Accepting criticism is inevitable and refusing to live under its shadow will free you up and make you happier … you can roll with it, take what’s useful, form your own conclusions about the person making the criticism, learn and move on.
– Rick Hanson
Terrified of criticism
I have always been terrified of criticism – yes, terrified. Mortified at the thought of getting it wrong, making a mistake! So much so that the need to prepare and plan became a little obsessive.
This translated into rehearsing conversations, scenarios – over and over. Preparing for presentations, meetings, interviews by having key phrases already rehearsed – ready to go. I had to! The terror of getting it wrong was such that if I didn’t have something already prepared that I had already passed through my internal filters multiple times, I would simply freeze. There would be nothing forthcoming, just that awful feeling of being overwhelmed and blank – blank. That must mean I’m no good, right?
Well, no – thankfully, due to my mindfulness practice and my study of yoga and meditation I have a much better understanding these days of what is going on.
I could do no wrong
It’s not like I was overly criticised as a child. In fact, I think it was the opposite. I could do no wrong. Sadly, somehow, my brain understood that to mean ‘I can do no wrong’ as in, I must get it right, otherwise that would be failure. I’m not sure where these arbitrary standards of perfection came from exactly, but I was simply terrified of not being perfect. I had very little tolerance of not being really, really good – er hm – best – at everything I did. (Of course, I failed a LOT, with standards like that.) What a tiring life – never feeling good enough because there was always something that could be improved, be better.
At some level I really thought I had no right to exist unless I was extremely good – at everything!
Put down the self-improvement project
The relief of having unraveled this complex is huge! “You mean I’m really ok, just as I am? Really? I can put down the self-improvement project?”
“Yep, you are, perfectly fine – just as you are!”
I really don’t know how much was individual and how much was cultural but I really suffered under this regime. I’m not sure how much other people suffer from this, but no doubt it is part of the collective consciousness. So, I’m sharing this little story in the hope that it might offer you some relief too.
Slowing down enough in my mindfulness practice to notice – to actually notice – how this moved in me, has been liberating. First I started to notice all the things that took me away from what I was feeling – rationalisations, avoidance, excuses, distractions – anything other than actually feeling what was present here and now!
And yet, as I kept dropping back, letting go of the self-imposed rules and welcomed all this yuckiness – whatever was arising – gradually I began to integrate that sense of not being good enough, of being a failure (because I wasn’t perfect).
Failure and I were on very intimate terms
A significant life transition put me in close contact with a sense of failure, and failure and I were on very intimate terms. The way I’d contract, close up, want to hide, shrivel, not want to exist – so painful – no wonder I’d been avoiding those feelings. Just like when you first walk into a room and notice a scent and within several minutes of being there you no longer notice the scent, so it is with feelings and emotions. As we encounter them, little by little, they can just become part of the furniture so to speak. And so it goes with those really unpleasant emotions. Hang around long enough and they eventually lose their sting.
And now I feel an enormous sense of liberation. No longer do I have to run away and avoid that long feared sense of not being good enough, of failure. I go right into it, as sensation in my body. I’ve learned (been taught) that it isn’t possible to fix a problem with what caused it – thinking that is. So, I don’t think about it, how to fix it or change it, I just feel it in my body. I’m not saying its comfortable, and let me tell you, I’ve watched lots of elaborate, (and not so elaborate, e.g. eating) avoidance techniques on that internal viewing screen – but stay with the feeling (or come back to it) I do. When I’m feeling, I’m not thinking. And bit by bit, it is integrating.
Through consistent meditation I’ve come to know myself, just as much as the background to all of these changing feelings, thoughts, emotions, sensations, beliefs AS the changes themselves. I know myself as BOTH the one who observes AND the comings and goings. I love the comings and goings that make up my life and give it colour, but now they aren’t all there is. The ones I’d prefer not to experience don’t have the same sting. I’m not completely identified with them, they are movements in my consciousness. I notice how they arrive and depart and I also know myself as that aspect that doesn’t change but that is aware of them all. I am that too. The quiet background that just notices, and I am ok – just as I am, as the changes roll on and on, positive and negative, ‘good’ and ‘bad’ …