Reacting to Criticism

Being criticized may not be such a bad thing, if we take time to reflect on our own reaction and our reasoning.

At a few times during recent months, I have found myself feeling some familiar but unpleasant feelings. This happened when comments or criticism “hit a nerve” or triggered a defensive reaction. Usually we just react, but I forced myself to stop and think about why. Why did that comment from that person cause such a strong emotional reaction? No one really likes to hear criticism, but there are different kinds of criticism. It is one thing to have a mistake pointed out. Errors can be corrected, often without major damage to the ego. But often, as I think in these cases, the criticism is not so much about what was done or said, but includes an element of shame. There is some inference (maybe intended, but also possibly just perceived) of judgement associated with it – an underlying message that we are somehow a bad person, an idiot, or a fool. The feeling is that we are being personally attacked. The feelings may be more intense when the giver of the message is someone we feel has no position of authority or superiority to judge us. “How dare they” we think and want to strike back. We may also feel a need to defend ourselves and our position.

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Thinking for Yourself

As an eighteen year old, I went through a period of soul searching. I had been raised in a rather sheltered environment where I was surrounded by people who thought and believed in certain ways and taught me likewise. I then found myself in a very different environment. I was now in the minority, surrounded by others who had grown up believing and living rather differently than I had. Some even challenged and questioned my beliefs because they conflicted with their views. My question to myself at that time was “Do I believe these things and have this particular view of the world just because that is how I have been taught, or are these things accurate and true?” I wanted to know for myself, rather than rely on the faith or knowledge or teachings of others.

Through a process of study, questioning, and life experiences, I came to a certainty about my basic beliefs. I also gained some perspective through recognizing and attempting to understand other points of view. I was able to have positive relationships with people who thought and believed quite differently than I did.

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