Whenever I hear the phrase, “unwanted criticism,” I can’t help but ask myself: If the criticism is about being told we’re not measuring up, or wrong in some way, when is criticism actually wanted?
Nobody likes to be criticized. We like to think we are doing/saying everything the right way. And when we’re told we’re not, it’s only human to feel the hit on the ego. Being criticized can leave us feeling exposed, less than perfect, if not a failure. That’s not to say we don’t at times ask for and welcome criticism. But it’s those times when we haven’t asked for criticism that it can be especially hard to hear.
Of course, it especially hurts when criticism is delivered with a harsh tone. But even criticism given gently can be disappointing. It’s only human to want to be acknowledged, and praised, for our efforts, and not to be told about our shortcomings.
Your Chronic Condition Can Make Criticism Even Harder to Hear
My clients who are living with chronic conditions often tell me that they feel especially sensitive to criticism, on the job and at home. Their condition may make it that much harder to do their best. As a result, they admit that they expect others to understand what they are dealing with, to take into consideration that life is just that much harder for them. Not necessarily for others to cut them some additional slack, but to at least reflect some understanding of what it’s like to live with a chronic condition.
Sometimes my clients admit that criticism can push them into the victimhood trap, a place they don’t want to go but can’t always stop themselves. After all, you may be working that much harder to do your best. So it’s hard not to feel the unfairness of life when criticism comes your way.
And let’s face it. You may already be your own worst critic, so who needs more criticism piled on?
Here are ten steps toward coping with criticism:
Keep your mind open. Along with your ears. It’s only human nature to want to put a wall up between you and the person who is criticizing you. The sense of unfairness can be overwhelming, and sometimes criticism is just plain unfair. But closing down, or arguing, can lead to conflict that is most likely not going to be very productive, and leave you looking defensive. Try not to give in to that rush of emotions. Listening doesn’t mean accepting.
Review it on your own time. Get off by yourself and review what was said to you. Consider what on your side may have caused the criticism, and what might be going on with the other person. Separate the hurt and the blow to ego from the real issue. Focus on the big picture.
Get support. Sitting down with someone who knows you, but can also remain objective, can help a lot. Vent if you need to. And then listen.
Watch out for the blame game. Especially if you are placing blame on your chronic condition. Sure, the criticism you are receiving may be related to the limitations of your chronic condition. But if you make it all about your chronic condition, then you are also telling yourself that your chronic condition defines you. Is that how you want to label yourself?
Avoid the victimhood trap. When you blame the criticism on your chronic condition, you are also at risk for disempowering yourself. Making yourself a victim leads to hopelessness, and that’s a tunnel to nowhere.
Invite the other person to understand your perspective. In your personal life, you may have the opportunity to explain your side, with the goal of coming to a mutual understanding. On the job, you may have to just listen and take it in. But if you feel there is something the other person needs to know about you, and how your chronic condition impacts your life, then this may be a teachable moment.
Disclose with caution. Some situations are more appropriate for talking about your chronic conditions than others. For example, work versus home. And keep in mind that you can’t control how understanding the other person might be. So keep your expectations realistic.
Look for the lesson. While you may not appreciate the tone the other person uses when criticizing you, and you may not agree with everything they say, you may also identify a grain of truth in their criticism. If so, while painful, you have also been provided with an opportunity for growth.
And no, you don’t have to be abused. If on reflection, you decide you were being dumped on and not fairly criticized, then consider your options, including: Accept and move on. Avoid this person on bad days or altogether. Show some extra compassion and see where you can help. (Keep in mind that the growth opportunity may be to learn how to deal with abusive people.)
Don’t beat yourself up. You’re doing the best you can. Dust yourself off, and get back on the path. The past is the past.
You, your chronic condition, and criticism. Listen and evaluate with an open mind. Identify a growth opportunity. Maintain your own integrity.