How to handle your critics…

How to handle your criticsLooking back at previous blog posts, I have covered the inner obstacles (here and here) that get in the way of fulfilling our goals and living a life of purpose.

External obstacles can get in the way, too.

One way they show up is in the form of critics.

Not those people who offer constructive criticism, but those who are “negative” about our achievements, or need to find fault in what we are doing.

As children, some of us have faced bullies, critical parents, or unsupportive teachers; as adults, we meet people who can be unsupportive, and critical of our pursuits. It is difficult enough dealing with our own inner critic to then have to deal with those who belittle our goals.

So, how do we handle this? What is the best way? I have spent many psychotherapy sessions discussing how to deal with unhelpful critics. Here are 3 possibilities:

Ignore ithow to handle your critics

As Taylor Swift sings, “Shake it off”- or, for those of you with children under 8 years old, who sing, “Let it go.”

Some of us can do this, and some of us can’t.

Ignoring criticism does not mean avoiding it – it means you know what has been said and you choose not to react, or respond to it. There is no resentment, and you are not going to let it get to you.

Confront it

Tell your critic that you do not find their criticism helpful.

They might not realize how they are coming across, or the impact that they are having on you.

Some may be trying to say something helpful and there may be a “nugget of gold” in their criticism that you can learn from. Talking to them could be helpful, or empowering.

Don’t keep going back for more 

If you know you can’t ignore it, but do not want to confront it, then find a way to not keep going back for more. You know who is helpful, and you know who will have a negative impact on you.

If you keep expecting something different from unsupportive people, then the issue is yours to sort out.

One more way

Joseph CampbellMy favourite story on handling critics comes from Joseph Campbell’s autobiography, A Fire in the Mind (1991).

For those of you who have not heard of Campbell, he was an American mythologist, who was a big influence on films, such as Star Wars, and The Lion King; and on books, such as the Da Vinci Code series.

Campbell would tour the world, lecturing on mythology, and wrote many books on the subject.

He, too, had his critics.

Campbell wrote about a memorable incident at a conference, where he was on a panel, with other guest speakers. One speaker lectured on why Campbell’s theories were wrong, and how Campbell was lying about his knowledge of mythology.

All of this happened as Campbell watched on, and listened.

Campbell was next to speak. Instead of attacking the speaker, or justifying his own work, he told the audience the following tale:

“There is a story from the Winnebego Indians; how when a young man is being sent out,  he is told by the elder of his tribe, ‘as you proceed along the way of your life, following your own path, the birds of the air will shit on you. Don’t pause to wipe it off’!” (p. 510)

Campbell brought the house down with his powerful story.

His advice was, just get on with your purpose; your path.

Joseph Campbell quoteDon’t worry about the critics.

Don’t give them your energy by attacking them, being angry with them, or giving up on your own pursuits.

Just keep going. Find your cheerleaders and your support network.

They are out there.


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