“Criticism, like rain, should be gentle enough to nourish a man’s growth without destroying his roots.” – Frank A. Clark
Your heart beat is intensifying by the minute, beating so fast the reverberations can be felt in the pit of your stomach, overpowering you with each pulse. An overwhelming need to flee your body takes hold. Anxiety has a vice-like grip on you, as you contemplate the criticism levelled against you – it seems to have come out of nowhere. What did you do to deserve this you ask?
While struggling to assimilate what transpired moments earlier, your body is caught in a fight or flight response. Your mind is racing with thoughts fluctuating in intensity from torment to anger, all occurring within seconds – “What does this all mean?” “Am I really a bad person?” “How dare they” “What would they know?”
Criticism strikes at the heart of your self-esteem like a wrecking ball. It can be insidious and demoralising in the moments afterwards, as you come to terms with the situation at hand.
Known as amygdala hijack which was coined by Daniel Goleman in his book Emotional Intelligence, this is the area of the brain activated when there is a perceived emotional threat to our sense of wellbeing.
The resultant effect is a shutting down of the higher thinking brain, the neocortex which causes a flood of destructive emotions to permeate your body.
Regrettably, as highly developed as your brain might be, it is unable to distinguish between a genuine threat to your life and a perceived threat. Criticism is identified by the brain as a perceived threat, hence the ensuing cocktail of toxic emotions which accompany this state.
The following points are intended to assist you in dealing with criticism in a healthy manner, without the proceeding reactions which follow.
“I pay no attention whatever to anybody’s praise or blame. I simply follow my own feelings.” – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
- Critical enquiry: Do not accept criticism as compelling simply because another person holds untoward feelings towards you. Undertake personal enquiry to establish whether the other person or group is justified with their accusations. Did you play a role in co-creating this experience? Are the allegations warranted? What may have incited the undesirable outburst?
- Opportunity for personal growth: Criticism encourages personal growth if approached with an open mind. While it requires others to identify faults in one’s character, like an open wound they form the basis for self-improvement. Avoid becoming critical with yourself when evaluating criticism from others. Your priority is self-directed compassion, realising you were doing the best you can, given the resources available to you at the time.
- Examine unresolved issues: Oftentimes criticism can release a flurry of unresolved issues. Whilst the ensuing emotions which arise may be sensitive, it nonetheless affords you the opportunity to face your demons by examining disempowering beliefs or emotions which have been repressed.
- Emotional constitution: Criticism allows you to gain a healthier insight into your emotional constitution. There may be a tendency to become emotionally invested in other people’s criticism, which impairs one’s self-esteem. Therefore criticism encourages emotional resiliency.
- Empowering emotions: Criticism directs you to channel the undesirable energy into empowering emotions instead. Rather than allow it to penetrate your self-worth and personal confidence, you can choose to transform the criticism into energising emotions in its place.
- Constructive vs Destructive criticism: It is imperative that you distinguish between constructive and destructive criticism. Constructive criticism often highlights key areas for self-improvement. Destructive criticism on the other hand can be unforgiving – its aim is to disempower the other person by drawing out their faults and insecurities. The critic is not invested in the other person’s personal growth. Destructive criticism underlines the critic’s inadequacies rather than the person being criticised. They have identified with a negative aspect within themselves which they have disowned. The critic imposes their negative state upon others in an attempt to appease themselves. This is known as transference in psychological terms.
- Practice self-compassion: Criticism can be an opportunity to practice self-compassion and forgiveness, by letting go of other people’s judgements of us. Introspection allows you to appreciate that it is acceptable to be sad, angry, upset or confused when criticised. The importance lies in the ability to direct compassionate thoughts towards oneself. Think in terms of a friend or loved one being criticised. What encouraging words would you offer them to ease their suffering? Redirect the same practice towards yourself.
- Respond in kind: Refrain from reacting to criticism in the heat of the moment – allow the feelings to soak in. Whilst you may feel righteous responding to the criticism in earnest, this feeling is short-lived. A fitting approach is to voice your response to the criticism with kindness. You might offer the following dialogue in reply to their criticism, “I’m sorry you feel that way about me. If you allow me the opportunity to show you otherwise, I’m certain you may hold a different opinion of me.”
- Directed criticism: Successful people are often the target of directed criticism due in part to being accessible to the greater public. As a successful person, your proposition may not interest a wider audience all of the time – it need not to. Therefore criticism accompanies the terrain of being successful, since you are liable to agitate those who hold different opinions to you.
- Seeing other’s point of view: Recognise that it is normal for others to disagree with you at times. Refrain from engaging in an adversarial response to criticism – it is not your role to have others adopt your point of view. Your obligation is to foster healthy dialogue between you and your critic, by examining their point of view in a healthy and articulate manner.