“Every time you get off the phone with your mom you are in the worst mood!” Charles told his wife, Stacy. Stacy had just been stomping around the kitchen, running her fingers through her hair. She immediately tensed up and glared at him silently. Stacy felt like retorting, “That’s not true, sometimes it’s fine,” but she stayed silent and ran off to another room to steam alone.
We have all received feedback from loved ones, coworkers, friends, and even strangers about our behavior. We tend to love the good stuff such as, “Your new haircut is great,” but hate the critical feedback like, “You are taking this too seriously, relax.”
Feedback is information about ourselves including our behaviors, emotions, and ways of thinking. It can be true, partially true, or not true at all. The question we have to ponder is whether to accept the feedback or reject it?
In Stacy’s case, her husband was giving her feedback that he disliked the way she acts after speaking with her mom. Stacy’s reaction was to feel tension in her chest and shoulders, which might indicate that she’s not open to the feedback and doesn’t want it to be true. It could be helpful to consider – if she cares about her relationship with husband – to give his feedback some more thought rather than dismiss or deny it.
12 Feedback Questions
In Radially Open Dialectical Behavior Therapy (RO DBT) there is a skill called the 12 feedback questions. The questions are designed to help people who struggle accepting feedback sort through whether to be open or closed to new information. Some of the questions include:
• Have I heard this feedback from other people?
• Will it damage the relationship that I have with the other person giving me feedback, if I do not accept it?
• Am I tense and frustrated about the feedback? If so, what might that tell me about myself?
• Do I think I’m right and they are wrong?
The more yes’s the investigation gives you, the more likely the feedback is accurate and might behoove you to make a change. For Stacy, all the answers were ‘yes.’ Stacy noticed her bad mood after conversations with her mom, and her best friend had pointed this out many times.
If she doesn’t change the behavior, her husband will continue to be frustrated and this could hurt their relationship. She considered how frustrated she was by the comments, and reflected that she disliked the angry rise her mom was able to elicit from her. She even reflected that she was disappointed in herself for being so hard-headed.
Find the Cue that Creates the Tension
As Stacy reflected, she found that her mom tended to give her unsolicited parenting advice. Stacy perceived this as her mom saying she was an incompetent parent. Although Stacy did not have any other evidence that her mom thought this, Stacy’s threat reaction exposed a deep fear that she was not a good mom.
Once Stacy figures out that she wants to change her behavior and has pinpointed what causes her to get angry, she can problem solve to find a solution. She might request that her mom no longer give her advice with being asked for it. Or she might label her mom’s behavior in her head when it occurs, so she can detach from it. She also might decide to speak to her mom less frequently or even use a breathing exercise to get through the conversations. The choice of change is up to her, but this feedback from her husband is valid.