In my daydreams of bringing my story to the world and helping people, I’d imagine many things. I’d imagine changing lives. I’d imagine receiving grateful letters. I’d imagine those sparkly eyes that mean you’ve really inspired someone. What I did not imagine was any person grimacing in the glow of their computer screen, deciding on the best way to communicate their distaste for me in a midnight email. And yet, here I am.
I heard somewhere once that, if you’re being criticized, that means you’re being authentic. But to tell you the truth, that’s been an incredibly hard lesson for me to learn. When I started doing this work, I was convinced that, because my intentions were pure and my heart was in the right place, everyone I tried to help would appreciate it, everyone who heard my message would believe it, and everybody who met me would like me. I thought I was immune from being criticized.
Needless to say, I’ve had to learn fast that this is just not the way things are.
I learned, mostly, from pain. Each time someone would unsubscribe from my email list, it would hurt me. Each time someone criticized my message or my work, it would hurt me. Each time someone from my past life would give me that look that said, “This is so not backed up by data,” it would hurt me.
Each time I got hurt, I was split open, more vulnerable than ever. Each time I got hurt, I had the opportunity to look even deeper within me, to discover the true cause of my pain.
A few days ago, I received a rude email, and there was no pain—just awareness over why I would have had pain in the past and why this person acted this way. Don’t get me wrong—it wasn’t the most pleasurable of experiences, but it was peaceful. Looking back on it, I am overwhelmed with gratitude to myself for taking the time to do inner work when I was criticized, so that I could start coming to peace with it.
In a way, this post is a celebration of how far we can all come if we take those precious moments of pain after someone’s words sting us to find out more about ourselves.
So, as a recovering people-pleaser and approval-seeker, I bring to you this list of things I’ve learned from looking deep within each time I reacted to criticism. I hope that this will encourage, inspire, and empower you to take other people’s opinions with a grain of self-awareness.
Lesson #1: Everybody who does anything gets criticized
The day this lesson finally embedded in the muscle, my partner and I were visiting his family. The sun had long gone down and we decided to go on a long walk to enjoy the still, warm air. I still remember saying to him:
“I know this isn’t healthy, but the people I look to for advice on how to act in many situations are people like Jesus, Ghandi, Mother Teresa. And I just feel like, if I was actually doing a good job like they did, people wouldn’t criticize me because people didn’t criticize them.”
Jamie actually laughed out loud at me after I said this.
“You don’t think people criticized Jesus?”
I saw what was so funny, but the feeling persisted.
“What about Mother Teresa? What about Ghandi?”
So, we went back to the house and did some searching on the internet for people who hate my idols. Turns out, lots of people hate Ghandi and lots of people hate Mother Teresa. In fact, some journalist even wrote an entire book about how Mother Teresa is a cheat and a fraud! And don’t even get me started on what people think of Tony Robbins.
Something burst within me that night. Of course, everyone gets criticized. I know that now. I also know that how you feel about the leaders you admire is how you will feel about yourself as a leader. If you don’t think they receive criticism, you won’t be okay with it either.
If you’ve got this belief system, like I did—take a moment right now and do a Google search. Just type in “I Hate + (name of person you think is too awesome to be hated)”—it might just be the most liberating thing you ever do.
Lesson #2: People criticize you for that which they do not accept in themselves
I don’t think a day goes by without my experiencing this lesson in some form. The lesson, in its purity is: people’s experiences and emotions reflect their mindsets, and those mindsets do not necessarily reflect reality.
First, I learned this about my appearance, realizing that my loathing from my thoughts, not from my appearance. I didn’t need to fix my face. I needed to check my thoughts about myself.
Then, I learned it about my relationships with men, realizing that the advice other women gave me came from their experiences, not from the truth. I didn’t need to learn to be withholding or play hard to get. I needed to check my beliefs about men.
Now, I’ve learned it about my work, realizing that the criticism and praise people give me come directly from their beliefs, not from my work’s inherent value. I don’t need to please everyone. I need to do my best and check my beliefs about helping people.
