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Coping with Critics

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By Tina Tessina

No one likes to be criticized, fairly or not. It’s always difficult to deal with, and it can hurt. Because I’m a writer of books and columns, and because I’ve lectured, appeared on radio and TV, I am sometimes recognized in public. I’m glad I’m not more recognizable, for along with the lovely feedback, gratitude and complements I get from many people, others feel compelled to criticize, often in a mean way, and often without having even read whatever book or column they’re criticizing. So, I’ve been forced to learn to deal with negative comments, even when they’re mean-spirited, and intended to hurt me. Because we all get criticized from time to time, you may find the following ideas helpful.

Whether criticism is intended to be helpful or harmful, you can use it positively. Evaluate the critic—is it a good friend, a kind person, a mentor? Criticism from any of these is likely to be constructive, and you can probably trust it and learn from it. Is the criticism from a competitive rival? Then use its mirror image — it’s probably something powerful about you that threatens the rival. Is it from a lover or intimate person? Then it can hurt a lot, because intimates know where your soft spots are—and, they often project their own fears onto you. Whatever the source of the criticism, ignore it for a few hours or a day, until the sting has subsided, and then evaluate its usefulness to you. If a trusted mentor is offering constructive criticism, it may be a great gift to you, once you have absorbed it. Stretch yourself a bit, and look at the comment from an objective viewpoint, and see how much truth you think it holds. Above all, be true to yourself, and know that your own good opinion of yourself is most valuable if it is based on truth.

There are a few things you can do to help the criticism “roll off your back.” First, use a sense of humor: if you can come up with a clever funny remark that diffuses the criticism, that is always the most effective way to disarm it. Second, give an “adult time out” to anyone who is negative and critical: emotionally retreat into politeness. Be very pleasant, but distant—say “Yes, please” “No, thank you” and respond politely to any request, but don’t share any personal information. This usually causes a negative person to snap out of it. Third, ignore any negative thing that is said—just treat it as if it didn’t happen. In this way, you don’t reward it, and the other person will eventually stop.

Don’t try to motivate yourself with criticism. You can be self-critical because you don’t realize the consequences—if you’re critical of a friend or loved one, they will be angry at you, and perhaps leave, but most of us don’t realize how self-critical we are, and how much it damages our lives, so we continue to harp on ourselves. Also, if you were around a parent who was very critical when you were a child, it will feel “normal” to you, and you won’t realize how it really sounds. Self-criticism damages your quality of life in several ways: it eats away at your self-esteem, which can make you needy in relationships and keep others from getting close. It also leads to excess spending, drinking, eating, etc. in an attempt to feel better.

Overpowering yourself with internal criticism or external coercion makes you feel oppressed and rebellious. The intimidation and pressure eventually leads to paralysis and procrastination. In my experience with myself and my clients, the only kind of motivation that works permanently grows out of celebration and appreciation. It’s easy to remember in equation form: celebration + appreciation = motivation When you find a way to appreciate yourself for what you’ve already accomplished, and to celebrate your previous successes, you will find you are naturally motivated to accomplish more. No struggle, no hassle — you accomplish out of the pure joy of success!

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