I think we can all quote it, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” Seriously, who came up with that? Sure, it sounds great in theory, as a comeback on the playground, but when you go home, when you leave the playground, the words linger. The words sting. Words have a way of doing that. This saying is so odd because it’s way too easy to break a heart with someone’s words. All it takes is one little phrase.
I like to think that my skin grows thicker through the years, but really words still have the power to cut deep, to cause the sting of salty tears on cheeks. We forget until someone slings words that stop us in our tracks, make us think. Cause us to remember. Suddenly we’re in middle school, hearing the taunts once more.
I’ve been told I’m too sensitive. I need to toughen up, learn how to take a joke, handle criticism. How is that possible when criticism stings deep, feels hard to breathe for all the perfectionist tendencies swimming in front of my vision? Criticism is the perfectionists’ arch nemesis. You think you have something just right or at least nearly just right, and bam! Enter the critic.
The critic comes in quick, and cuts you to the core. Ouch. That hurt. Why does the critic hurt so much? Can I not grow that thick skin they speak of? Why must the pill taste so bitter with no chaser? More salt on my margarita glass please, and go ahead and add another shot of tequila while you’re at it. Okay, hit me with your next shot.
Do you find the critics in your life difficult to swallow? Perhaps you’re a bit like me. Maybe you’ve been called too sensitive and you’d like to know how to swallow these words a bit easier. Here’s what I’ve learned along my journey thus far in dealing with criticism. I hope you find something here helpful.
Who’s Dishing It?
Is it a coworker, friend, your boss, a parent, a spouse, significant other, sibling, acquaintance, or total stranger? This makes a difference on the spectrum of impact. Imagine this as a pain scale. Could you rate your pain impact on a scale of how well you know the critic or how much influence they have over you? I think so.
Always consider this when chewing on their critical words. The more you respect the person, the greater their words will impact you. Try and detach yourself from the situation and imagine if a total stranger were the critic. How would you feel then?
Is it Their Words or Yours That Hurt?
One of the first questions I ask when I get my panties all in a wad about something someone said is why it upset me? Was it because of what they said, or because of something I believe inside of myself to be true? Did their words simply bring these inner thoughts to the surface?
Often, we’re more upset by our inner critic than by what someone else said. So, pause a moment and truly question whose opinion bothers you, the other person’s, or your own?
When I’m confident in my own opinions and choices, I am less bothered by someone else’s negative opinions of me. It’s much easier to brush it off when I don’t feel the same way inside.
When the critics get me riled up it is nearly always because they’ve spoken to my inner critic and gotten her riled up. It’s truly a vicious cycle, so make sure you’re appropriately directing your anger, and tell your inner critic to shove off.
Is It Legit?
Is the criticism warranted? Is this someone whose opinion you value? Did you do whatever they’re accusing you or criticizing you of? Can you own the mistake? If you did it, own it. Learn from it. Accept it, and begin to grow and move on. If you didn’t, then you don’t need to own it. Determine whether the criticism is legit, take steps to correct it in the future, then move on.
It may not be legit, or it may not matter. Sometimes, people can’t handle their own shortcomings, so they project them onto others. It’s unfortunate, but happens all too often. If you’ve checked it, you don’t have to own it, and you don’t have to give it any more energy or thought. Do like Tayler Swift says and “Shake it Off.”
Is it Helpful or Hurtful?
There is a big difference between constructive and destructive criticism. The first is intended to better you as a person, to build you up and help you reach your goals. The latter is mean to tear you down, to belittle or shame you with the intention of building the other person up. One key to knowing the difference is whether it is solution-based.
Criticism is only helpful if the person offers possible solutions to the problem they’re cutting you down for. If they didn’t offer solutions, yet you value their opinion, probe them for a solution. If they don’t have one or aren’t interested in providing one, you don’t have to listen or give it any further thought. You can “agree to disagree.”
Even if they do have solutions, it’s still your life, and you get to choose how you live it. So feel free to implement their advice, or simply toss them a penny for their thoughts, and carry on.
Say Goodbye to the Haters
If you have haters in your life who constantly dish out hurtful criticism, it may be time to move on. You need people in your life who are going to build you up, not tear you down. We all need people in our corner who are going to cheer us on, who will be honest with us when needed but for the right reasons. You don’t need to expend your time and energy on the haters. You just don’t.
At the end of the day, it’s your life, your choices, and ultimately, you’re the one who will live with the consequences of those choices. And one of those choices is whose words you you allow into your heart to take root.
So choose to listen to the words of the people you trust, the people your heart knows are in your corner for the right reasons. And shake off the rest.
I’d love to hear from you. How do you handle criticism? Please leave your thoughts in the comments.
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