” or “want to.” As soon as a voice, whether internal or external, says, “You should have… ” we can answer with, “You are right, I could have… ” Stop saying, “I have to do such and such,” and instead assert your free will and say, “I choose to do such and such.”

To become an effective Fogger, we want to spend time forming opinions about our lives, parenting skills, beliefs, and even the way we think we look. No one is perfect. The Almighty sent us here to fix things. As long as we are trying to improve in areas we have control over, there is no reason to feel guilty about not meeting expectations, especially unrealistic ones. And if we are not trying, we can admit that to ourselves without castigation and commit to one thing we can realistically work on.

As with the Broken Record skill, Fogging requires practice to replace old habits with new, helpful ones. In addition to extinguishing criticism, let us bring more positive energy into the world and find something to appreciate about ourselves and others.

May Hashem bless you to use these skills to raise yourself and others up and to bring more of His Divine Presence into our world.


Zita Weinstein resides in New Jersey with her husband and kids. She is passionate about education and spiritual growth. Additional details on these assertive skills and ideas can be found in the two books, “Rav Noach Weinberg: Torah Revolutionary” by Yonoson Rosenblum; and “When I Say No, I Feel Guilty” by Manuel J. Smith, PhD.

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