Are you a sensitive soul? Do you hold yourself back for fear of what others will think? Do you feel your world and your very self is crushed when you are criticised? Do you have something to say but you’re afraid to find your voice?
I’ve definitely felt those things at times, it’s perfectly normal as a human being. But imagine my surprise on facing some criticism and judgment recently when I realised it hardly touched the sides…yes, I was a little unsure of my response at first but I got myself centred, wrote my own truth, was careful not to over-justify or over-defend my position and amazingly, all turned out well. What felt great is that I realised I didn’t perceive it as a personal attack. I could see it for what it was…the other person’s stuff. Not mine!
I’ve mentioned before how I always try to practice what I preach, hence I am in the process of finding my own voice and speaking out as I write this. So these reflections on everything I have learned and practiced to reach this point of detachment are exactly what I will be falling back on if I am faced with any negativity coming my way in the future!
Remember, there is only one you; you are the only person who will ever be able to share your unique story, experience and truth. Personally, I’m not sure anyone can put it more beautifully than Emile Sande does in her song, Read All About It. But in the interests of sharing, here’s my version on how to deal with criticism and find your voice:
Ask yourself if the criticism is valid. This could be difficult, but the points below about detachment will help you be more able to do this. Try writing it down and make a list of what feels valid for you and what doesn’t. Ask yourself if there is any action you need to take in response to this, or if you can grow from it in any way. If there’s something you need to do, do it, or make a plan to do it! But a word of caution – be really honest with yourself if that action is going to be helpful and good for you in the long term. Launching into retaliation may not be the best thing you could do for yourself right now, but rising above it or asking the person for clarification might actually be useful.
Practice mindfulness. Feelings lose their power over us when we make space for them. This isn’t about becoming super resilient and wearing some kind of impenetrable coat of steel! The harder you try not to be hurt or upset, to essentially just “man up”, the worse it will be. You can end up putting so much energy into fighting with yourself, that all you’re thinking about is the criticism and you can’t see the wood for the trees. Try becoming curious about how it feels to be criticised. Ask yourself which part of you is hurt by it. Take a step back, watch it and allow it to pass. Try a mindfulness exercise such as the three minute breathing space available here.
Connect to your why. I can’t stress this enough! Having a reason for your actions is so important – I talk about this in my post, A Why to Live For. Remember, nobody really likes criticism. The choice is often to play safe and avoid it by hiding away or to accept it comes with the territory of putting yourself or your work out there. If you can connect to what is driving you deep down, then maybe it’s worth doing. Would you face the fear of rejection, for the sake of making friendships, connecting with people or finding your soulmate? Would you face the fear of being judged for the sake of following your heart as an artist? How will you feel at the end of your life, if you never did those things or took those risks? Is avoidance worth it?
Address you worrying. Once you know that you did this for an important reason, and you have taken anything valid that you can use from it and put it into action or made a plan, ask yourself, is it helpful to dwell on the rest? I’d bet money that it’s not! It’s time to reclaim your life and your mind from the wounded child that temporarily hijacked it!
One simple way is to practice the “Just Worrying” technique. You just learn to recognise every time you are getting caught up in thoughts about the situation, say to yourself, “I’m just worrying,” and then change your focus to something in the moment. Try noticing five things you can hear. Your mind will wonder back to the worries, so don’t beat yourself up when it does. This is a mindfulness practice so it’s all about repetition, with patience and kindness to yourself, knowing that you are training your brain like a muscle to detach from unhelpful thoughts. The brain works by habit and repetition. Your job here is to make the path of pulling back from worry become more familiar to your brain than the path of getting lost in rumination. Doing this will help you learn to recognise when your brain is hijacked and claim it back!
And in the long term, to really build your resilience…
Keep testing yourself to build your self-esteem. It’s a myth to expect to find confidence first and then be able to handle criticism. Don’t wait until you find this elusive thing called self-esteem – it doesn’t work like that. You have to build it! I covered this in more depth in another post, Turning Self-Esteem on Its Head.
Develop your own practice of detachment. Years of practicing mindfulness have really helped me to learn when I myself am stepping into judgment and being critical in my own mind. And something happens when you step back and watch your mind at work. You see it for what it is. Thoughts, judgments, criticisms, sometimes profound realisations, sometimes petty grudges, sometimes a random song that won’t get out of your head, or the thought of what you need to do tomorrow. A huge jumble of random content continually floating through our heads, all day, every day. The more you practice detaching from your own content, and seeing it for what it is, the more you will naturally see that other people’s stuff is exactly the same; it’s just their content. Knowing this can help you see everything differently.