The Thirteen Brooms: Criticism and Anxiety

Two witch broomsThe Thirteen Brooms

Criticism Is an Expression of Anxiety

To be married is to be criticized. To be a child is to be criticized. To be a parent is to be criticized. To grow up in a world not designed to meet our needs above all others–is to be criticized.

To be a pet is to be criticized. We have had five dogs from the same family. How do I know that? For the first year of their lives their names were “Shrinker, no!” “Murray, no!” “Suzie, no!” “Sammie, no!” “Flo, no!”

In fact, to be an object owned, rented, or borrowed by a person—a car, dishwasher, television, or even be invisible wi-fi vibes—is to be criticized. (Now, we are warring with inanimate objects?) And who isn’t at least partially crippled due to the diligent efforts of the self-criticizer? The Internal Torturer?woman with man on a tightrope

Then again, to be married is to criticize. To be a child is to criticize. To be a parent is to criticize. To live in the world designed for a whole bunch of folks and not just for us is to criticize–unless you are more emotionally together than anyone I’ve met so far. And, frankly, if you’re not pointing out how people in your house and around the world need to change, you are falling down on your job.

And I have just one question, “What’s wrong with you? can’t expect the rest of us to do your criticizing for you. It’s hard enough to keep up with the failures and wrong thinking in our own families, friends, and encountered strangers (political candidates count as strangers). Not that those of us giving of our time and energy to help are given any appreciation. I have told xwz car insurance company many, many times exactly what to do with their commercials and am yet to receive a thank-you or a check. Same goes for the relatives I’ve advised for years on a variety of topics.

Love and Tools in Their Proper Place

A few nights ago we were playing cards with another couple who have also been together a long time—we are definitely talking about a “death do us part” situation. They share lots of knowing smiles and private jokes.

But there’s more. Like the rest of us, when–we’ll call them Jake and Sue—first matched up they were amazed to have so much in common. Particularly goals, values and principles. Yeah, those principles of ours must be really important in choosing a mate. Because when our unwrinkled bliss is marred by a difference of opinion, we are quick to toss all logic out the window. Instead of admitting our stubbornness, we claim that ‘giving in’ to the other’s way of doing things would be violating our principles.

Right. We are not going to leave the radio on for the dogs when we leave the house because we are such conservators of the environment but we are running the dishwasher with two forks and a pan because cleanliness is supposed to be next to Godliness. Makes perfect sense.

When it comes to money all sorts of principles are tossed about. What it really boils down to is when the item or service is what I want: the purchase is absolutely necessary; I’ve thought about it for a long time; and we’ll find the money somewhere. When the purchase is something you want: we don’t need it; you are making an impulsive decision; and, we can’t afford it.

back to back monkeys.500Anxiety and the Thirteen Brooms

We are midway through a jovial game. Sue has just finished telling us how the milkweed she’d planted on the patio might attract monarch butterflies. The spouse and I are oohing and aahing a bit.

Then Jake asks rather sharply: “Yes, that was some lovely planting. I had a good look since that’s where I found the broom I needed to finish the garage. I don’t understand why a person can’t put things back where they found them. Where they are supposed to go.”

Jake flicks a look my way knowing I’m usually pro-orderliness. Trust me, this orderliness vs. creative junkism is a well-worn topic. I surprise him.

Me: “Maybe it’s hopeless that Sue will ever remember to put the broom back. Why don’t you just buy another broom and leave it in the corner of the patio?”

Jake: “Oh, she doesn’t stop with the patio. If she takes the broom to the bedroom to scare off a spider. She’ll leave it there.”

Me: “So why not buy enough brooms—on sale or whatever—and put them everyplace Sue usually needs and leaves a broom?” (Sue is an artist. Jake is a former priest who spent his youth and early adulthood living in a communal house.)

Jake: “That’s not going to work. That would take thirteen brooms!”

Me: “So that would be thirteen brooms—on-the-cheap, say from the Dollar Store at three dollars and sixteen cents per witch-ride. Thirteen brooms would cost you forty-one dollars and eight cents–”

Jake: “Yes, but that’s a waste of money.”sense of humor

Me: “I charge more than forty-one dollars and eight cents for ten minutes in my office with no guarantee you’ll walk out with anything. You make a deal for these brooms and you won’t have this problem anymore.”

Jake: “But it’s a waste of money. She should change.”

Me: “I’m not talking about who’s right here. I even agree with your side. But, after all these years we know it’s not going to happen. Sue does not forget to return the broom on purpose. Trust me, she’d rather avoid this conversation. It’s just that you don’t think the same way—don’t process information the same way. Maybe I’m only saying this because I’ve had such little luck changing my spouse’s habits. And I never forget that I’m just as big a pain in the rear to live with as he can be. In different ways, but equally annoying.”

variety of broomsJake: “What about waste? What about the environment?” (This is Jake’s fallback position and very hard to defeat.)

Me: “What about the poor people in the Philippines that make those brooms? If you bought thirteen brooms, another father would have a job. If the broom-maker doesn’t have enough work, his family will starve.” (This is my fall back.)

Jake: “It’s the principle of the thing. I just want to know why she refuses to change.”

Me: ” I just want to know why you refuse to change even with all these good suggestions. I’m being clear about what’s wrong with you and yet you persist. Don’t you see how easy life would be if you would just do what I say. In fact, if you really cared about our relationship, you’d change.”









I'm a psychologist who goes to way too many movies, for the same reason I chose this profession. I love stories. I use movies and novels working with people in my office and during speaking engagements. "You should write some of this down," I kept being told. So, this is it, folks.

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