Dealing With Criticism

Hi team! This week I wanted to talk about something that I have been working very hard on recently. It’s something that some people seem to be able to do with relative ease, yet for others (like me) it seems incredibly difficult, almost impossible, to master. I’m talking about dealing with criticism.

No one likes being told they’re wrong. I’m sure most of you have had this kind of experience where you’ve submitted a piece of work you’re really pleased with and then your teacher/lecturer/boss rips it to shreds. Or maybe you’ve been criticised for the diet you follow (#veganproblems) or the clothes you wear, the job you have (or don’t have) or the partner you’re with. Personally, I find this kind of stuff very difficult to deal with. It somehow feels like a personal attack and every time it happens I get another kick in the self-esteem. I start to feel like being criticised reflects a personal failing in me; that if I was a better person I wouldn’t have made mistakes.

And the more I let these things affect me at a personal level, the harder it becomes to motivate myself to work hard. The fear of failure becomes so much greater because if the next piece of work I produce isn’t A* quality, it is a reflection on my worth as a person. So I stop taking risks, in fact, I lose motivation to do anything at all because I don’t want to do anything wrong. Writing this now I can see what a destructive thought pattern this is. The fear of failure saps my enthusiasm at work and makes me approach difficult tasks with feelings of anxiety and disinterestedness rather than excitement or curiosity.

I recently realised that it was time to counteract this negative mindset. Being criticised by other people was beginning to make me fall out of love with my work and was making me beat myself about how much I was struggling to motivate myself. And so, I decided to reframe my attitude to criticism. No one can go through their whole life without being criticised; it’s going to happen a lot, and I need to be able to deal with it. So now, every time I receive some kind of criticism, I try to focus on these two points:

  • Receiving criticism for my work, or anything else I produce does not mean I am a failure as a person

Okay, so I may have written a horrible essay, but that doesn’t take anything away from me as a person. I don’t suddenly become stupid or unworthy of my place at university just because I produce one piece of bad writing. I also don’t become repulsive, unlovable or less important than anyone else. I am still the same person and I have no need to become any less confident in myself; I’ve still got this.

  • Receiving criticism is going to help me improve

This is something else I’ve realised; criticism shouldn’t be a negative thing. Most of the time, any criticism I receive is going to help me gain knowledge and grow as a person. My lecturer didn’t rip my essay to shreds because she wanted to watch me crash and burn, she did it so I would know how to write a better essay next time. Life is about growth and we can’t get everything right first time. I think this is one of the most important things to recognise in order to get something positive out of receiving criticism and to stop yourself becoming despondent and feeling like a failure. I try to think of this a bit like learning to walk as a young child. How many times do you reckon you fell over in those first few months of finding your feet? Hundreds probably. And did you let it get to you? Did you sit in a corner and vow to never try to walk again? No, you just got straight up off your little baby butt and tried again. I think we need to bring some of this attitude into our adult lives – failing at something or being told you’ve done something wrong is not a reason to give up; we can use this experience positively because it shows us the direction we need to go in order to improve.

So, I guess the moral of this story is that receiving criticism can be horrible, but it’s not the end of the world. It does not say anything about you as a person; it does not diminish your importance, your intelligence, your kindness or your ability to achieve your goals and it definitely should not diminish your happiness.

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