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10 Ways to Deal with Criticism

by Patricia Spadaro

Try these practical tips for an enlightened approach to dealing with critics and criticism—and boost your self-esteem in the process

We all get hit by life’s slings and arrows from time to time. They can come from a resident critic—a family member, friend, or co-worker who always finds something wrong—or as the occasional put-down that catches you by surprise. What do you do when an insult is hurled your way, privately or publically? Do you pretend you didn’t hear it or hurl an insult right back? Do you internalize it or get angry and lash out?

You may not be able to stop someone’s nasty words or careless actions, but you can change how you deal with those barbs. They don’t have to take you down or tempt you to retaliate. Try these 10 healthy and empowering tips to meet insults and criticism gracefully and appropriately.

Tip #1: Assess Criticism and Who It Is Coming From
It’s important to get an accurate read on a situation to decide the best way to respond. There’s a big difference between constructive criticism from someone who loves you and getting bashed by someone who steals the stage to discredit you. You’ll need to get some objectivity before deciding whether it’s right to speak up or let it go.

Try this: Pull away from the situation and look at it without ego, as if you were observing someone else’s life. Is it possible you are being overly sensitive, or has someone treated you like a doormat without good reason?  A clear sense of which it is will help you find the best solution.

Tip #2: Acknowledge Your Feelings
Pressure can build up when you don’t acknowledge what’s bothering you. When someone hurts you, especially someone close to you, you may stuff your feelings below the surface to avoid a confrontation. But your feelings are a key part of your internal guidance system—they warn you when something is wrong. By ignoring feelings, you create a larger problem to deal with later. By accepting the messages they bring, you’ll be able to deal more effectively with issues from the start.

Try this: Rather than slamming a lid over your emotions, notice them as they arise--without judging yourself or blaming others for making you upset. Ask yourself: If my feelings could talk right now, what would they say? What is this feeling asking me to do? What new choices can I make to help me feel at peace about this situation?

Tip #3: Draw Clear Boundaries with Big Critics
You get to choose who and what you will tolerate in your life. If you are in a personal or working relationship with someone who tries to whittle away your self-esteem by constantly judging and belittling you, you owe it to yourself to create boundaries and to tell that person how you feel when that happens. It’s important for your well-being to remove yourself from that toxic energy. It can weigh you down, stunt your creativity, and make you feel depressed or sick.

Try this: Decide on a specific action you will take if the judger in your life continues to bombard you with criticism. Clearly, lovingly, and firmly tell him or her what you will do if it happens again. For example, you may decide to leave the room, politely excuse yourself from the phone call, or, if it’s serious enough, end the relationship altogether. Be sure to follow through and take that action. When you honor yourself, you are training other people to honor you.

Tip #4: Look for the Nugget of Truth
The people in our lives—at home, at work, or in line at the grocery store—are often our mirrors. They reflect back the impact of our words and actions. Another’s words, though harsh or spiteful, can awaken us to an aspect of our own behavior we have refused to own up to. Although criticism can be hard to take, you can benefit from it by looking for the nugget of truth embedded in a painful situation.

Try this: Instead of overreacting to criticism and going on the attack, summon the courage to ask yourself: Does this criticism include the tiniest morsel of truth about me that I can learn from? Then ask yourself (and even the person who criticized you) how you can do better. That missing piece of information may very well be the key to your next spiritual and emotional growth spurt.

Tip #5: Correct Lies and Statements That Sabotage
When someone spreads dangerous rumors or lies that jeopardize your job or an important relationship, you can’t ignore it. This is not the time to chatter behind closed doors with friends or wring your hands with worry. This is a time for positive action. Don’t blame or shame the judgers by calling them names. Instead, focus on finding resolution by clearing inaccuracies in the sabotaging statements. There may be real misunderstandings that you now have the opportunity to clear up with facts. For example, actress Jane Fonda started her own blog to address the many rumors that swirl around her.

Try this: To get clarity, take some deep breaths and pull out of a piece of paper. On one side, write down the false statement. On the other side, write down the truth as you see it. Ask to meet in person with those who have the misunderstanding and calmly explain how you feel and what the facts really are. If necessary, also put the correction in writing and send it to those involved. Even if others don’t accept the truth, you have stood up for yourself and can move on.

