How I Moved Beyond My Fear of Criticism
How do you feel about criticism? Do you do everything you can do avoid it? Does your fear of criticism hold you back from being your true self?
“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” ~Dr. Seuss
For as long as I can remember, I lived in my own make-believe world where I believed that if I was “perfect” in my actions, no one would criticize me. I was convinced that I was doing everything “right” therefore I was protected. In some ways, I learned how to be a chameleon – to act in different ways with different people that I “guessed” would make them like me more. When I think of that right now, it makes my heart race just a little bit faster than usual. It makes me a little anxious to imagine that I was so afraid of criticism, that I overcompensated in my actions at the expense of what is really important in life – connection, love, compassion, open-heartedness. Don’t get me wrong, I accomplished so much when I was over-achieving and over-doing and a great deal of the skills I learned then transfer beautifully into my coaching and owning a business. However, I am grateful that I realized this at 40 instead of 60, 80, or never.
For many people (including me for the first 40 years of my life), fear of criticism results in holding back, not taking risks, not showing their greatness, being overly defensive, and/or not speaking up with their thoughts.
The general theme is that people are afraid to be REAL.
Often, we're critical of others (aka projection), and as a result, we fear that others are judging and criticizing us. Therefore, we're so afraid of fully expressing ourselves.
Working hard to make sure that no one criticizes us is just plain silly.
First, it is exhausting and takes energy away from more important areas in your life.
Second, generally speaking, there is no “right” way, just each individual’s way.
Last, ummm, people are criticizing you anyway….maybe just not to your face. Of course, they do. They did in the past, they do now, and they will forever.
So, what I've learned is that I've been deluding myself by thinking that I could ever avoid criticism.
The work is in the realization that each of us is a unique and beautiful creation with our own skills and talents. And that not everyone will like us or what we have to say.
And that you won’t die if someone criticizes you.
It’s actually more damaging to worry about being criticized than to actually be criticized. It goes back to one of my blog posts about love – about loving with your mind (ego) vs. your heart (spirit or soul or inner truth). It applies here too. Your mind believes its job is to protect you – it alerts you to potential danger. Your mind then creates a fantasy world that convinces you that as long as no one is saying anything to you, not criticizing you to your face, then you've avoided being criticized. That, we know, is wrong. Nonetheless, there are many of us who live that way.
Sometimes we need to ask our egos to sit down and listen to our inner truth.
“You were born an original. Don’t die a copy.” ~John Mason
Let's get real - people will and do criticize you.
So, the work is in accepting the truth – people will criticize you. Some people won’t like you. Some people will like you and still criticize you. In the end, you must choose to be your authentic self and risk criticism. It’s the only path to true happiness.
In his classic book, ‘Think And Grow Rich,’ Napoleon Hill discusses the fear of criticism. “The fear of criticism robs man of his initiative, destroys his power of imagination, limits his individuality, takes away his self-reliance, and does him damage in a hundred other ways.”
I think criticism is a waste of words and time and usually results in hurt feelings.
I don’t recommend it.
However, if you can find space to hear criticism in your life, sometimes, even when delivered harshly, it can help you grow. Try to listen to the message not the tone. When someone criticizes you, you can choose whether to take it to heart or let it “roll off your back.” That's your choice. Accepting criticism with grace takes work, no doubt.
When you learn how to hear criticism, evaluate it and then decide whether to internalize it or trash it – you strengthen your commitment to living YOUR authentic life. You take charge, take back your power, and live in reality rather than living in a state of denial.
You can do this! It’s a choice that you are free to make.
“We are so accustomed to disguise ourselves to others that in the end we become disguised to ourselves.” ~François Duc de La Rochefoucauld
What I learned as I moved beyond my fear of criticism:
- Try to do the work to uncover who you really are deep down inside. Listen to YOUR inner truth. When you do, you can then make a choice to be more authentic, more “yourself.” Try to avoid shooting for perfection because it’s unattainable…or at the very least, unsustainable. Be true to yourself rather than looking externally for approval and feedback. The more you know yourself, the less other people's opinions will make you question yourself.
- Pay attention to your inner dialogue – the inner critic. It's possible that you are your WORST critic. Can you try to be more gentle with yourself and with others? Try for one day to not criticize others and when you say something unkind to yourself, try to notice and stop. Gentleness and compassion towards ourselves is a huge step in the right direction.
- Remind yourself that you're an adult and you make your own choices that work for you in your life. If you remember that you're making a CHOICE to be one way or another, you'll be less likely to feel influenced by others. You will also be less likely to fear criticism for your choices. It's so liberating when we come into acceptance that we all get to do what we want - it's a beautiful thing - and that we don't really need to explain ourselves to others ;)
- When people who care about you are criticizing you, trust that they love you and have your best interest in mind. They probably think they're helping you. Ask clarifying questions. It's possible you're misunderstanding what they're saying. It’s also possible that they have something valuable to share and aren't delivering their message well. Cut them some slack and meet them with an open-mind. Sometimes if we can stay with them, we may find that we can learn from one another.
And remember, most people criticize in others that which they're afraid is true about or that they judge about themselves.
As my family likes to say "your opinion of me is none of my business." ;) Put another way, what another person says about YOU tells you more about them than it does about you.
“He who trims himself to suit everyone will soon whittle himself away.” ~Raymond Hull
I can teach, and show you the road, but I cannot carry you on the path towards self-love and authenticity. You must walk the walk, climb your own mountain. But if you want to go with me, and other women on the path, you may want to check out Self-Love Basecamp.