We need to talk about criticism. I have a highly critical family who never went a visit without some sort of criticism aimed at me. There is nothing more provoking than a family that wants you to conform when you’re the exact opposite of everything they are. Sometimes it made me furious; sometimes I laughed it off. Only within the last decade have I been capable of interpreting their criticism without my ego filter. I realized most of their criticisms are about themselves and their issues. It’s been a difficult, often frustrating and educating journey. All of us could have done a lot better than we did—myself included—delivering said criticisms; and, some of us should have just kept our mouths shut and moved on with our lives without the pain and meddling some unwanted criticisms caused. You can only keep your mouth shut for so long before the dam breaks and with this past election, dams did break and a torrent of water burst forth flooding the norms, washing away all the toxicity; but, that’s an entirely different essay.
This is a fact of life: to criticize is human. Another fact: you will receive criticism. You will never please everyone all the time. Some of the criticism will be worthy and educational while others will be pernicious and ugly; some may even hurt. There is an art to receiving and giving criticism that a lot of us have yet to learn, myself included.
First things first: drop the ego and don’t get defensive; react mindfully and authentically with self-compassion. If you find you’re getting defensive then you need to examine why. Reflect on what you’re thinking and feeling. It’s important to be mindful of your reactions. If someone’s criticism seems to bother you more than another, you should examine your issues with that person and the feelings she provokes in you.
Criticism can expose your insecurities and once you’ve examined those, you can have an important internal dialogue with your own truths. Personal growth will follow. Whether or not these criticisms are true or something frivolous said without thought; a troll meant to harm you and your self-confidence or genuine wisdom gifted to you by someone who truly would like nothing more than for you to succeed, the important thing to remember is to be mindful and self-compassionate, always. We beat ourselves up enough without having someone else do it too especially those of us who are different.
For an emotionally healthy person, criticism can be a learning experience if it’s delivered with the same authentic compassion. Not only can criticism lead to personal growth, it can foster listening, empathy, and compassion. Criticism, if you choose, can make you humble and promote self-confidence.
The more criticism you get, the more you’ll be able to competently navigate your reactions in all kinds of situations. Receiving criticism, examining it mindfully and dismissing it after is nothing if not liberating.