Friday, February 03, 2006

Who Do You Believe?

Who do you believe—the person who tells you the things you do well or the person who rips you apart?

I find myself thinking about this because of something that recently happened to me. I was in a situation where close to 50 people raved about what I did and one, just one, ripped it to shreds. Intellectually, I could grasp this was a triumph. On a gut level, I felt as if I’d been punched in the stomach and one person had seen through me to realize how unworthy I was.

And it got me thinking, realizing how sensitive I feel to such things. It got me thinking how often I put off doing things or avoid them altogether because I’m afraid of exposing myself to criticism. The problem is that in trying to keep myself safe, I cut myself off from opportunities and experiences that might enrich my life—financially, socially, intellectually and emotionally.

Everyone, to some degree, is sensitive to criticism. Those of us, who have been in abusive situation, particularly as children, seem even more so. Worse, we may find ourselves only being comfortable with people who delight in pointing out our flaws. It feels familiar. It feels “right” even though that criticism may be wrong. But if we want to be happy, if I want to be happy, I need to find a way to face head on this gut level reaction to criticism and hostility.

I also need to be able to listen to feedback that could help me become better at what I do—even when it comes accompanied by vitriol. I need to be able to separate the hostility from the genuine information.

I’ve already come a long way. I’ve learned that, ironically, I need to put myself in situations where I face feedback so that I know I can survive it and discover that there are people who do value me and what I can do. It hasn’t been easy. Some days I came home and cried. Some days I had to grit my teeth and force myself to go back and face someone who had ripped me to shreds. In doing so, I found I could often earn their respect. But I wasn’t easy. It took every bit of wisdom I had to be able to do this.

Some of the things that work for me:
¨ Going over the list of my strengths and the things I’ve done well in the past.
¨ Reminding myself of times I survived criticism in the past.
¨ Wearing clothes I love.
¨ Standing tall and breathing deeply.
¨ Finding some way to treat myself after the situation is over.
¨ Making myself thank the person who gives me the feedback—no matter what.

Even with all these strategies, this is something I struggle with, knowing that my resistance to feedback holds me back in far too many ways. And that’s the other thing that has helped: To look at what fear has cost me.

What has fear of criticism cost you? A job? Chances to go out and have fun? Relationships?

If you know what it has cost you, then you have the incentive to push past the fear and do the things you want to do. You have an incentive to find ways to cope when people lash out at you. You have an incentive to find a way to focus on the good things people say to and about you.

What if you put yourself out there and someone rips you up the way someone ripped me apart recently?

1) Give yourself permission to feel bad—for a little while.
2) Give yourself permission to rail at—in private!—the person, for a little while.
3) Write out your anger on a piece of paper then either burn it or rip it into little pieces and flush it away. As you do so, let go of any anger and let yourself bless the person.
4) Remind yourself that all hurtful words and actions grow out of the other person's hurt and insecurity. Genuine, objective feedback is given respectfully and touches on what is right as well as what could be improved.
5) Do something that makes you smile as a reward for having the courage to put yourself in a situation that made you a target.
6) Go over your list of all the successes in your life and the good things people have said about you.
7) Take a deep breath and remind yourself that no one, NO ONE, ever has 100% approval. Everyone has critics.
8) Take whatever is useful about the feedback that might help and let go of the reset.
9) Focus on what you can gain by being open to feedback and then go back out and do things that matter to you because YOU matter.

Am I still hurt by what one person said? Yes, in part because it was done anonymously and I have no way to respond. Nor do I have a way to ask about the part of the feedback that might actually be of use to me. At the same time, I recognize how far I have come. And I have the favorable responses to remind me that others did value what I said and did.

Anthony Robbins likes to say: Ask what good could come out of this. I suppose that should be number 10 on the list above. For me, one of the things it has done is make me realize the way my fear of criticism has held me back in the past. It has made me think through the impact of that fear and look carefully at ways it might still be affecting my life. I will surely post about this issue again as I work through it and find new ways to create the life I want to have.

Until next time, sending safe and gentle (((((((hugs))))))),


1 comment:

Sharona N said...

Excellent post, April! I still have trouble with criticism myself, but only from certain people in certain areas of my life.

Your comments on fear triggered some memories. Fear cripples a lot of us, sometimes in odd ways. For example, it's kept my mother with a psychologically-abusive husband for nearly 60 years. She's afraid to have her own life because she doesn't believe, a) she'll succeed on her own, and b) she thinks she doesn't deserve to have a life. It makes me sad for her.

More on fear: years ago, a female acquaintance told me she admired me. This puzzled me, because at the time I did not feel worthy of anyone's admiration. I was in my twenties and struggling with many issues based in my childhood and other trauma.

So I asked her why. She said it was because I did scary things (such as speak up in a difficult situation, or pursue a difficult goal) and wasn't afraid. I remember laughing and saying, "I may do these things, but I am terrified when I do them!" I thanked her for making me realize that I had some worth, and that I was, on some level, successfully dealing with the stuff in my head that made me afraid to pursue my dreams.

Feel the fear, and do it anyway.