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 | Cathy Altonji | Image By Getty Images/Irina_Strelnikova

‘Can you draw your inner circle?’

We delight in having something new. Whether it’s a new pair of shoes or a new job, something new tends to put a little extra pep in our step or a smile to our face. Then, along comes one of our fellow humans with a criticism meant to let us know they don’t think our shiny new “what have you” is measuring up to their standards. Maybe they were having a bad day, who knows? We just know that suddenly the pep in our step has gone kaput.

From the time we were quite young, we were probably told by parents, friends, and teachers that we needn’t care what other people think about us. Yet somehow, here we are fuming over a verbal zinger doled out by someone who will now go on with their day, quite unaffected. Allow me to be the bearer of good tidings: There is a concept that can help you to take back the joy in those new lavender high-tops.

In my therapy office, I talk with people about their inner circle. We discuss who is in it, who isn’t, and why or why not. I would define your inner circle as those persons who meet these criteria: they know you well, give you their unconditional positive regard, would never knowingly do or say anything to hurt you, and can be trusted with your most vulnerable feelings and thoughts. For most of us, this is a very small group of people.

So how do we use this knowledge? When you get hit with a critical comment, ask yourself, “Is this person in my inner circle?” If the answer is yes, you might want to allow yourself to consider what they have said before you dismiss it, even if their comment made you feel uncomfortable.

Let’s face it, we can all be carried away by the thought of owning or doing something which isn’t in our best interest. A word from a trusted source can help bring us back on track.

Remember, we can, at least, trust that those in our inner circle want the very best for us.

Conversely, if the answer is no, then the person behind the critical comment probably doesn’t know you very deeply. They are giving their opinion based on what they would do for themselves rather than on what they know to be true about you. In this scenario, you’ll want to acknowledge to yourself how the comment made you feel, then tell yourself that since this person is not in your inner circle, you don’t need to let that feeling affect your reaction to their opinion (for more on acknowledging emotions and choosing response, see my article in the March/April issue). In other words, you don’t have to give any weight to what they have to say about you or your decisions. A good choice might be to say, “Thanks for the thought.” Then, go ahead with what you feel is best for you.

In closing, while everyone has opinions — some feel very free about sharing them — you are not obligated to validate them. One last thought about inner circle work: We do ourselves the ultimate favor if we put God at the center of our inner circle. He never changes, and His opinion is the one we always want to seek above anyone else’s.

Cathy Altonji is a therapist at Catholic Family Services in Huntsville. She has a master’s degree in social work and is a licensed independent clinical social worker certified in private independent practice.