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Neutralizing The Fear Of Criticism
by Stewart Blackburn

Nobody likes to be criticized. And most of us have had so much experience being criticized and made to feel small and unworthy that we will do almost anything to avoid it. This fear of being criticized then takes hold deep within us and starts to cripple us as we step out into the world, afraid of what the world might say. Fear of criticism is such a hot button for many people that it triggers anger and resentment right off the bat. For some it even generates rage. People feel personally attacked and do whatever it takes to fend it off.

But wouldn't it be nice if we could easily neutralize it and not let the fear of criticism affect us?

The first thing to remember is that a criticism is only someone else's opinion. That is to say, it's only a reflection of what's happening inside them that they are projecting on to us. Perhaps there's something useful in what they're saying, but most of it is really about them.

We're not here to be responsible for how others feel, most especially about how they feel about what we're doing or how we do it. We are only responsible for how we feel. If we start being responsible for how others feel, we'll never have time for anything else. Besides, it disempowers them when we do it. We take away their power to choose what they want to feel at any given time, if we're taking care of their feelings for them.

The second thing is that their criticism is based on values and perspectives that we don't necessarily have to buy into. If we're being criticized for constantly wearing Aloha shirts, they may well be lacking in an appreciation for the comfort, beauty, and level of "cool" that is inherent in those shirts. We may be criticized for being messy which reflects more about their preferences than ours. We may be criticized for procrastinating, which overlooks our need to take the time to fully feel into what the task at hand is and what it requires.

We make our choices based on what seems the best for us in that moment. That's the best any of us can do. The trick here is to trust ourselves to know what's best for us. Actually, we don't have to know what's best, we just need to be okay with experimenting.

Each act we make is an effort to feel better than the previous moment. That's the motivation for everything we do. There's no reason for us to expect to do everything "right' or "perfect." That's not the point of life. This is a glorious adventure in which we explore lots of things.

The third thing to remember is that we aren't really supposed to know everything. We're often criticized as kids for not "knowing better," even if that's the first time we've encountered that problem. We often grow up with a sense that somewhere along the line there must have been a manual that tells us everything we're supposed to know, and somehow we lost that manual along the way.

If you haven't already sorted it out, there never was such a manual and, in fact, those who criticize us for not knowing something had to have had someone else show them or they figured it out at some cost to themselves.

So we end up with the idea that somehow we are mysteriously supposed to know how to do things, and to do them correctly. Failing to do these things the right way means that we are defective in some way. This is clearly a form of insanity. We're not capable of knowing everything and the way we learn is to make "mistakes." Being afraid of making "mistakes" means that we are afraid of learning.

When we look at how criticism works, we can see that it primarily makes us feel bad about ourselves. This is the essence of hell. So the skill of neutralizing the fear of criticism is two-fold. One, it is about knowing how to defuse the effects of criticism. And two, it's about knowing that we can get out of hell easily any time we need to.

Criticism works its insidious black magic by making us focus on aspects of ourselves that we don't particularly like. It would have absolutely no effect if it didn't resonate with some belief we already have. If someone snidely says to us that we just look like every other human in the world, then we're probably not going to get upset. We are likely to be okay with looking more or less like most other humans. There's no inner negative belief to resonate with. If, however, that person snidely says that we're an ugly human being, it will bother us to the degree that we aren't happy with how we look.

If we find that there are certain criticisms that get to us, then that's a signal that we have some specific work to do. A fear of criticism may well mean that we are very reluctant to face something in particular. Any time we get angry at a criticism, it reveals to us a place where we are experiencing a belief that is in alignment with the criticism. Part of us believes what is being said.

Facing that something and feeling the feelings associated with that something are the fastest ways to get it out of our system. We feel our way through it and change our belief to something more positive. Take care of that and no criticism on that score will ever hurt again.

So there are a few things you can do at this point.

The first one is to change your focus. You can remember something you like about yourself, as in your sense of humor, your taste in clothes, or your ability to care about others. These things help you feel good about yourself and that's where your power lies.

Another thing to do is to simply say, "Thank you" or "Thanks. I'll consider that," even when the criticism is said with anger. I particularly like this one because it pretends that the person doing the criticizing was just trying to do us a favor, and it usually shuts them up. Those sorts of people often want to put their own personal pain on to us. When you accept the criticism without otherwise reacting, that just leaves them stewing in their own mess.

Another thing to remember is, there are no points to lose if you make a mistake. If someone is losing respect for you based on the mistakes you've made, then they are simply forgetting all the many mistakes they've made. Reminding them of that may make them mad, but reminding yourself of that can bring you back to a healthy perspective.

But now we get to the heart of the problem--hell. As we discussed at the beginning, criticism can make us feel truly miserable. It can lead us to dwell on our own shortcomings and failures. And it can make us feel like it is hopeless to ever "get it right."

So here are eight points to remember so that you don't ever have to be afraid of your own hell again.

1. Recognize that you put yourself there, with your thoughts, your beliefs, your desires. They all contributed to the feelings you have that bring you so far down that you can accurately call it hell. However, if you put yourself there, you can take yourself out.

2. Also recognize that hell is the continuous focus on things that displease you greatly. You feel the negativity in every part of your being.

3. When you're in hell it seems like there is no way out. It is the overwhelming feeling of helplessness and hopelessness.

4. The first step is to find some feeling that feels better than helplessness. Anger generally feels better. So does a desire for revenge. Hope feels much better, if you can reach that high. There's no need to judge the better feeling as not being good enough. If it makes you feel a little better, then you're on your way out of hell.

5. As you start to feel even just a little bit better, intentionally find things that you enjoy. Perhaps a piece of music, a flower, the memory of someone you loved, or a favorite smell. Let your focus rest on the pleasant feeling that you're experiencing.

6. You have the power to move your focus all around and choose where it will come to rest. Focusing on the things that make you feel unhappy will only increase that unhappiness. If there are things that need to be done in order to return your focus to the things that you enjoy, then take care of them as quickly as possible.

7. There may well be feelings that need to be felt fully in order to let them go. And these feelings may seem overwhelming and difficult to handle. However, it is only by going through them that you can get out the other side. Remember, your feelings can't hurt you, but resisting them can.

8. The fear of hell can be debilitating all by itself. Often this fear is much worse than the actual experience of feeling bad (depressed, deeply remorseful, despairing, miserable, melancholic). But when we know how to get out of it, should we find that we have fallen into it, we don't need to be afraid of it and we don't need to linger there any longer than it takes to notice that that's where we are and that we don't want to be there any longer.

When we look at why we are afraid of criticism, we can see that there are nasty feelings lurking around the corner that we don't want to face. Confidence that we can handle those nasty feelings makes criticism just another experience that we need to deal with quickly, like taking out the garbage or mowing the lawn.

Simple self-love is the very best antidote to criticism. Remembering that you know how to deal with criticism is a marvelous act of self-love.

"You make mistakes. Mistakes don't make you." Maxwell Maltz
"If I had to live my life again, I'd make the same mistakes, only sooner." Tallulah Bankhead

Copyright 2015 Stewart Blackburn

Stewart Blackburn is the author of The Skills of Pleasure: Crafting the Life You Want. His website is: www.stewartblackburn.com; email: shamanofpleasure@gmail.com.

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