I’ve lived in small towns most of my life and one of the things I despise about it is, that whatever drama or life altering experiences you may have, they will not only be talked about by your neighbors and people that you don't even know, but you will be the whisper on their lips for many months to come. It seems like no matter what decision I have made in my life, certain people seem to always know the outcome long before I do and this hurts most when it comes from someone you love and thought you could trust.
It seems to me that the main reasons people criticize one another is FEAR:
- Fear of action and their own failure. - Insecurities speak loudly! Which is probably the most hurtful kind of criticism. People often criticize us because they wish they could have the courage to make the decision to fully live their own lives and chastise those who are doing so. They are afraid that they don’t have it in them to pull it off. Dr. Brené Brown says, “If you’re not in the arena getting your butt kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback.” I’d add to that: I hope that me being in the arena getting my own butt kicked can inspire others to enter the arena, as well.
- Fear of the unknown and change. - People are often afraid of how our decisions and actions may change the status quo. They like things as they are, have their own agendas, or are fearful of what will happen next. When things are comfortable, we aren’t expected to grow or change. Fortunately, and unfortunately, if we don’t grow and change, life circumstances will force it upon us whether we are ready or not.
We are often our own worst critics. Healthy self-criticism can help you learn, improve and grow. But when we spin out in the arena of our own negativity we often hurt others by projecting it onto them. My aunt calls this leveling, when we tear others down in order to feel better about ourselves.
Are you your own worst critic? When it comes to goals or just life in general, do you beat yourself up for not doing a better job? Or if you are doing something well, do you find the smallest of flaws and glaringly point them out to yourself?
When we compare ourselves to others, this often stirs up a storm of negative self-talk. “She’s so much prettier than me….he’s a better speaker…I’ll never be able to compete with that kind of talent,” and on and on. And when we are here we are tempted to level anything in our path.
Every person is an individual with unique gifts, talents and circumstances, so can we honestly say there is a true comparison between you and another person? If another person inspires us to improve our lives that’s great, but our own insecurities shout volumes when we resort to leveling others.
Some beliefs about ourselves may be so subtle we don’t notice them. I recently have been working with a woman who came to work with the horses because she knew that she was holding herself back from achieving her life’s goals by not believing she could succeed. The message she had learned as a child was that she was “dumb and screwed-up.” When I asked if she was willing to give up those labels, she looked surprised. “How can I give them up,” she said, “when they are true?” She had never thought of herself in another way.
“What about making mistakes?” I asked. “We learn from our mistakes. Are you allowed to make mistakes like every other person?” She replied that her mistakes, only proved that she was dumb, but that when other people made mistakes, it didn’t determine who they were as a person.
When our self image is rooted in blame, shame and guilt, we fear being exposed as flawed, insufficient, or horrible. With this self image there is no room for positive feedback and the negative only reinforces the shaming labels we apply to ourselves. Our belief systems are rooted in our childhoods and are self-reinforcing until we work up the courage to move past our own vulnerability and uncertainty and choose new beliefs about ourselves and our lives. This is often one of the greatest challenges we will face in life.
I’ve done many things in my life I’m proud of and others that I’m not so proud of, both have opened me up to criticism. It’s never been the criticism from outsiders that has held me back but my own inner critic that said, “you can’t do this.” “Who do you think you are?”
Many of us have lived with so much judgment of ourselves that we take these feelings for granted. We just think that’s how we’re doomed to feel. Until we forgive ourselves, we don’t realize how much we need to, and how amazing it feels. Forgiving ourselves reconnects us to the best parts of ourself and life.
With self-compassion we can forgive ourselves for what we’ve done wrong, what we’ve done badly, and what we think we could have done better. We can transcend our judgements of ourselves.
You can either be judged by others or judge yourself because you created something or be ignored because you left your greatness inside of you. Eventually, I’ve always decided that it was more important to contribute something to the world than it was to protect myself from criticism.
We all like to be validated, respected and appreciated, and I still get triggered when certain people in my life, those I love and respect, criticize me about something important to me. I think it takes a lifetime and often a lot of self-reflection and self-compassion to learn to face our own darkness. It is a process I haven’t mastered yet and am still learning.
According to research done at Florida State University, it is natural for most people to hold onto negative criticism because we remember negative emotions much more strongly and in more vivid detail than positive emotions. The study entitled “Bad Is Stronger Than Good,” found that it takes five positive events to make up for one negative event.
How Do We Overcome Criticism?
In my experiences, here’s what I can summarize about dealing with haters.
1 First and foremost, don’t be the hater. Don’t be the person who tears down someone else’s hard work. The world needs more people who contribute their gifts and share their work and ideas. If you’re triggered by the criticism or resort to leveling other people because of your own insecurities, that’s a clear sign it’s time to do some work on yourself. If your first reaction is to lash back or become defensive, walk away, take some time to cool off first.
2 Remember this is often not about you. Don’t take it as a personal attack or an insult to who you are.
3 Focus on the positive and your path ahead. Don’t allow somebody else’s negativity derail or distract you, make you feel uncomfortable or depressed. Nobody, but you, should have that much power in your life.
4 If you choose to respond to the haters, be the bigger person and kill them with sincerity and kindness. Most people don’t want you to convince them they are wrong, they just want to know you care. Thank the critic, it’s unexpected and often appreciated.
5 One of the keys to success in anything you do in life is to turn a negative into a positive. You can always learn something from someone else, even if that’s how not to be. Criticism can also be an opportunity to improve yourself. Being the bigger person is always a way to turn a negative into a positive, because it makes you feel better about yourself, you are above stooping to the haters level. Others will admire you for being able to rise above it, remain positive and handle it well.
6 Finally, and most importantly, follow your heart, make the choices that are right for you. People will criticize you either way. Your life is too short to worry about pleasing haters.