How to Survive Harsh Criticism: Intensity

This is Part 2 of a 3-part series on how to survive and overcome harsh criticism and the fear that it creates within us.

The 3 Elements to the Criticism Bomb

Three elements make criticism hard to bear:

Authority - when we’re criticized by someone we respect

Intensity - when the critical words are very strong, bitter, or harsh

Repetition - when we hear criticism over and over again

Today we’ll be covering Intensity, what it feels like, and how to remedy it.

Remember, there’s a big difference between ordinary feedback and harmful criticism.

Feedback is a neutral suggestion aimed at changing a project for the better.

Criticism, as we're referring to it today, is personal, mean, and hurtful, aimed directly at you and your character.

Intensity: a few stories you might recognize

1. The party

Charles yanks his wife’s hand and drags her out of the party, into the garden.

Nose-to-nose, he hisses at her, “Never mention my debt in public again!” She goes cold. He is “whispering,” but it sounds like he is screaming. She can feel his rage all the way into her bones.

At the party, she hadn’t even said the word “debt,” had she? She’d joked, “Ah, we’ll put that holiday on our credit card, no worries.”

He had misunderstood. Now, in the cold wind of the garden, she can’t stop trembling.

She nods at him, hoping he’ll turn around and return to the party without her, so she can release the tears caught in her eyes. Trapped, like herself.

2. Asleep in the classroom

“Pamela? Pamela! PAMELA! PA-ME-LA!” The teacher at the front of the classroom is now shaking her fist in Pamela’s direction.

Pamela sits up, her name ringing in her ears, her face red. She’d fallen asleep in class, again. She didn’t know why, she was just so tired. Maybe it was from taking care of her baby brother last night; he’d been ill.

Pam hates hearing her name in her teacher’s voice, especially shouted in front of everybody.

Her classmates are staring at her now.

Miss D is so mean, she’d never understand the situation at home, even if Pamela did try to explain. Hopeless.

3. Family birthday

You receive a text message from your aunt, furious that you didn’t come to her birthday lunch.

Your aunt launches into a long, detailed rant about how selfish and ungrateful you are for skipping the family gathering.

The phone pings. It pings again. You can’t believe how much energy she’s putting into this story!

You’ve always attended in the past, but this year you didn’t, for health reasons. Goodness, what accusations!

The length and the detail of the attack! You thought this aunt liked you.

You switch the phone to silent and set it face down, feeling both shocked and shamed.

What do all these stories have in common?

Intensity.

Volume.

Name.

Rage.

Public humiliation.

Detail and length.

These are examples of intense criticism aimed directly at you.

This kind of criticism burns even hotter when the “crime” committed was unintentional.

Sometimes it wasn’t even a crime at all, but a mistake that was misunderstood by the accuser.

Remedies for Intensity

What are the remedies for intense criticism?

1. Identify the label they are sticking on you, and peel it off!

The first part of de-fusing the bomb of Intense Criticism is a tough one: it’s honing in on the specific label the accuser is pasting on you.

The husband is telling the wife, “You are exposing me. You are making fun of me. You are RUDE.”

The teacher tells Pamela, “You are LAZY.”

The aunt tells you, “You are inconsiderate and SELFISH.”

Consider that label. Question it.

Is it all trueall the time?

Talk back to it:

"He is perceiving me as acting rudely in this moment. Am I 100% a rude person, deep down, always? Was I born rude?"

Quickly give yourself three instances when you have been the opposite of rude - you’ve been polite, kind, thoughtful.

  • You got ready and arrived at the party on time.
  • You brought the hostess a bouquet of flowers.
  • You helped her light the candles, and you complimented her on the table.

Prove it to yourself: you are not “rude” always and only. It is not your true identity.

Intense criticism attempts to make that one label take over our whole being. Prevent this!

2. Find An Ally

The second way to defuse intensity is : find an ally who loves you, and speak with them about the situation. Ask them for help in reclaiming who you are.

Criticism is intense when it happens in front of other people.

The shame that creeps up from your chest to your neck and spreads across your face when you are scolded in a classroom, a board room, a full office, or even a group text.

You can easily start to believe, “Everyone thinks I’m …”

That aunt is telling “everybody” that I’m selfish.

Find a “somebody” to counter that “everybody.”

And keep your somebody on speed-dial.

Quickly call them, tell them what happened, and ask: “Is it true that I’m a terrible person?”

Their immediate answer is “No! Of course not!”

You can ask them to add something like: “Even if you accidentally made a mistake you are a good person. Calm down, it’s ok, the world is not going to end. You’ll get through this.”

3. Exit

When criticism is intense in a loud and in-your-face way, leave the situation.

If someone begins to shout, state calmly: I’m willing to hear your suggestions, and I’ll wait until you’ve calmed down.

Please practice this:

  • Hold up your palm. Say out loud: “Ouch. Stop.”
  • Wait until they stop speaking.
  • Say: “I’ve got the message. That’s enough now, that hurts.”
  • Then leave the room.

Rebuild your sense of self

Here are some suggestions for rebuilding with intensity

Keep Compliments

Any time you receive a compliment, reward, award, recognition of any kind, keep it.

Write it down.

Make a folder.

Take a screenshot.

Save these for later, and re-read them.

If you have loving children or siblings or friends or neighbors, share those compliments and celebrate together. This increases the “public” nature of the positivity.

Consider the Spectrum

Think of yourself not in one extreme or the other, but as someone on a spectrum.

Stop labeling yourself, to yourself.

Also please stop labeling others with all-or-nothing labels.

Even your enemy - try not to say, “He is a narcissist.” Focus instead on the action and how you felt: “He called me lazy, and I felt hurt. That was an unfair accusation.”

In this way you can extract yourself from the game altogether!

A quote to consider

As Sharon Martin writes,

"When we see ourselves as good or bad, smart or stupid, a success or a failure, we miss all the possibilities in between. And then we judge ourselves and others harshly (bad, stupid, failure) because we’re imperfect."

I wish you well on your journey to escape harsh criticism and the fear it creates. Let's eliminate it from your life!

Peace,

Shan

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