Ouch! Dealing With Criticism

“How could you be so selfish?!”
“I’m finding you aggressive right now!”
“You’re jealous!”
How do we respond when we are on the receiving end of negative criticism from other people? Does the way we react in these situations – either internally, i.e. what we tell ourselves, or externally, i.e. what we communicate to the other person – make a difference to the way we feel about ourselves? Do we have a choice? Can we learn to respond in a different way?
It is very easy when faced with negative criticism to let our minds go completely blank. Our self-esteem has taken a battering and if that esteem is already on the low side, the result can be devastating. We find ourselves believing the other person’s opinion of us without any sense of a reality check – in effect, we swallow it whole, perhaps staying silent to boot.
On the other hand, we might react in totally the opposite way by rejecting the other person’s feedback completely. “No I’m not!” we automatically retort, instantly dismissing the other’s experience of us.
In my mind it can be very useful to get a sense of how the way we are impacts on other people. Nobody enjoys negative criticism but if we are doing something that is hurting someone else it is useful to know so we can decide whether or not to change our behaviour. And of course, because we are all unique, one person might well experience us in a very different way compared to another.
This brings me on to my next point. When we are on the receiving end of negative criticism, who is it actually about? Whose stuff is it? What does it say about the person giving out the criticism? Might they be, for example, jealous of us? Might criticising other people be a way that they can feel better about themselves?
The counselling process allows us the time and space to figure out what is going on when we receive negative criticism from others. We can start by asking ourselves questions. Is there a theme here? Have other people said this about me? Does it sit well with how I feel about myself, or how trusted others have said they experience me? Does the feedback say more about the person doling it out than it does about me? As we become better at withstanding negative criticism from others, we might then be able to stay calm and think more clearly in the moment when it is actually happening. Asking the other person to expand on their comments allows them to feel heard and us to learn more about ourselves and our impact on other people.
I work in a relational way which means that I will share with you what it feels like for me to be with you during our counselling conversations. Such feedback might transfer to other areas of your life and can prove useful in terms of either strengthening self-esteem or improving relationships with others.
If you live or work within reach of Brighton and Hove and my approach to counselling and psychotherapy interests you, please contact me via email or telephone 07585 910742 for more information and to arrange an initial consultation.
Copyright: Caroline Clarke, Brighton Counsellor and Psychotherapist
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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