When I was in school, we had a very strict teacher. He used to come for the subject I hated the most – maths. One day, while handing down the answer sheets of a slip test, he stopped at my friends’ desk and started chastising him for the low marks he got. My friend never reacted, not sure if it was out of respect and fear or just disregard, but, my teacher got irritated and called him a ‘thick-skinned buffalo’. I felt sorry for my friend, but, we all laughed. And, that word stuck with me for ever. I wished I could have a thick skin, not just to take the criticism of my teacher but also of the world.
Recently I was criticised. Coming from friends, it was very difficult to take. My credibility and capability were questioned. This was not the first time I was criticised and, I know this will not be the last time. But, every time someone criticised me, I would stumble back, take it to heart, disconnect from all and retreat into silence to lick my wounds. Every time, I got hit, I wished I had a thicker skin, I wished I could shrug it off. This time was no different. Being thin-skinned was not helping me at all. So, I tried to step back, disassociate myself and observe the pain and healing process and note down to speed up the process the next time.
So, what happened?
- Give yourself time: For two days, I remained immobile. Things seem to be better after a few good nights’ sleep. They did not look as threatening as before. Yes, I was still down, but not shattered. So, came the first rule – give yourself time to clean yourself of all the self-defeating and criticising emotions. Time is a great healer. It puts things into perspective. It dulls the pain clearing our mind to look at the situation objectively.
- Talk to a friend: In my case, after wallowing in self-pity and sorrow, I spoke to a friend. He listened. The more he listened, the more I spoke. He let me talk it all out, empathized with me all through the conversation and at the end, asked a few questions that helped me dig through the pain – Who are the critics? Why do they have that opinion? Is what they are saying, true? Or is their intent malicious? What can YOU do about the situation now? After sufficiently venting out, I started thinking:
- Critic & his opinion:
- Did you check who is the critic is? How important is that person in your life? How much value do you put on that person’s opinion? What is that person’s knowledge level? Answers to these questions provide much-needed clarity as to how much emphasis should be put on that person’s opinion.
- Did you check for the validity of their opinions? Just because a person criticised us, does not mean we are at fault. It may be simply because the critic did not get what he wanted. Check if the criticism is based on their opinions of you, rising out of their fear or envy of your position/success/capability or any such other inadequacies; if so, ignore. Take heed only when there is truth in their criticism.
- What are you planning to do now?
- If the feedback is constructive, then take the high way. Acknowledge their opinion and genuinely try changing/evolving.
- But, if the feedback is designed only to hurt, then ignore.
- If there are facts that can disprove your critics point, then calmly put forth. (The less you emote, the better. It’ll show that you are more focused on getting the situation right than on tearing them apart).
- Finally, accept that not everyone’s going to like you. That’s a fact. Figure out whose opinions matter to you and whose don’t. Listen and accept those who share your values, and ignore all others.
When people criticise us and we get hurt it’s because give lots of importance to others’ opinions. We all have this insatiable need for approval and validation from others, that, to meet those needs, we end up moulding ourselves to please them, giving importance to their opinions over our own, not realising that they’ll like us only as long as we agree to them. And, find ourselves in a whole new world of hurt and pain when they start disagreeing and criticise. So, keep evaluating all the relationship around you to check which are genuine and which are opportunistic.
Criticism hurts the most when it comes from friends and family, especially when it is unfair. Our relations may not even be the same after this. Some relationships end, some change forever. But, that is unavoidable, ’cause everyone is different, their worldview shaped by experience which feeds their value systems. And, when values clash there is heartburn and mud-slinging. This is quite common and is the way of the world. We can only move forward. (Most of the clashes in the world are not between right and wrong opinions, but between, right and right opinions. So there might be no winner or loser in the argument, only two parties grossly hurt).
It is only when we step back from our emotions, logically examine our motives, the critics’ motives, the feedback and the situation that led to this, can we address criticism effectively. We need not to do this every time someone calls us names, but at least when the critic is important to us, and it is only by practice that we become good at this, slowly becoming a person who can do this unconsciously – a thick skinned person.
In the most memorable scene of Rocky Balboa, Stallone tells his son, “The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it”. The world will always criticise us. We’ll be damned if do and damned if we don’t. And, this is precisely why we need to have thick skin and trust ourselves, or else this world will tear us apart.
And, don’t forget what Roosevelt said:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.