Criticism. Why is it so difficult to receive? A question we certainly cannot answer in a paragraph, but one perhaps, that is worth a few lines of reflection. While it may be easy to disregard those with malignant and malicious intent, or words spoken without a shred of truth, criticism, as we often receive it, does not wear such clothes. How can we sit with such words of critique from our peers, colleagues, friends, family, loved ones, and truly engage in a process of reflective growth? Here is a practice I have crafted in order to develop a better relationship with such critical words as well as the person from whence they originated.
1. Feel Your Feelings: Feel offended, hurt, confused, misunderstood, sad, angry, upset? Feel it. No guilt, no shame, just feel it and be with the emotions wherever they be in your body. Attempt to localize any areas with particularly strong feelings (Ex. clenched fist, clenched jaw, tight chest, rapid heart beat, etc.
2. Pause and Breathe: 5 deep and present breaths. Simply breathe.
3. Re-read if possible or reflect once more on the spoken words with a specific intent of approaching them from your “observing” self. See if you can remove the I and them from the words as you reflect.
4. Try to observe and identify what exactly is challenging you. Is it a specific word, phrase, sentence, idea, or the entire message?
5. Recite the mantra: I am completely independent of the positive or negative opinions of others. Use this not to negatively detach or dissociate from the criticism, but to create a space for more purposeful reflection. People are not words and words are not people. We are not defined by our most recent actions and others are not suddenly "terrible" people because they shared a critical appraisal of our actions or thoughts. It is important to note, this mantra is also applicable when we are bestowed positive accolades and awards, recognizing we should not attach to positive words said about our actions or being.
6. Extend Self Compassion: Recognize we must be kind to ourselves, if wish to be open to criticism and we must start with compassion for self in order to extend compassion to others. Be gentle with yourself and the critical words. Use such phrases as "I am whole," "May I remain free of suffering," "May I love and be loved."
7. Extend Loving-Kindness and Gratitude to the Critic: Thank the source of criticism for his/her thoughtful intent and extend phrases such as “May You Be Well,” May You Be Happy.” “May You Be At Peace” towards the being that provided your opportunity for growth.
There is no specific recipe for appreciating criticism and this is certainly not the only way or order in which to do so, I have found this to be a particularly helpful and healthy way of approaching words intended to transform.