When you keep getting knocked down.
It’s that truckload of criticism again.
Criticism — the unasked-for kind that’s chock full of hurtful judgments — is no fun, to say the least.
That’s not exactly news.
But aside from the unpleasantness of it all, the experience of being criticised makes everything else harder.
And then, oh boy, let the second-guessing begin.
You start wondering if maybe you’re wrong, and they’re right. Maybe you are all those horrible things they said.
Or you gradually find the excitement about the thing you were so passionate about draining away.
Even worse, this kind of criticism can completely slow you down … and/or knock you way, way off course. The way a logjam changes the flow of a river.
And at the very least, you feel annoyed and resentful.
If you want to learn ways to deal with criticism, I can point you to some great books and other resources, but I really want to make a much more important point, because that nasty criticism isn’t really the issue here.
Because it’s actually not about the criticism.
The issue is never the criticism itself — it’s always our relationship to the criticism.
Someone else’s words, opinions, mean little poke poke poking at you — whatever it is — is a reflection of their stuff.
Your reaction? A reflection of your stuff.
Your relationship to criticism is about how you interact with this stuff. With your stuff and with their stuff.
The better you get at being able to separate yours from theirs, the easier it is to work on your relationship to the criticism.
But for now, three important points.
1. Insulted = a sign your stuff is showing up
I talked about this more in depth in my noozletter on dealing with uncomfortable situations, but a quick quote to refresh your memory:
If your brother-in-law tells you your “hot pink wings make you look like a wanton buffoon“, you probably won’t be offended. Unless you have hot pink wings.
If he says, “Nice love handles“, it hurts, because you fear he might be right.
Next time you’re insulted, ask yourself:
“Whose stuff is this? Which part is my stuff and which part is their stuff? And what can I do for my stuff?”
2. Living for compliments = more stuff again
Okay, I have to warn you that this part is really, really hard.
The first time I encountered the idea that compliments and insults are (ideally) equally irrelevant … well, let’s just say I had a hard time with that.
Eventually I learned that my focus needs to be on getting better at being my own source of encouragement and support.
The better I get at being my own cheerleader (but in a believable way, not in an annoying “fake it til you make it” way), it gets easier for me to receive compliments without being so attached to what I think they say about me.
Does that make sense? I hope so.
The idea is that you work on releasing the need for outside legitimacy in all of its forms, which is actually the next point.
No, wait, it’s the whole point.
3. Releasing the need for outside legitimacy = the whole point.
This is important:
If you’re waiting for someone else — or something else — to confirm your right to feel okay about yourself, this is no good.
The thing we all need to practice is gradually letting go of the need for both the criticism and the compliments — so you can get to the point where you can trust your own abilities and opinions.
All other feedback, whether positive or negative, is secondary. It doesn’t define you. It’s just more information for your inner detective.
Stepping off the criticism rollercoaster
Not to go all yoga-teacher on your ass but the answer (to the question “how the heck am I supposed to do this?”) is always going to be turning inward.
The information and the strength you need are all going to be found inside you.
Going inward means paying attention to the feelings that come up in reaction to specific situations. It means tracking patterns. It means forgiving yourself for being a real, live human being who has stuff just like everyone else.
And yeah, it’s also going to be all about practicing trust. Trusting yourself to be able to separate your stuff from their stuff, your criticism from their criticism.
Trusting that one day you are going to be able to trust your own opinion of yourself instead of getting sideswiped by someone else’s criticism.
Trusting that this process won’t always be as incredibly hard as it is right now.
Mini-exercise for moments of criticism
When you get the criticism (or the compliment!), try to notice what’s going on.
Tell yourself, “Whoah, this is me reacting to criticism. This is my stuff coming up. Okay, this is where I am right now.”
Then ask yourself the following three questions
1. “Is this feeling true for me? Is this what I really think myself?”
- 2. “Is the information in this criticism (or compliment) helpful for me?”
- 3. “How can I get better at giving myself a warm, cozy feeling when I need it, rather than looking for it from an outside source?”
It doesn’t even matter what your answers are right now.
They aren’t going to be right or wrong anyway, and they’ll probably also change considerably over time depending on a whole bunch of different factors — and the fact that you’re growing and changing (yay, growth and change!)
The point is that when you ask these questions, you’re making space for yourself. Because you’re consciously working on your relationship to the criticism rather than being in the criticism.
Which is a pretty huge step.
And, if you don’t mind me throwing a little compliment your way, one that doesn’t necessarily need to have any bearing on what you think, it’s pretty impressive too.