How do you handle negative criticisms about you?
Thanks for a great question.
I struggled with criticism for a long time. I used to be extremely thin-skinned and get very upset for long periods of time after being criticized. Thanks to meditation, I have learnt how to deal with criticism in a productive way. I share my insights below, and hope that they are useful to you.
The reason why we are sensitive to criticism
Every person is born with an inferiority complex in his mind. The inferiority tells us that we are not good enough and not worthy of love. We are ashamed of these feelings and try to hide them, not only from others but also from ourselves. Since we try to subdue these feelings, we get sensitive to anything that may trigger them, such as criticism. The stronger the inferiority complex, the more painful the criticism appears.
Everyone has an inferiority complex, but depending on our level of awareness, we can roughly divide people into two different categories.
- Those who to a large extent are unaware of their inferiority. The reason why these people can’t see their inferiority is because it is covered by a thick layer of pride. The pride makes these people unlikely to admit that they are sensitive to criticism (or weak in general). However, they certainly are. When such a person gets criticized, he is likely to dismiss the criticism as complete nonsense. Depending on how hard the criticism hits his ego, he might either just shrug it off or harbor vengeance and seek for an opportunity to get revenge. Such people are generally numb to other people’s needs and have difficulties seeing things from other people’s perspectives.
- Those who are aware of their inferiority. These people try to cover their inferiority while being aware of it. They can cover it in different ways, for example by trying to be nice, generous, cool, strong, etc. However, inside they know that they are vulnerable, and if the criticism pierces the defense mechanisms that they have built up, they will feel devastated. When this happens, they might hate themselves, feel extremely ashamed, getting very upset, and having problems moving on.
With regard to the first category of people, there is not much to do. They are not mentally capable to change, at least not for now. They need time to mature. However, the second group of people are in a much better position. They can really change and grow as humans starting today.
The importance of a sound mindset
We struggle with criticism because we don’t accept and let go of our inferiority. Instead we try to hide it, and act defensively or aggressively in situations that we perceive may threaten to expose our inferiority.
This is why it hurts when our inferiority gets poked at. In those situations, our mind races, and we easily fall into the trap that something very bad or undesirable has happened, something that should be avoided. Since we constantly are trying to protect ourselves, we may develop a mindset that views life as a hostile environment. We may think that we need ‘beat’ life, avoid life, or make it out ‘alive’ from life (ironic, huh?). If we don’t change our mindset, we will not change and our situation will not improve.
What we need to do is to replace this negative mindset with a more positive one, a mindset that in a powerful way encompasses and embraces also the painful aspects of being human, such as having to deal with criticism.
A sound mindset goes something like this: Life is not here to fight us. We don’t have to defend ourselves against life. Instead, life is a benevolent force that through circumstances, people, and challenges guides us towards growth. Everything happens for a reason, every person is there for a reason, and everything is perfect. Every moment is a chance for us to grow and ultimately realize our true (higher) self.
A mindset like this is a great starting point because it opens the gateway to necessary self-reflection.
Let’s say you’ve been criticized and suffer from it. You ruminate over it, feel hurt, and can’t let it go. Pain and suffering. “Why did this person say that to me? So f*** unfair! Growl!” Ok. Remember that everything happens for a reason, and that this is chance for you to grow.
Time to reflect. Sit quietly, close your eyes and watch the scene unfold like a movie. Observe how you felt about yourself and the other person. Reflect on why it is difficult. Although the circumstances may vary, you will come to realize that the reason you struggle is essentially because your pride is hurt. When you’ve realized this, you have made progress! See, you are now wiser than before. The criticism has helped you to grow.
This is a sort of meditation, and by doing like this, we start to release and let go of the pride from within. As we let go of pride, our inferiority also disappears. This is why reflecting and letting go leads to self-realization and a higher state of consciousness. As we let go of pride and inferiority, we become wiser, more humble and open to new perspectives.
I really encourage everyone to find a meditation center that helps you to introspect and empty the mind of pride and inferiority.
Why do we struggle with overcoming criticism?
The reason we have a desire to handle or overcome criticism is because we want to feel good about ourselves. Essentially, we want to be right and be the ‘good guy’. We don’t want to change ourselves; we want to keep things the way they are. However this is not possible. We will get shaken. Circumstances, people, all things will inevitably shake us. This cannot, and should not, be avoided. Remember: Life is a benevolent force that guides us towards our true self. It does so with all the means at hand.
Note that this is not the same as saying that we should allow ourselves to be treated disrespectfully. No, if someone hurts us repeatedly the lesson could very well be that we need to learn how to say no and set boundaries. If we are bullied or unfairly criticized, we need to reflect on ourselves and see why this happens. Perhaps it is because we try to avoid conflict by being meek, or that we try to be a ‘good/kind person’ (while hiding that we harbor hatred, jealousy, etc.), or because we have a victim-mindset and secretly blame the world, or that we think we know better, and are incapable of listening to others. There is always a lesson to learn; it is always grateful albeit being painful at times.
A few words on justified vs unjustified criticism
Whether the criticism is justified or not is beside the point for the purpose of our growth. All kinds of criticism is good viewed in the right way. For example, if you find that the criticism was unfair, then you see the mind that is hurt and angry about that and let go of that blame. If it is justified, then you reflect on yourself and become aware of the selfish behavior that led to that critique. In both situations you have become wiser and made progress towards realizing your true self.
The true meaning of overcoming criticism
The criticism we’ve struggled with will cease the day we’ve learnt our lesson, when we have done the necessary self-reflection and given up our pride and inferiority. At that point the criticism will no longer hurt. In fact, it will not even happen anymore since it’s no longer part of our karma or lifeline.
Life will go on, and since we have grown and evolved, it might now be the time to face another type of condition, something that really challenges us and lets us see our remaining pride and inferiority. However, by this time we’ve understood the mechanisms of life and are able to gracefully accept whatever happens, learn from it, grow, and move on. This is the true meaning of overcoming criticism and other hardships of life.
Thank you for reading. Please check out the video below.