Accepting the “Gift” of Criticism
Most of us can accept compliments.
Some of us can accept suggestions.
One or two of us can bend our minds around a completely new idea.
When it comes to criticism, that’s where most of us shut the door and hang up the “closed” sign. After all, who wants to hear the sentences that begin with, “You want to know what your problem is?” or “If only you would just change (fill in the blank) about yourself”? These criticisms sting more the deeper we have pushed that behavior or trait into shadow.
Not many of us learned how to accept (or give) criticism gracefully when we were growing up. We may have been criticized harshly or told things for our “own good” that were hurtful rather than helpful. Those hurts make us hide or repress whatever caused them. This process is putting aspects of ourselves into shadow, and gives rise to the inner critic, who has full run of our shadow-selves and exists to protect us from it. We learn to dread anything that seems judgmental, critical, or makes us feel shame for any reason.
Shining a light in to your shadows
Yet, if we can learn to truly listen to criticism about ourselves, we open the door to possibility. It is like shining a light in to our shadows. Shining that light can be uncomfortable or frightening, but it can be one of the most constructive and profound tools to change ourselves, transform our behaviors and improve our relationships with others. Not only can we learn more about who we are and how others see us, but we may also learn that it’s okay not to be perfect. We can learn how to use criticism about ourselves as a way to be and live more of our authentic self, and, as a bonus, we may learn that people will love us anyway, warts and all.
Criticism as Opportunity
Bernie Siegel, author and physician writes that criticism is an opportunity to become a better person. “When you feel inadequate or imperfect, criticism is threatening and makes you feel that you have to defend yourself. When you are secure—not perfect, but secure—you can listen to the criticism and consider its value.”
Those judgments you hold about yourself, especially if they are well hidden in shadow and not in your conscious mind, that’s your inner critic. When someone comes along and criticizes you in a way that your inner critic agrees with, it is really painful. On the other hand if you have looked at this shadow and accepted that this is who you are too, then the criticism has no power to hurt you. You can show up as your authentic and vulnerable self and say, yes, I know that about myself.
Learning From Our Children – The Most Unedited Form Of Criticism
Parents are often among the most criticized group of people. Their parenting choices are targeted by relatives, other parents, strangers and parenting “experts.” And when their children are old enough to speak, they join in the chorus! But of all the voices, it may be our children who offer us the most valuable criticism because they see us at our most vulnerable and unguarded. Children—especially teens—will tell us exactly what they think, in unadorned, sometimes painfully honest, language. If we are able as parents to drop our authority roles and our belief that we know better because we are older/wiser/smarter, we can learn some awe-inspiring truths about ourselves. And yes, it will hurt at times! Growing is uncomfortable! By doing this, we also model the art of accepting criticism—a valuable skill for our children as they grow up.
How Does Accepting Criticism Help You?
Byron Katie, author of Loving What Is, calls criticism “a powerful tool for self-realization and growth.” She suggests that when we are criticized for being wrong, unkind, uncaring, etc., we should ask ourselves if the criticism is true. If we can accept the truth without stress or pain, we free ourselves from trying to hide who we are from others. We know our faults and we accept them and, therefore, criticism from others cannot hurt us. “When you are genuinely humble, there is no place for criticism to stick,” she writes.
How Do You Know If A Criticism Is True?
When your friends or coworkers or that inner voice is speaking, pay attention, not just to how you feel but how that criticism is delivered. Don Powell, Ph.D, of the American Institute for Preventive Medicine writes that sometimes criticism—the right kind of criticism—is just what we need to make important changes. In an AIPM handbook, Dr. Powell outlines the following questions to ask yourself when working with criticism:
- Does the criticism seem reasonable? Is there some truth to what is being said? (Perhaps you
should pay attention to the remark.)
- Have I been criticized by other people on the same issue? (If so, maybe it warrants attention.)
- Does the person making the critical remark know what he or she is talking about? (If he or she is a self-appointed critic-at-large, ignore the remark.)
- Was the remark really directed at me, or was the critic venting general frustration, anger, or bitterness at something over which I have no control? (If criticism stems from general dissatisfaction, let it slide.)
- Is the criticism based on a difference of opinion? (If so, don’t overreact.)
Once you decide that there is some truth to the criticism, you are on the path to taking positive steps to make changes in your behavior or outlook. Being able to hear and absorb criticism without anger or defensiveness helps make the path that much smoother.
How To Get On The path of Accepting The Gift Of Criticism
In the Shadow Wisdom Coaching Process we dive in to the underlying beliefs that you hold about yourself that you are not aware of. We explore where that belief comes from and give you an opportunity to change that belief. We will shine a light into the places you have kept hidden from yourselves and others. The harshness of criticism can only sting you if you have a place for it to land. By exploring your beliefs and insecurities we remove the landing pad.
Author’s content used under license, © 2008 Claire Communications