How to deal with criticism.

Receiving a complaint can feel like a personal attack. Nicola Harker, Doctor and Empowerment Coach explores how to turn a complaint into an opportunity for growth.

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The first time I received a complaint I was mortified!  And yes I did feel like hiding under the bedclothes!  I had built my whole life around the idea that if I did my very best to be a good and thoughtful person, everything would be ok.

So when I first received a complaint, I was horrified.  If I was trying my hardest, and still got a heartfelt complaint, then surely there was no hope!  I felt sick, agitated, tearful, scared, and defeated all at once!

Shame is a powerful emotion, and when it hits, your thinking becomes clouded, emotions start raging, and the urge to run and hide, or scream and blame, is almost overwhelming.
It's an emotion that I've since developed a fascination for because it is so powerful and it's the NUMBER ONE obstacle that blocks success and visibility.

Receiving a complaint also made me feel unsafe.  If this client, that I had bent over backwards to help, could write such nasty things about me, then ANYONE could say ANYTHING and I was powerless to stop them.  

But this is where I also had a REVELATION.  If even the people that I gave my time generously to, could turn around and blame me for their difficulties, then worrying about what people might think of me or say about me was energy wasted.  It really is possible that you can be fantastic at what you do, and someone will hate it.  Be generous and someone will think you are a soft liberal.  Be powerful, and someone will think you are too strong, too much, too bossy, too feisty.  Be kind and someone will judge you for not being discerning.  Stand up for what's right, and people will argue that your version of right is wrong.

So let's pause here for a moment! 

Where in your life are you holding back because you fear what others might say about you? 

If you don't think you worry about others' opinions, check-in with the scenarios that automatically pop-up in your mind when you think about speaking up or stepping forward.  It's quite likely that you are expending energy playing out thoughts about "not being good enough", "being dismissed as irrelevant", or "getting told that you are wrong".  The inner-critic is likely to be replaying old scenarios or anticipating new ones. 

All of those scenarios are beyond your control, so worrying about them is self-sabotage.

There's another learning here too.  Shame makes you want to push away the criticism, avoid it, run from it, or hit back.  But if you sit with the emotion for a little while, it's possible to see what lies underneath.  A person may be wrong to complain about what you do, but it's helpful to hear another perspective.  Someone might be incorrect to blame you for their struggles, but it's helpful to remember what it feels like to be struggling. 

It's valuable to dig out the gems of learning from criticism, whilst remembering that you can't please everyone.   Learning to stay with shame and owning the feelings that lie beneath generates WISDOM.  There is always more to learn, after all.

Where does shame make you push away valuable learning? 

Where might you be avoiding listening to potential feedback, because you've got sucked into the vortex of shame? 

Where do your emotional responses cause you to lose perspective and miss the chance to become stronger and wiser?

The next time someone criticises you (which will surely happen no matter what you do!) consider what's a reflection of their hurt, and where your learning needs to be focused.  Their nasty words might be a gift after all!

Nicola Harker

Doctor and Women's Trauma Specialist, Nicola Harker Coaching

I help exceptional women who feel held back by past trauma, through my signature coaching programme The Freedom From Trauma Programme. Using neuroscience, mindful self-compassion techniques and coaching as well as high-performance techniques I help my clients free themselves from past trauma and get back to their true selves so that they can thrive in life.

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