Dealing With Criticism
Updated: Aug 22, 2020
Criticism, even gently delivered, can be hard to take. We might be told to do something differently. To stop doing something entirely. To change the way we feel. Or, even worse, to change the way we look. Criticism, even when delivered by an anonymous source, or one that is not that important to us, can really hurt. The only real way to avoid criticism, and all of the feelings that it creates, is to hide. If we say nothing and do nothing and produce nothing, then there is nothing out there to criticize. But it seems like the better approach would be to learn how to handle the critique, and maintain control of our feelings about it so we can continue to live out loud alongside the critics that will always be there.
One thing to remember when dealing with criticism is deciding whether the criticism that has come your way is true or not. If it is simply not true, in any way, shape or form, you should give yourself permission to dismiss it without another thought. Criticism that is incorrect and delivered with the sole purpose of causing pain or harm can be, and should be, completely ignored. It doesn’t warrant your attention, your retort, or your time. If you are unable to dismiss flawed critiques, the problem you are having is probably not with the words that were said but with the source. Figure out why what they say matters so much to you. Acknowledge their perspective, and then feel free to let it go.
But what if the criticism is true? What if there is a bit of truth in what has been said? Let’s not ever forget that your harshest, most vocal critic - with all of the receipts for what you have done, or not done - is you. There is nothing that someone else can criticize you about that you likely haven’t already heard from yourself. Some of us have a daily habit of discrediting our efforts, finding fault with what we do and say and look like, or internal conversations of doubt and distrust that we are simply accustomed to hearing. So why are we so afraid to hear it out loud when we tell it to ourselves every single day?
Criticism hurts when you see the truth in what someone else has said. The critic is just a messenger. What hurts is how it touches on something you likely already think is true. After all, the critic can’t MAKE you feel a certain way. How you feel is up to you. It does seem impossible to not take criticism personally - YOU did something wrong. You weren’t up to task. You failed. You are to blame for whatever negative things followed. But criticism is not about who you are. It is about what you have done, and you are not what you do or what you say or what you produce. All of these things can be wonderful representations of the kind of person you are, but they are actually not you. You are more and your value is enduring. Criticism is temporary.
Criticism directed towards ourselves is deeply destructive as it hurts the bottom line of our feelings of value and worth. It needs to stop. Criticism turned towards others is often a reflection of what we are worried others will say about us. That needs to stop, too, for it advances nothing and only creates a false narrative about us being better than others. (We aren’t.) But criticism from the outside towards us is really just noise, even if there is some truth to it. It doesn’t actually hurt us, since it is what we might already have decided is true in part or whole. We might not like hearing it, but if we can accept the truth that lives within the critique, criticism can be a game-changer. We can spend our time working to do better instead of returning to the corner to beat ourselves up about it again and again.
Try dealing with criticism by deciding if it is true. And if true, what aspect of it is something you can agree with and understand. Don’t think your critics harsh for saying what you already say to yourself out loud. Understand the source, learn from it, and move on. But the very best way to deal with criticism effectively is to be proactive and stop criticizing yourself. Be proud of what you do, and who you are, and fight every day to recognize the perpetual existence of critics. And never forget that the existence of critics does not require you to feel any less about yourself, or anything at all. How you feel is always up to you.
One of my favorite quotes reads “If you hear a voice within you say you cannot paint, then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.” It seems even Vincent van Gogh believed in the value of eliminating your own critic. And while it is far too late for him to continue the hard work of speaking kindly to oneself, you have a plenty of time to perfect the skill.