Handling Criticism Better

Note:  This is the second of a two-part series.

What’s the worst thing anyone could say aokut you?  Of the myriad of potential answers you might come up with, let’s say that your spouse or lover says that you’re insecure.

Instead of getting angry or defensive, let’s say you were open to exploring whether the criticism was true (“Well, aren’t I sometimes insecure?  OK, so she just told you something true about you.  Isn’t that what you want from your relationship—that she tell you the truth?”)

Of course, you could always go to your familiar response: “No I’m not.  It’s you who are insecure!”—but you know where that leads.

Once you understand that you can actually hear something critical and even gain value from it, give yourself a gift of the following exercise, compliments of Byron Katie in the book I Need Your Love—Is That True? (Three Rivers Press):

Step 1. When someone criticizes you and says you are wrong (unkind, insensitive, uncaring, etc.) settle into it.  Ask yourself “Is it true?  Could he be right?  Can I see how someone might see me that way?”   Be patient and wait for the answer.  Respond to the other person only with “Thank you for letting me know that.”

Step 2. After the criticism, ask yourself, “Was hearing that remark at all stressful?”  If the answer is yes, it means that the criticism is true about you.  Question yourself before on the defensive.  So if a friend says “You don’t listen to me” and you want to respond “you’re wrong,” do an honest exploration with yourself before you react or respond.

“She’s wrong about me”—is that true?”  No, it’s not.  The truth is that sometimes I don’t listen.  “How do I react when I believe that she is wrong?”  I immediately get upset and feel unjustly accused.  I start defending myself.  I attack her in my mind.  I feel sorry for myself.  I stop listening.  Who would I be without the thought “She’s wrong about me?” I might listen. I might be open to what she’s saying.  I might take a deeper look at myself.

Turn the statement around:  “I’m wrong about her.”  Or “I’m wrong about me.”  Or “She’s right about me.”  Are these statements as true or truer than the original statement?

If you’d like to follow these steps with other issues in your life, here are Katie’s steps which she calls “The Work.”  Put an issue, a problem or a conflict into a statement (example:  “He/she doesn’t love me,”  or “I would be happier if I got that promotion.”)

  1. Is it true?
  2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true?  Can you absolutely know that you would be happier, or that your life would be better, if you got what you wanted?  Can you really know what is best in the long run for his/her/your path?
  3. How do you react when you believe that thought?  Where do you feel it in your body?   How do you treat yourself?  How do you treat others when you believe that thought?  Does that thought bring peace or stress into your life?
  4. Close your eyes and imagine yourself with the person (or in that situation) without that thought.  Describe how it would feel to not have that thought.  How would your life be different?
  5. Turn the thought around.   Find three examples in your life where the turnarounds are as true or truer.  Examples:  Instead of “I am not insecure.”
    1. “I am insecure.”
    2. “The other person is insecure.”
    3. “I am secure.”
    4. “I need more security.”

Now take an issue in your life, a thought you have that causes you anger or defensiveness, and use these questions to explore that issue.  Your need for approval will likely diminish if you do, and you are far more likely to feel greater peace of mind.

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