In this counseling answer:
• Those people who always criticize others and do not appreciate other people tend to not be happy with themselves. In actuality, it is not you whom they don’t appreciate or whom they’re critical of; it is themselves.
• Start a journal. Make a list of the people who criticize you. Do you have strong relations with them? Are they good, solid, loving people? Write down some of the things they say. Are there areas that you can improve?
• Make a list all your positive traits and qualities, the things you’ve accomplished and the changes you have made to overcome some obstacles in your life.
• I kindly suggest that you pray to Allah for strength and mercy. Ask Allah to bring positive people into your life to uplift and encourage you.
Thank you for writing to us with your most important concerns. You sound really frustrated at this point and after reading your question, I can understand why.
Seeking Perfection in an Imperfect State
Your main point was if we’re never going to reach perfection why should we try.
You do understand that Islam wants us to better ourselves and to keep acclimating towards these high standards. This is one of the tenets of Islam; we do strive to be better human beings.
It is also a universal desire to want to improve ourselves. Have you met somebody in your life that did not want to do better, improve upon self, gain new knowledge and skills or be happier? Concerning our spirituality, acclimation of the self towards improvement benefits us and the society. In sha’Allah, we become stronger, wiser and better Muslims and human beings. However, no perfect person exists nor can we ever be perfect, but we can strive to be the best we can be though.
Importance of Reinforcement
Like all, we go through tests and trials in this life. The life force in us is designed to do propel us (most of us) towards seeking growth and betterment. Trials and tribulations make us stronger, insha’Allah. However, we may feel it is overwhelming to try to keep bettering ourselves when there is little reinforcement. Many times we seek reinforcement and approval from the wrong people.
Ultimately, approval and reinforcement lie with Allah. We should seek Allah’s favor, not people. It is natural to want to be appreciated by those we are close to. It is natural to not want to hear constant criticism. It can wear a person down as it has done to you.
This may be the reason that you are feeling so overwhelmed. You are going through a natural life process and have no one to “cheer you on”. You stated that no matter how much you try to be a good person or a better person, you’re not appreciated and you’re always criticized by others.
The First Issue: Personal Growth
The first issue deals with striving as a human being to be a better person. As stated, none of us are born perfect. We have a lot of learning to do in regards to ourselves as compassionate, kind, human beings. We strive within a family unit seeking harmony and balance as well as socially. We strive to create productive and happy lives for ourselves and our families. This all requires gaining knowledge, insight and skill sets. As human beings, we thrive in a supportive environment.
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At this point, you feel you are not being appreciated, valued or even acknowledged. This is what is really at the root of the problem.
When we’re not appreciated and we’re always criticized and our small efforts aren’t noticed, after some time we may tend to give up. We may think: why should I keep trying when it doesn’t matter anyhow?
You stated that “I’m always criticized, nothing I do is ever appreciated and I might as well just stop even trying”. I’m so sorry that you’re going through this and sad that you feel this way. I can imagine you may feel hopeless right now.
The Good & Bad Type of Criticism
As human beings, we desire to be appreciated. We desire to not always be criticized. However, there is such a thing as constructive criticism. People do this in a loving way because they care. They want to see you succeed and do better. This type of criticism is done out of love and concern.
There’s another type of criticism which is done out of spite, negativity, jealousy, and other unsavory traits. Those people who always criticize others and do not appreciate other people tend to not be happy with themselves. In actuality, it is not you whom they don’t appreciate or whom they’re critical of; it is themselves.
When we look at people who are constantly critical and unappreciative, we may have a touch of mercy in our hearts because we realize that these types of people are not happy people.
Learning how to differentiate between the two types of criticism is important. By learning the difference insha’Allah, you can learn to increase your self-esteem, to not let the negativity affect your self-worth, your spirit or your heart.
I kindly suggest insha’Allah that you start a journal. Make a list of the people who criticize you and who are unappreciative of you. Are they close to you? Do you have strong relations with them? Are they good, solid, loving people? Write down some of the things they say. Are there areas that you can improve? If so, notate it.
We all need to improve in some areas. That is human nature. However, if you look closer and analyze what they are criticizing and how they are unappreciative, you may see that these traits in actuality belong to them.
Once you understand this, you can begin to separate yourself from what is being said that is not relevant to you. When you separate “you” from negativity, you can begin to rebuild your self-esteem your self-worth and your feelings of accomplishment.