Tip #6: Problem Solve from the Heart
The world’s sages teach that a quiet heart can lead us to the best solutions to any issue. When you are facing the knotty problem of how to deal with someone’s unkindness or sharp criticism, you’ll handle the situation better by moving into your heart. Don’t impulsively shoot from the hip (or the mouth). Pick your favorite technique for centering before making a decision.

Try this: Get out of your head and relax heated emotions by centering in your heart. Simply close your eyes and breathe deeply, then see and feel a flame burning brightly in your heart. Or take a few moments to recall an experience that makes you feel happy or grateful. Once you feel a real sense of joy or peace, turn back to the issue at hand. Ask yourself: “What is the best way for me to resolve this issue? What is my next step?” Then listen for the answer that arises.

Tip #7: Stay on Target
When an immature insult comes flying at you, rather than playing the role of victim and seeing yourself as the target, stay on target. Don’t let criticism and insults distract you from your goals and life purpose. There’s a saying that “no good deed goes unpunished.” Taking a stand or breaking out of conventional ways to express your authentic voice may well draw fire from the jealous and competitive. Consider it background noise and don’t let it distract you.

Try this: Deal appropriately with damaging criticism, but don’t allow every petty and insignificant critic to pull you off track. Not every snide comment demands a response. Set your intention and keep focused on what’s important in your life so you can go on giving your gifts to others.

Tip #8: Open Your Heart and Reach Out to Others
Sometimes what’s directed at you is not about you at all. The person who is complaining may simply be struggling with an internal battle that is spilling over into your life. When people nag or grumble, they may actually be trying to tell you that they are hurting. Griping about the clothes on the floor, the dishes in the sink, or the project that is five minutes late may be code for “I need your support and attention. I need to feel valued and appreciated.”

Try this: When others criticize and whine, instead of automatically striking back with “How could you say such a thing! What’s wrong with you?” pause and probe deeper. Gently ask: “Why are you hurting, and what can I do to help you?” Then be quiet and listen for the answers. Give the people you care about room to express themselves and allow the real issues to surface.

Tip #9: Be Gracious but Firm in Public
A public embarrassment, whether it’s a put-down from a boss or co-worker at a meeting, a relative at a family function, or a heckler in the audience, may be uncomfortable, but it is an opportunity to walk your talk. Don’t criticize the critics, respond defensively, or pick a fight by hurling an angry or sarcastic comeback. That only makes you look like the offender and fuels the fire. Stay polite, calm, and in control. You’ll inspire others to have confidence in you by acting with self-confidence.

Try this: If someone has legitimate concerns but has voiced them in the wrong way at the wrong time, respond briefly and sincerely, offering to resolve the issue with them later. Smile and say something along the following lines to break the tension and help you meet awkward moments with grace and poise: “I see you have some concerns (or misunderstandings). I’d like to talk with you about that during the break” or “We all have a right to our own opinions—we’ll just have to agree to disagree on this one.”

Tip #10: Don’t Take It Personally
If you have taken to heart the previous suggestions and adjusted your behavior in an attempt to resolve an issue but are still dogged by an unrelenting critic, it’s probably time to move on. Unfortunately, some people criticize as a way of projecting their own issues onto others or taking the focus off their own inadequacies, and there is nothing you can do about it. Continually dwelling on their childish behavior or holding a grudge will only keep you stuck.

Try this: Instead of allowing your precious energy and attention to be sapped by naysayers, free yourself by forgiving, letting go, and moving on. Don’t speak about your critics with bitterness or blame. Treat them with respect, model the appropriate behavior yourself, and you might just spur a change of heart in them too.

Patricia Spadaro is the author of the book Honor Yourself: The Inner Art of Giving and Receiving (Three Wings Press, 2009). For more resources on empowering ways to honor yourself, visit www.HowToHonorYourself.com.

Originally published as a special feature on Beliefnet.com


Copyright © 2009 Patricia Spadaro

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