“When I don’t like a piece of music, I make a point of listening to it more closely.”
– Florent Schmitt, French composer
“Stop your endless ramblings and get to the point!”
“My point is that most people have a difficult time dealing with criticism.”
None of us are immune to the sting of genuine negative criticism; it always hurts at least a little to have our failings or deficiencies pointed out to us. However, criticism is something we each must face, myself included. Having a solid strategy for dealing with it will make it a lot less painful, and in fact quite helpful. There is often at least a grain of truth within criticism that can help with our personal growth and self-esteem-building. Looking for truth encourages humility. It’s not easy to take an honest look at ourselves and our failings, but it’s a powerful way to grow our self-awareness.
Of course it’s a bit of a Catch-22: when we most need to grow our self-esteem is when it’s hardest to turn criticism into a positive experience. There was a time when I found criticism devastating because my self-esteem was in tatters. I held the firm belief that compliments were good while criticism was bad, and took it all at face value. My heart would beat faster, my mouth would go dry and I would become intensely focused on the negative comments I was hearing. There was no consideration as to whether the comments were correct or not – I simply accepted them as true. Owing to a strong belief that I was worthless, I accepted the words without analysis or challenge. I would usually flee the situation and later be “fighting mad” at the criticizer.
I was giving my power away and, because I was so focused on my hurt feelings, I wasn’t actually hearing the message of the other person’s comments, leaving me more likely to react badly rather than respond appropriately.
With the right mindset, criticism opens us up to new perspectives and ideas we may not have considered. Whenever someone challenges us, that person helps expand our thinking. Our critics give us the opportunity to set aside our ego and practise listening. By this I mean resisting the urge to analyze each comment or plan a rebuttal, and instead simply considering what the other person is saying.
Not that the pain will completely disappear, but even that pain can be a valuable teacher. Criticism is especially painful with it strikes upon an insecurity. We can use this pain to gain insight into our belief system. Maybe we’re sensitive to the comments because we’re harbouring a self-defeating belief or have not come to terms with a comment or event from the past. If we follow the pain to its source and do a little investigative work, we’re likely to find an event that needs to be worked through and released.
One of the great opportunities for me when dealing with criticism has been challenging my people-pleasing tendencies. For the longest time, I would simply go along with whatever people expected of me because I didn’t want to make them disapprove of me. This was self-defeating because any relationship built upon the constant need for approval is not a healthy one. I didn’t know who I was. So if someone had negative criticisms of me, I would still be agreeable. What was truly mind-bending was when people criticized me for being a people-pleaser. But it helped me to reach the liberating realization that I could simply let people think what they wanted – they were going to anyway.
Murray Fuhrer is a self-esteem expert and facilitator. His new book is entitled Extreme Esteem: The Four Factors.