I would also like you to write down another list in your journal. Make a list all your positive traits and qualities, the things you’ve accomplished and the changes you have made to overcome some obstacles in your life. I am sure that you will see a very long list of the many fine things that you have done. You will also insha’Allah see positive growth.
I will kindly suggest that when you make these two lists in your journal you reflect upon the positive aspects of yourself and your growth. Begin to appreciate yourself. Look at the person inside who has grown despite some setbacks. You do have accomplishments and things to be proud of.
Right now, sadly, you’re very hurt by all this criticism and people not appreciating you. I encourage you to trust in Allah and try to move past these barriers of others’ weaknesses that may be projected upon you.
The Second Issue: Spiritual Growth
You also discussed that Islamic lectures and khutbahs that you listen to talk about what is needed, what is wrong all the time. Topics tend to revolve around what Muslims should do, or what we’re lacking as a community, or which areas we need to improve in. You stated that you get very overwhelmed and burned out by all this.
Often times when we go to the mosque we do hear about the things that need to be worked on within the community or on a personal level. This can be looked at as a positive thing because it helps the community and person grow as a whole. However, because of your personal experiences of not being appreciated as well as criticized all the time, you may be more sensitive to the messages you are hearing.
In life, growing and striving to do better is a personal as well as a community responsibility. Most faiths do discuss areas that need improvement. If they did not, then we would be unable to be cohesive as a group of people who love God.
It’s like if you were married and you had a wife and children as well as your brother and his wife living with you. They have many good qualities, but you saw some things that needed to be changed. As head of the home, you may call a meeting and say that you have noticed this or that and needs to be changed. You might say to or your wife “you know, we really need to work on this issue, can we try this…” or if your brother is in school “you need to study harder academically to get your grades up a little bit”, or “we need to read Qur’an together as a family more.”
This is done out of love, concern as well as helping each other to achieve at higher levels. Insha’Allah, it creates harmony and balance within a family as well as increased unity.
In the mosques as well as other Islamic learning environments, people/communities need to understand what can be done to benefit their lives as well as the community. They also need to hear what is good. This balance energizes a community to keep going and to improve upon the areas that need attention.
When one hears constant criticism and nothing positive, naturally people and communities will start to lag. We can compare this to how you stated you felt in the beginning. You feel overwhelmed, you don’t feel like trying anymore too because you are always criticized and underappreciated by people. This is an individual level.
Insha’Allah, you are able to regain self-worth, self-esteem, and a sense of accomplishment. Then, when you listen to khutbahs and lectures about what needs to be done or changed, you may not feel so overwhelmed as you will realize it is both an individual and community effort – and you are not alone.
Look to Allah
Allah knows what’s in your heart. Allah knows your intentions. And He sees you trying, struggling and He loves you for striving to be closer to him.
What others think and say should not make or break us.
Oh, yes, we do worry sometimes about what others may think of us! But now in this life and in the end, the most important source of importance is Allah. That’s what you should be focusing on, insha’Allah.
After self-analysis, you need to ignore them and just go on with your life. Go on serving Allah, loving yourself for who you are (that Allah created) and go on acclimating to be a better person like we all should do.
I ask you to kindly focus on Allah, yourself as a wonderful Muslim and your rights to acknowledge your growth.
I kindly ask you to keep trying. And I say this in the light of the fact that as human beings, we should keep trying until we take our last breath. Why? Because this is what life is… Life is trying; life is change; life is growth and success. Life is a failure. It’s falling down but also getting back up again.
Friends, family members, and our social circle are supposed to build us up. It sounds like you may not have that. I kindly suggest insha‘ Allah that you do try to seek out positive, upbuilding people to be around. You may find that they are struggling just like you are. You may even be surprised to find that some of them may feel like you.
A lot of people want to give up. A lot of people feel they’re not good enough. You may not know this as people will not tell you, but a lot of people feel they’re not good enough and they just want to give up. But they keep going. Insha’Allah, you will begin to understand that trying and striving is the flow of life. Insha’Allah, you will also understand that you are worthy and appreciated.
When you start to keep your journal, you can reflect back upon your growth and see the many fine things that you will and have accomplished.
I kindly suggest that you pray to Allah for strength and mercy. Ask Allah to bring positive people into your life to uplift and encourage you. In the end, what is going to matter is your relationship with Allah. You do matter and your efforts have not gone unnoticed. Allah sees everything.
We wish you the best.
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