Coping with Critics: How to Use Criticism to Your Advantage

Last week I was deluged with emails and blog comments from a very mean someone. My work, my personality and even my body were on the list of cruel insults. How do I handle coping with critics like this?

Happily, this doesn’t happen often. But something like this could send me down a dark tunnel of self-doubt and insecurity. It used to do that. Now I rely on coping skills I’ve learned and, instead of kicking myself, I just feel is pity for him. He’s obviously very unhappy.  

Today I’m sharing a powerful article by my dear friend and colleague, Tina Tessina, Ph.D. on coping with critics. I love how she shows us how to use criticism to our advantage. 

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 compliments 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 – coping with critics – 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.

So, I’ve been forced to learn to deal with negative comments – coping with critics – 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. See how much truth you think it holds. Above all, be true to yourself, and know that your own good opinion of you is most valuable if it is based on truth.

There are a few things you can do to make coping with critics “roll off your back.”

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

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 lead 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!

Guidelines for learning self-appreciation:

1. Make a note. Write positive comments on your daily calendar to yourself for jobs well done or any achievements you want to celebrate. Or you can paste stickers on your daily calendar as you accomplish goals daily frequent positive commentary is a very effective way to reward yourself and remind yourself of your success.

2. Look to your childhood. Use activities that felt like a celebration in your childhood: did your family toast a celebration with champagne or sparkling cider, a gathering of friends, or a thankful prayer? Create a celebration environment: use balloons, music, flowers, candles, or set your table with the best china. Use the exercise on your family style in chapter two to find ideas.

3. Visible reminders. Surround yourself with visible evidence of your successes. Plant a commemorative rose bush or get a new houseplant to mark a job well done, or display photos of fun events, and sports or hobby trophies. It’s a constant reminder that you appreciate yourself and when you see them daily, you’ll feel the appreciation.

4. Reward yourself.  A new trashy romance novel or detective thriller can be a great reward/celebration for reading your required technical books.

5. Party! Celebrate a cherished friendship with an impromptu lunchtime picnic and a balloon. Or with tickets to a ball game.

(adapted from It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction)

What are your tips about how to deal with criticism, either from the men in your life, family or friends? How does criticism affect how you feel about yourself as woman dating? Tina and I would love from hear from you. Leave us a comment below.

More about Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D.: Tina is a licensed psychotherapist in S. California since 1978 with over 35 years’ experience in counseling individuals and couples. She is the author of 14 books in 17 languages, including The Ten Smartest Decisions a Woman Can Make After Forty; Love Styles: How to Celebrate Your Differences, and her newest, How to Be Happy Partners: Working it Out Together. She writes the “Dr. Romance” blog (drromance.typepad.com), and the “Happiness Tips from Tina” email newsletter. Dr. Tessina is known as “Dr. Romance” and appears frequently on radio, TV, video and podcasts. She tweets @tinatessina.

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