Criticism – An inevitable part of life. - Part I9, Nov, 2014, by Seema Bhatnagar
Criticism is something that we all face at every stage of life. For most of us, criticism is something which makes us feel unwanted and triggers ill feeling against others. There is hardly any relationship, situation or event in life where criticism does not exist. It is something which is absolutely an inevitable and bitter part of life.It is quite intriguing, what is that element which makes us feel uncomfortable about handling or facing it? Why do we feel negative when we get to face it? Why people end up spoiling relationships because of it? In a nutshell, why it is so difficult to digest criticism.
As a kid, each one of us has been criticised for infinite times and that is how we have learned and improved upon self and sometimes it also became a sole reason of losing self-confidence. But looking at the brighter side of it - had there been no criticism in this world we wouldn't have seen children growing up as Mahatma Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, Galileo, Socrates and all those who changed the history in the face of harsh criticism.
What is criticism?
Criticism, as defined in dictionary is - a disapproval expressed by pointing out faults or shortcomings or a serious examination and judgment of something.
Combining the two definitions - it is a serious examination and judgement of something to bring forth faults or shortcomings. By looking at this aspect, isn’t it a good practise to examine every piece of work discerningly, doesn’t matter by whom. The very idea behind criticism is to bring forth the best and to improve upon the less developed aspect of any piece of work or action.
On looking honestly, on a daily basis we criticise ourselves several times by rejecting one choice over another be it for clothes, food, work or any action. It is a subtle form of self-criticism, but since it is something coming out of self so we feel comfortable with it but when it comes from others it hurts personal ego and we play defensive, even when we know that we are wrong in certain situations.
Going by a common mindset, criticism is actually taken as a question mark on personal capability and reliability and that is a reason it is not accepted open heartedly. The reason behind this mindset is - our focus gets shifted towards personal shortcomings and it is taken as a kind of rejection of self by others. A feeling of rejection further triggers a chain of thought of not being capable, not good enough and unwanted by others. Overall, criticism leads to a mindset which says that it is negative and must be avoided at all cost and if at all have to face must be defended to prove personal view for a clean escape from any unwanted situation.
Criticism has a direct connection with personal ego, if you have a perfectionist tendency then it is even worse to handle. For a perfectionist, criticism is a big stain on personal image and a deeply hurting experience.
Nitpicking is quite common in marital and romantic relationships, for some couples, it promotes growth while for majority it creates regular tremors in relationships and at times leads to breakups.
In working environments, appraisal times are considered as the best time of settling personal scores using criticism as a tool. But for some, it is an opportunity to look at personal aspects which are not working to bring personal success while for some it acts as personal hurts and insults handed over by bosses.
So, going by both the positive and negative side of criticism, it is more a matter of making personal choice of either choosing the brighter side or as a personal attack. This positive understanding of criticism might sound hard to digest, especially for an egoist or a perfectionist but this is a plain simple truth. It is actually a best way to pave a way for personal success.
Criticism is essential for us because it shows a new perspective and helps to overcome personal ego issues and gaps in skills and understanding. Usually, when we work over something we build our own world of thoughts and develop a mindset that it is the only and best way to do that particular task. This closes down further opportunity to improve and leaves little space to accommodate new perspective from others. If one can change this and develop a new mindset of improving that particular task further then it becomes an excellent tool of bringing improvements.
On emotional levels, those who welcome and handle criticism well, feel more joyful, considerate and patient. They do not feel threatened or insecure from it because they know deep down that it is something which will bring overall improvement in self and in their work.
Types of Criticism
“Criticism is an indirect form of self-boasting.” ~ Emmet FoxThere are two types of criticism:
When criticism is done with an intention to improve upon any task, habit or action. Fundamentally, it is positive and results in a growth of an individual.#2- Destructive
When criticism is done with an intention to cause hurt, to make other feel low and worthless. There is an underneath smell of personal ego satisfaction and in some cases to settle personal accounts (of politics or revenge).
Unfortunately, most of us get to face more of destructive type of criticism. Destructive criticism really tears apart a person and does not add any value. In such environment people cannot grow and it breeds contempt against each other.
My personal experience
Criticism had been one of my biggest pain points. Due to this I have suffered a lot and lost many opportunities in life. I have always thought that my own perspective is perfect and if other person is criticizing then that person is against me and want to hurt me.
During my days at job, I used to feel threatened and hurt at slightest criticism. Due to this behaviour I could not work amicably with others and always thought myself more important and others as threat. Since I was living with my big fat ego so I wasn’t even aware of the fact that I am doing something wrong and I must learn to handle it. Every instance of criticism used to be painful and hurting experience.
For me, criticism meant - revenge, an attempt to hurt or to snatch away the appreciation which I could get from others for good work done. All these together made me feel as if I am not capable and a kind of attack on my ability to work.Looking back, now I realize that it was such a kiddish and immature behaviour on my part. On a second thought, I excuse myself because this is what I have seen how people around me behaving, doesn’t matter of what age and role they are.
My potential to work was very limited because instead of thinking how to make things better my focus used to be how to avoid inviting criticism. This drove me to a suboptimal quality of work. Due to this I lost many opportunities to learn and grow.
Honesty, I could not accept criticism from my boss or my seniors or even from my friends, due to which I could not enjoy healthy relationships. Why it was so - because I always thought criticism as an attempt to insult me and a way to push me towards insecure zone and a kind of rejection and dislike. Why I developed this mindset because nobody ever taught me or demonstrated that criticism is good for health and must be taken in a spirit to improve upon self. Right from the childhood, I have seen that criticism means I am not good enough and respect worthy. This mindset made me absolutely defensive and at a slightest criticism I would consider myself as unwanted and incapable. My low self-esteem was also partly responsible for it.
For giving criticism, I was equally bad at it. I used to believe that other person must realize what the mess s/he has created and must feel sorry or must improve upon it. I was absolutely lacking required sensitivity. Due to this gap, I hurt many people and lost many opportunities of demonstrating better way of doing things and also created more enemies than friends.
But now, I have come a long way from that emotional state and mindset. With no boss on my head, I am my own boss and criticize myself almost every day for one thing or another be it a quality of my work, productivity for a day or achieving personal goals. For me, criticism is more about thinking of making things better rather than finding only faults with myself. This is indeed a big change in perspective. Going by definitions given above, I would prefer to choose a second definition which essentially means a serious examination of a work. To me, serious means, there is always a scope to add value and improvement.
With my continuous efforts for overcoming this tendency of reacting to criticism, I have reached to a level when I feel quite comfortable with it. I have understood the fact that I am not perfect, neither I want nor trying to be and there are certain things about me which can be disliked by others. Accepting myself and willingness to improve upon have been the pillar thoughts to change my perspective of handling criticism. Now, if somebody is criticizing me for something, instead of feeling hurt, threatened or rejected, I opt to think that I have a freedom to choose the positive out of it or anything which can add value and the rest I can reject. But Yes, this whole journey had been very challenging and eye opening for myself. I have experienced a big leap in my personal growth by learning this. Not denying, there could still be certain unseen and unexpected instances in future which might jolt me on my path of self-discipline but I continuously pray to God for inner strength and patience to handle criticism, as this is just an inevitable part of life.