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Interpreting Criticism

on October 15, 2013

I work a lot on self-improvement, not just in my physical health, but also in my emotional state and mental balance. Over many years, I realized that I can be hyper-sensitive to how other people treat me or react to me. In the past, I often thought I was criticized by many others. I think this is a natural, if unfortunate, outgrowth of years of being picked on by others for my weight, my parents and other loved ones always being worried about my weight and trying to address the problem, and my own issues with terrible self-esteem.

Trust me, I’ve grown a lot and my self-esteem has improved a great deal. Still, since I have a history of hyper-sensitivity to criticism, I know that to retain balance, I need to be hyper-aware of my reactions and actions. Several months ago, as part of an ongoing team exercise at work, I had the observation that a lot of people hear a question and internalize it as criticism.

Truth: I recognize this in other people because I see it in myself.

In that exercise, we established an agreement that we would hear questions as questions and not criticism and ask questions in the same way. When someone questions me about something, I do my best not to leap to a position of defensiveness but to realize that the other person is probably asking not to criticize but for a different, excellent reason. Like, say, I have information that they need, and not that they’re questioning my judgment or behavior or anything else that’s critical or negative. Processing the request before I react helps me to see the question for what it is.

Being aware of my previous tendencies helps me communicate in less stressful ways with others. In some of my activities, I’m in a position of some authority. If I ask someone else a question about a procedure, process, activity, etc. and I read even the slightest bit of stress on their face, I make sure to gently emphasize that I’m just seeking information and not criticizing why something is done a certain way.

I need to be honest and say that as improved as I am, there are still times when I slip into old patterns. I can still sometimes take a little thing and blow it up big in my mind and heart so that it twists up my emotions. That happened today. I won’t go into the specifics because it’s enough that I know that it really was a little thing and I’m reacting out of proportion. I’m talking about it here so that I can process it out and put it back into perspective.

It’s sort of silly to let a minor issue, so minor that I’m even loathe to call it an actual issue, achieve any significant power to upset me. I’m making some progress toward identifying it for what it is and then letting it go.
That’s really the key to defusing the angst of false criticism.

Does anyone else do this same kind of thing or are you all really good at just letting things roll off your back and not reinterpreting them into something negative?

3 responses to “Interpreting Criticism

  1. Susanne says:

    I’m flexible to try the genuine improvements, but I sure tire of the newest flavour of the month coming into our company and trying to fix things, and then leaving their mess behind. But I force myself to have an open mind because you never know. I’ve developed a thick skin because I realize it’s not personal. Most companies don’t really care who you are inside, they just want the job done. Fair enough. I just want the pay cheque 🙂

  2. Skye says:

    Oh god, yes I do this. And if someone asks me to come to their office and close the door? I have an internal meltdown, being absolutely sure I’ve done something Wrong and am In Trouble. (Sometimes it only takes one really, truly bad boss to mess you up for a lifetime.)

    I also assume that I am always disappointing people. So much so that sometimes I try to proactively disappoint them so as to not go crazy anticipating when it will happen.

    I”m glad you are working on this and so aware of it. Good work!

  3. Hope says:

    I tend to interpret the slightest trace of criticism in someone’s tone as them yelling at me because I made them angry. :\

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