Why Criticism Feels So Scary and How to Handle it

Why Criticism Feels So Scary and How to Handle it

We usually get our first experience of criticism from our parents. 

With few exceptions, harried parents are not present or conscious enough to separate out, our behavior from who we are.

Telling children that they are bad or wicked for misbehaving sets up a defense pattern against criticism that can undermine us in both our personal and professional life.

Other comments, such as, “You’ll be the death of me!” or, “What is wrong with you?” are equally lethal.

As a result, most of us develop low self-worth or insecurity early in life.

Noticing that we seem to be unable to get our parents’ undivided attention, a steady source of unconditional love, or that our parents are at odds with each other, worried about money or distracted with their own issues, causes us to worry that there really is something wrong with us.

Without the verbal skills of inquiry, we tend to stuff this fear and look for what does get attention and/or love.  We innately know that we need attention in order to survive.

On some levels, it doesn’t matter if the attention is negative or positive – attention is attention, and it feeds us the energy.

As a child, I saw that not being a bother, having no needs, being perfect, and smiling all the time did the trick.  This then became my “act.”  Does the act work to get the love and/or attention you need to survive?

You bet it does!

But, the problem is that the love and/or attention goes to the act and not to the part of you that has low self-worth or is insecure.

Eventually, you become resentful of the act; after all, you feel that you have to keep it going, can’t rest on your laurels, and it becomes a burden.

The act is also a defense against intimacy.  If someone gets too close to you, you have to push them away in case they were to penetrate your act and discover “the real truth about you.”

Also, if someone criticizes either an aspect of your act or calls it into question, it can trigger your unhealed survival issues.

Unprocessed fear is usually inappropriate in its intensity to the nature of the situation at hand.  So, you can find yourself lashing out, at complete strangers or even at those you love.

Another response is to shut down, slamming the door on any possibility of re-connection – at least in that moment and for as long as it takes to come around (sometimes never).

Any unhealed childhood issues are bound to arise in the workplace as well as in our client and personal relationships.  That’s because relationships are designed to bring up anything unhealed in childhood.

There’s no escaping from that core truth. So, what to do?

You can start by getting in touch with your defense patterns and as you diffuse them, you will find it easier to accept constructive criticism in the spirit it was intended:

  1. Look at what you judge or make wrong in others:

    This is perhaps the easiest way to find your stuff, although not so easy or comfortable when you are not willing to own it in your own behavior! Everyone is a reflection of you: what you like and don’t like about yourself.

  2. Unpack the group/family/office patterns:

    This one builds on the first one, as groups tend to gather together to work through karma together and grow together. Family patterns are easiest to spot and perhaps the hardest to overcome as many families never try to fix dysfunctional patterns.

    Instead they are tolerated or worked around.

    Group or office patterns can be harder to spot because we tend to play the blame game, pointing fingers at others instead of taking responsibility for our own part. The most senior players and those with most longevity set the tone and attract others of a similar vibration.

    That is why even as group members or staff members leave, others will arrive who either consciously or unconsciously see the patterns at work and seek to fit in rather than make waves and risk being shunned.

  3. Ask someone you trust and respect about your blind spot:

    Now, the operative words in this sentence are trust and respect; since your blind spot can be an area of vulnerability that you have deeply buried, developed coping strategies around and pray no one will ever call you out on it.

    Often a trusted friend, colleague, or a professional can help you to get in touch with a blind spot.

    Once you’ve identified it, stay present with it, look at all the ramifications of it and imagine what life would be like without it. What could you do differently to be more effective?

  4. Play the awareness game, Resistance has many faces:

    We addressed one of them (blame) above and another is sublimation. We pretend that it really isn’t a problem, or that we can’t do anything about it, we might even argue for our limitation!

    Playing the awareness game gives us a chance to be present with what is happening, to notice the impact we have on other people when we criticize them and the impact on us when we are criticized.

    There is a distinct change in the energy when people shut down and if you try to gloss over it, as in a meeting, without addressing it – nothing authentic occurs after that moment.

    This can be particularly deadly in staff or client meetings. You might even be aware that there is “an elephant in the room” but be too fearful to address it.

  5. Clean up your messes:

    This is truly time-sensitive. The longer you wait, the greater the potential for damage. However, your best chance for success is to get in touch with and express your feelings in privacy and safety first.

    Underneath your feelings of anger and sadness is key information, an a-ha, so to speak.  This helps you understand why you got triggered and helps you to get in touch with what you need.

    Once you have processed your feelings, the charge in your voice tone is eliminated. You are able to ask clarifying questions, take responsibility for your part in the upset, and ask for what you need calmly and rationally.

    Women, especially, find it difficult to talk in the moment of an upset without crying, which can infuriate others, especially men, who feel manipulated by the tears.

    Taking a time out to process your feelings and then to make a time to talk is a very powerful strategy for navigating through difficulties in communication.

  6. Pay the “Haters” no mind:

    Don’t let your detractors steal your energy; by interacting with them you merge with their energy.

  7. Look for the kernel of value:

    Eventually, as you identify your triggers, you might even find yourself welcoming constructive criticism in the spirit it was intended: to help you be the best you can be.  

As always, life is a journey and learning how to handle criticism positively is a rite of passage.  I’d love to hear from you if you found this article helpful, and I think I can now handle constructive criticism too!

Aimée Lyndon Adams

About the Author, Aimée Lyndon-Adams

Aimée Lyndon-Adams is both a seasoned corporate executive and a metaphysician practicing spiritual energy healing. She has provided coaching and healing sessions to individuals, couples and groups and has offered an energy management curriculum of training classes for many years. She is an articulate and charismatic speaker and facilitator.

Visit www.WhatTrulyMatters.com to claim instant access to your free gift for your juiciest life EVER!

  • Wow! Great article Aimee! Your dissection if human behavior is very similar to my studies in Feng Shui. The goal is to evolve and grow through a progressive cycle…and can become a better person. If everyone tried to take care if their baggage the world would be a better place! Thanks for sharing! 🙂

Why Criticism Feels So Scary and How to Handle it

We usually get our first experience of criticism from our parents.  With few exceptions, harried parents are not present or conscious enough to separate out, our behavior from who we are. Telling children that they are bad or wicked for … Continued