How to Feel Less Bothered About Harsh Criticism

That indirect put down that they thought you wouldn’t notice.

The sideways glance they give you after openly making you wrong for being who you are, even though you’ve never interacted with them.

The family member who always finds some way to criticise.

Most of us have been in one, two or all of those situations at some point in our lives. But what if it’s an ongoing occurrence for you? You know you’re not alone, right? I don’t have the statistics but women around the world are subject to a barrage of should’s and shouldn’ts every day.

We’re judged for being too <name that thing>

We’re ridiculed for being too big or too skinny

we’re mocked for wanting to live life in a way that works for us

And so what happens? You’ve got something in mind you want to do. You think about the possible (negative) outcome and then you worry about it. You think about it a little bit more and try to convince yourself that you really don’t need to worry about what people say, it’s your life.

Their thoughts, their problem.

But there’s no escaping it. There’s a part of you that still feels that you “can’t or you “shouldn’t”. And boy can that be frustrating. You just want to get on with your life in peace.

You’ve seen and heard so many different quotes about not caring…

“Never dull your shine for somebody else.” ― Tyra Banks

“There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.” ― Aristotle

“What other people think of you is none of your business.” Regina Brett

You know it’s all true but how?

How do you stay calm and keep going in the face of criticism?

Let’s, first of all, consider the degree of truth that might be present in what someone says about you. No matter what they say, it’ll generally fall into three categories:

  • Off the mark
  • Partially true
  • Spot on

Now we know that people’s opinions are often based on someone’s appearance, how they talk, their educational background etc but we also know that those things don’t tell us everything about them.

Despite that, some people can be hyper-critical. This is what we’re trying to avoid. If we knew that everyone was, for the most part, non-judgemental and accepting of people’s faults and differences, we wouldn’t be so scared to just be.

That makes it sound like other people are responsible for our holding back but they’re not. Put it this way. Most of the time, we don’t like to put ourselves in situations where we feel uncomfortable. And we tend not to feel comfortable when we’re around people who indulge in fault-finding that’s directed at us.

As a result, we either hold back or try to change elements of ourselves in order to avoid that feeling of discomfort. Or we end up bouncing between can/can’t. So let’s go back to those three categories I mentioned previously and dive in a bit more with a couple of examples before we get to the ‘how’.

Off the mark

If I said you’re a pink, stripy Cocker Spaniel, and I meant it as an insult, you’d either laugh and say “riiight” or roll your eyes, shake your head and continue with whatever you’re doing.

It wouldn’t bother you in the slightest because it’s simply untrue. In fact, you’d probably think I’m weird.

There are lots of examples I could give where you’d have more or less the same reaction every time. As far as you’re concerned, I’m talking nonsense and you can dismiss it (and me) easily.

So, there’s no discomfort here. Nothing to worry about. Move on.

Partially true

Let’s now say you’re someone who’s carrying excess weight and you want to do something about it.

You decided a few weeks ago to start going to the gym and eating more healthily. You’re tucking into a yummy salad and it contains big chunks of avocado.

I look at you and your plate and then turn to my friend and say, “someone like her should not be eating fatty foods. She needs to hit the gym!” (I clearly don’t understand the difference between unhealthy and healthy fats).

You overhear my comment and immediately feel embarrassed, upset and hurt. Why? You’re taking care of yourself in a way that works for you and you already go to the gym. And by the way, I’ve just made myself look silly by suggesting you shouldn’t consume any fat whatsoever (which isn’t true).

There could be a number of reasons why you’re upset. For example, you secretly believe you shouldn’t be eating any kind of fat too, so now that someone else has brought it out in the open, you feel like a bad person.

So now, my comment is partially true because I hit on something you already believe and, whether it’s a secret or not, you feel uncomfortable about it. It’s there but you don’t want it thrown in your face, so to speak.

Spot on

Let’s now say you want to lose weight but you keep putting it off. You eat all the foods that you know aren’t good for you and you’re low on energy. You don’t even like to look at yourself in the mirror and you often mentally beat yourself up.

What happens when I turn to you and say “my god, look at all that junk on your plate. You should be concentrating on losing weight, not pigging out!”?

You’re beyond upset. You’re angry and you want to cry.

But the truth is, In that moment, I was spot on. I was like a parrot repeating back to you all of the things you’ve been thinking and saying to yourself. Ouch.

You’re upset and angry at yourself more than anything. Whether you’re up for admitting it is something else.

That doesn’t mean I was right in saying any of what I said. It was out of order and uncalled for. And If I think it’s acceptable to be unkind in that way, maybe there’s stuff within myself and my life that I need to take a look at.

Feel less bothered about what people say

You may or may not identify with the examples I gave but whether you did or didn’t, can you remember a time when you got really upset over something someone said? And which category did their words fall in to?

If it were the ‘partially true’ or ‘spot on’ categories, here’s a question for you…

How much negativity and resistance did you feel about whatever it is they brought up?

I ask because as I mentioned before, we don’t particularly enjoy uncomfortable situations. Even if we’re forced to deal with it, there’s still a certain level of resistance whereby we don’t want it to be there. We have negative thinking that we feel bad for having and the feelings we have may be of embarrassment, shame, doubt, frustration and anger, to name a few. Feelings we don’t really want to feel.

So when someone makes a comment that brings our attention to a situation we don’t like and the thoughts and emotions that come along with it, we end up feeling worse because of that resistance we have around it.

Another thing is, sometimes, harsh criticism will fall into the ‘off the mark’ category but it still bothers you. What then?

It could be that the person is struggling with some aspect of their life and they’re taking it out on you. Or putting others down is their only way to feel in control. Or they learnt growing up that the harsh way keeps people on their toes.

Maybe it’s their only go-to strategy for pulling the best out of people but they fail to see that it simply doesn’t work. It could be any number of reasons.

If you can’t distance yourself from this person, try changing your perspective about the situation. Doing this will help to protect your sanity and well-being.

When it comes to the stuff that’s partially true or spot on, try the ‘beat them to it’ approach. This means that you own what’s going on in your life, whatever that may be. If you acknowledge and own it, people’s negative comments won’t have as much effect because, yeah, I know that already thanks. Tell me something new…

In other words, they’re bringing your attention to a situation (and the accompanying thoughts and feelings) that you’ve already accepted—you’re no longer mentally fighting against it. That doesn’t mean, however, that you’re now not going to do anything about it. It means that right now, this is how it is.

It’s still not OK for them to be so harsh but the most important thing for you to do is to stop resisting and making yourself and your situation wrong.

At this point, you might be thinking “but I don’t know what people are going to say and when they’re going to say it” and that’s why it’s important to work on being OK with all parts of yourself and your life.

Whether you perceive any aspects of yourself or your life as good or bad, being honest about and accepting where you’re at, what you think and how you feel will put you in a completely different place.

And for what it’s worth, this is a reminder for me too because I so haven’t got this one ‘down’.

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