Dealing with Criticism
Jenny Griffin
The Power of Change

First of all, what is criticism? It is an expression of dissatisfaction at the perceived faults or shortcomings of a person, situation or experience. It potentially exists in every moment, and it is up to you whether you accept it or not. 

Most criticism begins with the self; if you are feeling dissatisfied with your own life or state of being, you will more easily find fault in others. Inside is always a good place to start. How well do you accept your perceived faults and mistakes? How easily do you incorporate your failures into your life as valuable lessons and growth experiences? The willingness to look at your own situation through compassionate eyes is one step towards easing self-criticism. 

From there, look at the things around you that feel less than perfect and see if you can shift your focus to something more accepting. You can also find compassion or understanding for others who seem critical. Perhaps they have such high expectations for themselves that they don’t see how they’re holding others to impossible standards. 

Consider this, as well: is it ever necessary to express criticism? Is it truly helpful? There is the concept of constructive criticism, but that sounds like an oxymoron, in a way. At its root, criticism stems from judgement (not discernment) and boils down to an opinion. It often feels hurtful or unnecessary to the person receiving it, and not constructive at all. Criticism feels personal, and sometimes permanent, as opposed to an expression of discernment which would be more neutral. 

Take as an example that the food you ordered at a restaurant is undercooked. A criticism would be that the chef is terrible, or the food is terrible, when in truth what you mean to say is that it isn’t cooked properly. By saying that, the situation can be remedied. Criticism often feels like it has no response, or solution, because it is stated in the form of a fact. 

If someone is criticizing you, or your performance, take the following things into consideration: 

Firstly, did you ask for feedback? If you are in your boss’ office and you have specifically gone to ask for feedback on a current project, you are opening up room for a dialogue and potential (hopefully constructive) criticism. Be open to the feedback and how it can be used to improve your performance or your output. 

If you haven’t asked for feedback, try to not personalize the situation. Is the criticism valid in any way, and are there any parts of it that could be used to improve your work or performance? If it is a criticism of your body or the way you look, you can dismiss the criticism out of hand as simply another’s insecurity. They are free to disapprove of the way you look in the same way you are free to express yourself in any way you like. There’s no need to engage with unsolicited criticism that is designed to bolster someone else’s sense of self-esteem. 

Where possible, don’t engage with any value-based judgements that may be underlying the criticism. If someone calls you fat, there may be an underlying assumption that that is less desirable than another state. Analyse the comment objectively for its capacity to be constructive, and dismiss it if it isn’t. Here’s where you begin to decipher the intent or energy behind the criticism, to determine whether it is in any way useful as a tool for personal growth.

It’s easy to take hurtful comments to heart, because quite often they have a way of honing in on our own insecurities. You are not obliged to accept criticism, in any way, shape or form. Sometimes when it comes from someone in a position of authority it feels like the ‘truth,’ but it is always an opinion based on the individual’s perception of the situation. Someone else may give you different feedback altogether and in fact there may be hundreds of reflections that are offering you alternative views. 

Constructive criticism when put under the microscope will feel expansive, as if there is room to work with it to create even better results. Criticism that is not constructive will feel constrictive, as if there has been a value judgement stated that is irrefutable. Feel the difference between ‘I have behaved irresponsibly’ and ‘I am irresponsible.’ One has the potential for growth and change, and the other feels limiting and permanent. 

Remember, the choice lies with you. You don’t have to believe or accept criticism, and if there is someone in you life who is regularly criticizing you, you have the right to call them on it, or remove them from your life. This is where discernment is key; there is no need to be completely shut off to feedback, to the point you stubbornly insist on your own sense of rightness; neither is there the need to accept every piece of feedback or criticism as a mark against you so that you feel diminished and worthless. Be open, and know when to create healthy boundaries.