Because I put myself out there in public ways, I’m subjected to a LOT of criticism, both on the internet and in person. Some of it is the kind of vicious, violent hating that cowards love to spout amidst the safety of being anonymous on the internet. Some of it is pure projection. People don’t like what they see of themselves in the mirror I hold up. Some of it is totally valid constructive criticism delivered in a respectful, helpful, balanced way.
No matter how criticism is delivered, the ego hates to be criticized. It likes to respond to criticism with defensiveness, anger, or self-flagellation. But if you’re able to receive criticism as your Inner Pilot Light, rather than as your ego, there are ways to let criticism help you. Whether the criticism appears from anonymous people on the internet or from people close to you, it’s possible to receive criticism in a healthy way and let the criticism allow you to grow and learn. Most of the criticism I receive on the internet I ignore because I don’t know the people who are criticizing me, so it’s hard to discern why they’re criticizing me or whether I can trust that they are safe people with my best intentions at heart. However, I invite the people I love to criticize me. It’s how I see my blind spots and grow into a better person.
Here are a few tips for how to receive criticism with grace.
If this is someone you trust, who you know has your best interests at heart, invite the criticism. If this is someone unsafe who does not have your best interests at heart, it’s okay to set boundaries around uninvited criticism. You don’t have to sit through a violent verbal attack. If you have a history with an unsafe person who wants to criticize you, it’s okay to ask that person to save the criticism for when you can have a mediator present, someone like a therapist. It’s also okay to refuse to listen if you’re not wanting to keep a relationship. But it very worth inviting criticism from the people who are really trying to help.
When the ego is feeling defensive and hurt, it’s so easy to interrupt and start defending yourself before the person criticizing you even gets a chance to finish what is being said. Resist the urge to jump in and cut off the person criticizing you. Place your full attention on the person speaking and wait until they’ve finished speaking to respond.
Avoid the tendency to make someone wrong just because they’re criticizing you. No matter how awesome you are, chances are, there’s room for improvement. Be willing to be wrong.
Acknowledge what is being said. Recognize the courage it took for your criticizer to speak up. That doesn’t mean you have to own what is being said, but it does mean you create safety for the criticizer by offering reassurance that it’s safe to criticize you without threatening the relationship. Thank the person who criticized you. Assuming what was said was expressed with your best interests in mind, be grateful that you’re in a relationship with someone who wants to help you live a happier, healthier, more productive, more aligned life. It’s not easy to grow and evolve out of our unconscious habitual patterns. We can only do it with the support of those who are committed to helping lift us up.
Don’t automatically believe all criticism, but don’t automatically reject it all either. When you believe all criticism, you’ll get so traumatized that you’ll stop putting yourself out there, and if you reject all criticism without looking for the truth in it, you’ll turn into a diva. Consider the criticism and examine it to see if it feels true when you assess it not with your ego, but with your Inner Pilot Light. Discerning what rings true for you and what doesn’t is essential.
Sometimes people criticize you when they’re really criticizing themselves, projecting onto you what they don’t like about themselves. These kinds of criticisms aren’t clean. For example, if you’re thinking about taking a risk, like quitting a job you’re unhappy in, someone who is too scared to quit their own unhappy job might criticize you for being irresponsible, when really, it’s not about you. It’s about them.
If someone is just pummeling you with mean-spirited criticism or if you deem the criticism pure projection, shake it off. Dance it off even! Don’t let it poison your body, mind, or soul. If the criticism doesn’t feel true, assess whether it’s safe to say so. If it’s your boss or your client criticizing you, you may have to just nod and suck it up. But if it’s someone you’re close to and the criticism doesn’t feel accurate, voice your honest thoughts gently and without defensiveness.
If your criticizer is right, say so. It’s incredibly validating to the person going out on a limb to criticize you to feel heard and acknowledged if you deem it to be true.
If your criticizer is right, acknowledge the truth of how you could improve, but don’t beat yourself up. Avoid using the criticism as an excuse to shame yourself.
Your ego may feel bruised after the critique. Do what you can to comfort yourself with something pleasurable. Get a foot massage. Take a long bath. Read a good book or watch a funny movie. Call a close friend and have a good cry. Soak in a hot tub. Give yourself a hug and honor yourself for being such a good sport in the midst of criticism. Only when we’re humbly open to criticism can we grow into the best versions of ourselves.
When we learn to give and receive criticism in healthy ways, we participate in the kind of healthy conflict that is essential not only to good relationships, but to world peace. As Martin Prechtel said, “War is the absence of healthy conflict.”
Are you able to give and receive criticism in a healthy, ego-less way? Or do you avoid conflict at all costs and defend against criticism when it arises? Are you willing to be wrong? Will you speak your truth when you feel someone else has wronged you?
Share your thoughts in the comments.
Lissa Rankin, MD is a mind-body medicine physician, founder of the Whole Health Medicine Institute training program for physicians and other health care providers, and the New York Times bestselling author of Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself. She is on a grass roots mission to heal health care, while empowering you to heal yourself. Lissa blogs at LissaRankin.com and also created two online communities - HealHealthCareNow.com and OwningPink.com. She is also the author of two other books, a professional artist, an amateur ski bum, and an avid hiker. Lissa lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her husband and daughter.