When You Are Criticized

Hindu marriage

by Jayaram V

People do not care about what you feel. They care about what they feel. They are going to hurt you or say unkind things to you. Therefore, you should care about what you think and feel and how you respond to it - Jayaram V

When you are criticized, how do you feel? In the past when I was criticized I used to feel bad about it. I would struggle a lot internally and keep thinking about it. My mind would engage in imaginary arguments to counter the criticism and build necessary defense. I knew it was not rational or correct and I should not react that way, but my low self-esteem would not let me accept surrender.

However, over the years, I have improved and learned to accept criticism as a message from the world about myself or others. I  have learned to deal with criticism rationally and objectively as a self-assessment review process. Now, I do not take it personally as an attack against me.

It is difficult for anyone to fight off the natural and instinctive reactions of the primitive brain, which has only one mission in life, to protect its owner from all possible and perceived dangers. For the primitive mind, criticism is a form of attack and a perceived threat. Therefore it will not just let it go. To protect you from the perceived threat, it responds instinctively, releasing necessary chemicals into your blood stream and provoking you into a state of defense.

Rationally speaking, we should not be angry at all about criticism, just as we should not be angry or depressed if we are tired after a workout. We should take it as information about our present condition, our actions, the world in which we live, or the people we deal with. We should consider it a blessing rather than a threat and use it to know better ourselves or those who criticize us.

Criticism should be treated the way you treat a weather bulletin or a weather channel. It is there to forewarn you against the problems you may face and the actions you may have to take to safeguard your interests.

This is what is good about criticism. You may perceive in it an opportunity to know about you or the conditions of your life and take remedial actions. You may use it to protect yourself from toxic relationships, negative attitudes and harmful consequences of your own actions.

Unfortunately, ever after making good progress, criticism may still rattle you and baffle you because a part of our behavior is on auto-pilot and  cannot be fully controlled even after long years of preparation. To use the traditional expression, we have to change what we can, accept what we cannot, and know the difference.

In these years, living in different environments, and having met numerous people in my life,  I have learned one fundamental principle. You cannot stop people from saying what they want to say. Their criticism speaks more about themselves rather than you. Their judgment is mostly a judgment about themselves or a reflection of their self-esteem. In their criticism, you may discern the desperation and dissatisfaction of their own inner critics who cannot be silenced easily with reason and facts.

If you want to make progress in your life, you should focus upon the criticism rather than the critic and value criticism as a feedback and nothing more. You should learn to take it in your stride as a learning opportunity without beating yourself with negativity.

Your feelings in response to criticism are also important. They speak a lot about yourself, your interpretation of your life's experiences and your self-esteem. Negative comments hurt us because we are conditioned to find approval from others and not draw attention to ourselves by being different or noticeable. It is a survival instinct embedded in our animal brain. Animals which live in packs know that if they are distinct or apart from the herd, they will easily become prey to their hunters. Therefore, they always try to mingle with the group and hide in it. Identify with the herd helps them to remain safe from dangers.

We follow the same instinct in our lives and relationships. We prefer being with the group rather than standing apart from it. The same attitude reflects in our response to criticism. If we are criticized we take that as being not appreciated, understood or recognized. For many people criticism in any form is greatly demotivating and depressing, which prompts them instinctively to withdraw into their own self-protective mental shells or seek desperately other's approval. In the long run it does not help, because you will not find security in the approval of others and you cannot live forever seeking other peoples' approval.

The Five Step Program
When you are criticized you can use this simple five step program to deal with it.
1. Listen to the criticism.
2. Understand the motivation behind it.
3. Know what lessons you can learn from it.
4. Express gratitude for the lessons you have learned.
5. Act upon it and move on.

Criticism is doubly hurtful because our attitude towards criticism is also regulated by our negative self-talk. We are criticized not only by others but also by ourselves. When we are awake, our inner critic keeps speaking to us and judging us continuously how we are doing and whether we are living according to our expectations and ideals. This self-talk has a lot to do with how we feel about our lives, our actions and relationships. In most cases, when we are criticized by others, our inner critic also joins the chorus by lending a helping voice and making us feel even more oppressed and depressed.

Changing Your Perspective
You can change your response to criticism by changing your perspective about it in the following ways:
1. See criticism as an opportunity rather than threat
2. See criticism as not about you but what you can do about you.
3. Make use of criticism objectively instead of attacking the critic.

Thus, in the midst of criticism we have to deal with not one but two voices and two criticisms at the same time. In such situations you inner critic may become overly critical of you as well as others and may complicate the matter even further, prompting into a fight or flight response.

In ideal situations, you should not take any criticism personally. At the best, a criticism is a message or a feedback about yourself or your actions. It is like a raw data coming from one of the instruments in the machinery of your life giving you vital information about some aspect of your life, actions or personality. Instead of accepting it as a piece of data, if you personalize it, you will lose objectivity and fail to make use of it effectively as an opportunity to improve yourself.

We can use criticism to improve ourselves or depress ourselves. We have a choice here. We can perceive in it an opportunity for self-growth or a threat to lapse into self-pity and persecution complex.

The best to deal with it is to accept it as a possible feedback and act upon it rationally and analytically. For that you have to recognize that your happiness comes not from the approval you gain from others but from being yourself and knowing yourself.

Therefore, when others criticize you see whether their criticism is genuine and justified If it is not, you may regard it as a feedback about the person who criticized you. If it is genuine, you may consider it a feedback about your or your actions and use it effectively to improve yourself.

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