I have kept a journal on and off for my entire life. If you have known me at any time between middle school and the present, it is very possible I wrote about you. In high school, I wrote about Heather, Stacey, and Danielle. Three girls that seemed much more mature than me and I wanted to be included in their friendship so badly that I begged my mom for Guess jeans and a Body Glove shirt. I had to fit in. It didn’t work, which is no fault of theirs, I was merely seeking friendship for the wrong reasons. They were kind to me, but never let me in their circle like I wanted.
Let’s jump out of the 1980’s and into the present day. I still desire to be included in the cool kids club. Though today, being an aspiring writer, I seek approval from fellow writers and readers. It’s a hard group to gage, everyone has different tastes and expectations. Isn’t that a life fact? No one marches to the same beat. Thank GOD! How boring would that be?
Most of my interactions with other writers has been online, though I am seeking to change that. As I begin to write more and send my work out for others to review I have found the writing community to be helpful and supportive. Recently I had a fellow writer critique a short story about a broken heart. It was pulled from my past experiences (from whom I will never tell) and brought to life with imagination and caged emotions. I felt really pleased with my story when I sent it over to him. When it was returned it was so marked up, I almost passed out. He did offer encouragement even after returning my 3,000-word story with so much red it looked like a massacre. I white-knuckled my desk and prepared for the rewrite.
Maybe I like a little pain, it seems to inspire me to work harder and do better. We have all been knocked down or criticized. The story I sent to my beta reader was good, but it could be better, and he saw that. He pointed out holes and redundancies, as well as areas I was showing versus telling (writing fundemental). Writing has delivered to me a thicker skin. I know I’m new here, I know I can do better.
We can all always do better.
I’m also aware I don’t have to listen to every comment/edit/suggestion someone gives to me. Still the master of my own destiny, I make the final decision.
Here is my advice: If someone offers you criticism, I think the first step is to listen. Then take what you need and toss the rest aside. Make sure you hear them out, and anything you are tossing aside should be questioned: why am I tossing this aside? If the answer is pride, then you’re missing the point and possibly missing out on a chance to grow and be better.
Pride is ugly. Any criticism that falls on deaf ears will lead to a sour return. No, you don’t have to take the advice, but there is always a lesson tucked away in others words. In my recent situation, the suggestions were obvious and useful. I said thank you, and I am working hard to be better.
How do you react when someone criticizes you? Do you find it helpful? Any advice on giving or receiving criticism you would want to share?
For me personally, criticism feels like a punch in the gut or like I am blushing in front of a room full of people staring at me…..never pleasant. I usually recover intact. I always listen to the feedback but I let my ego do some trash talking in my head … usually about the person giving the criticism. Yep, I can hear it and think about it but sometimes it makes me feel defensive.
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I get that. Especially when you have something that feels so good already
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My usual automatic reaction to criticism is to take it personally and as a form a judgement about me as a person and that my being is being attacked and to have a stress reaction to it (ie my conscious mind may be fine with what is said, but my body, which some might say is the seat of, but at least connected to, the subconscious mind and the emotional center of a person, says nope you are under attack. Some think the subconscious mind makes up about 95% of brain activity).
Obviously, this is less than ideal. I’ve been working on this for some time. What has helped me take criticism better and work on not having an automatic reaction to it is trying to stay present in the moment and observe myself as often as possible. This is a form of cognition called meta-cognition – thinking about what we think. That is to take a step back and try to see and catch automatic reactions in real time and not let them take over the conscious mind where a person has thoughts along the lines of protecting their ‘ego’ or what they identify with in terms of their personality or things they produce or do instead of hearing what the person is saying and if it has validity to learn from and grow as a person.
It ain’t easy. So it takes a lot of practice and I forget myself constantly, which is the default state of pretty much all people. What helps is to have a good foundation of learning about the topic – reading about the mind and psychology and what some term as the ‘Work’ (ie trying to catch oneself and stopping oneself from letting automatic subconscious reactions take over that then flows into or makes the conscious mind run with whatever a person uses as mental protection against what the subconscious mind/body sees the criticism as, in my case a threat of some kind). A lot of what some term as automatic ‘programs’/reactions people run or that a person has stems from early experience, upbringing, the various levels of trauma we all experience as we grow up and interact with the world and possibly past life issues (depending on if you are open to such things as a possibility).
I also think that it is important where the criticism is coming from and with what intent. If you trust the person, respect them and/or understand that what they are saying is not meant as an critique or criticism (or in my case felt as an ‘attack’) on you as a person, on your being and worth as a person, but instead a critique of some thing you have done or produced, then you can try to separate you as a person from what is being critiqued and not take it personally. It isn’t you being criticized or judged as good or bad. It is something else like your writing in this case.
Everybody makes mistakes and has something to learn, if they are open to life. It takes courage to improve oneself and admit we are not perfect. See that we do not always have to be the center of things, always have to be be right in terms of what we think and do. To take a step back and live life from a stance lacking self-importance and identifying with everything we see ourselves as that makes us feel special and unique. Yet we all are unique and special. The identification is what gets us I think. Such as a reaction of pride. It makes us defensive and closed off, instead of open and learning.
Anyway, I need to hit post instead of worrying what you will think and what response I will get – lol. Not sure if this will be helpful to you, but its what came to mind after reading your post.
Here are some books that came to mind when writing this:
‘Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious’
‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’
‘In Search of the miraculous’
‘Trapped in the Mirror: Adult Children of Narcissists in their Struggle for Self’
‘The Myth of Sanity: Divided Consciousness and the Promise of Awareness’
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Hey Mike. I just got a chance to read your entry. Thank you for such an intimate and full response! I loved reading it. I agree that past experiences are something to consider (sure, even past lives, we should talk about this over coffee sometime). Growing up I always feared being stupid because I was put in an IEP for being behind in school. Eventually I did catch up, but it took until high school to do so. I am used to extra help, I don’t usually mind asking for it though it embarrassing for me to do so. Ask that is. Once I get the help I am grateful to be able to improve and no longer struggle.
This is only when I ask though. If someone offers me critique when I didn’t ask I get defensive and feel this in my body too.
Through therapy I have gained a lot of awareness about my thoughts and reactions to situations. It’s helped me a great deal pin point where and why I may feel anxious or angry about things.
Thank you for the books and you open response. Keep well!
Sounds good to discuss past life info over coffee sometime. Thanks for sharing, as well.
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I hate that critics feel that they are doing it better – like they have they own level of self-importance.
But what if you are asking for critique? Do you feel like you are asking for help and then getting defensive?
Maybe the question is more about why you are getting defensive? Were you simply not ready to hear another person’s opinion? Or are you just worried that maybe went wrong in the first place?
Good point. I have found tuning out poor criticism isn’t as hard as I thought. Smile, nod, move on.
Don’t forget about the silence fuck you you say with your eyes. 🙂
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