This lesson has been especially obvious when I’ve received, mid-way through reading a nasty email, a gratitude-laden, loving email that said the exact opposite. How can both of these people be right? How can I be simultaneously insincere and the most sincere person someone’s ever met at the same time?!
From this, I’ve learned that believing praise is as dangerous as believing criticism because it accepts another’s opinion as truth instead of as an interpretation.
In the end, people’s compliments can only show me what they hope they are or what they are afraid to let themselves be. If the compliment feels good to me, then it shows me what I’d like to be or what I think I am. The compliment, for both parties, reveals only our mindsets, not the truth.
And people’s criticisms can only show me what they will not accept in themselves or what they fear they are. If the criticism hurts me, then it shows me what I fear I might be or what I subconsciously think I am. The insult, for both parties, reveals only our mindsets, not the truth.
From this, I’ve realized that I always have a choice. I have a choice in taking any compliment as much as I have a choice in soaking up any criticism. There’s always a choice.
Everyone from your parents to your boss is constantly projecting themselves onto you. The only people who aren’t are ones that practice self-awareness—and even they get lost from time to time.
Before you accept someone’s words as truth, ask yourself: “How does this person’s reaction relate to his or her level of self-love and self-awareness? What stories does this person have about who s/he is and what s/he deserves?”
You might just find that someone is reacting to his or her own perceived limitations, not to you.
Then again, you might also find that your critic’s words are full of useful feedback! You never know what you’ll find by asking these questions. Don’t assume it’s all projection—that, too, would be blindness. Stay open and receive whatever comes your way.
Lesson #3: If you’re hurt by someone’s insult, it’s because you already believe it
When someone criticizes you, it’s like they’re hitting a dusty mattress in your mind. The comment brings dust into your awareness and clouds your vision, but that dust was already there in the first place. Even though this person’s actions have triggered your response, you’re the one with the trigger.
If someone came up to me and said, “You’re too tall,” there’s no way I would be offended. There are many insults like that for you as well. There are things someone could tell you that would make you laugh, while those same words would make someone else cry.
Just like other people’s criticisms originate in their mindsets, your reactions originate in yours. If someone’s words hurt you, it’s because you subconsciously believe them.
This is how criticism becomes an amazing self-awareness tool. You can actually experience gratitude towards the person who is triggering feelings of rejection and hurt within you. You can say, “Thank you for showing me the toxic thoughts that still reside within my mind.”
If you need a way to snap out of feeling rejected or lonely after someone has criticized you, you can try this “mind game” that I like to do in those times.
Imagine that you have some insecurity which you don’t have. After I got that critical email a few days ago, I imagined that I had anxiety about whether or not my partner was interested in me. This one is pretty easy for me because, at one point, I did have this insecurity. I can imagine all the triggers perfectly.
So, I put myself in the mindset of my past self—worried about him thinking I was stupid or ugly or boring. What happened next was so perfect, it was funny. I asked him a question. He didn’t reply. I could see that he didn’t hear me, but I sat there thinking “Wow, if I thought he didn’t like me, I would be very, very upset right now!”
And so, looking at the email I received, I can say, “If I were to get upset about this, that would mean I believe what she is saying is true.”
Like this, a single rude email turned into a moment of self-awareness and self-love that was so moving I wanted to celebrate it. And I suppose I am celebrating by sharing this with you!
I hope that, if you’re struggling with putting other people’s opinions of you on the shelf, you’ll come back to the ideas in this post. Of course, it takes time to cleanse out those toxic thought patterns about ourselves and even longer to realize how those thoughts affect our relationships, but that is time well spent.
In the end, after you are criticized (which you absolutely will be), you will use your mind to either prove to yourself why everything the person said is true and reinforce old, toxic patterns of perception, or you will use your mind to explore yourself deeper and come to a better understanding of yourself and the other person.
That choice exists for each of us in each painful situation. I hope that you and I can join hands in making the healthy one.
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Now, over to you. How do you deal with being criticized? Do you think it is healthy? How have you experienced these lessons in your own life? Leave me a comment below!
(Photo by Porsche Brosseau)