Make Room For The Stuttering

Why Criticism Stings So Much

Posted on: December 3, 2009

No one likes to be criticized. It hurts to hear negative feedback. You have to learn how to take it, and not let it get under your skin and feel like a personal attack. In Toastmasters, we learn how to give and take feedback. We don’t even call it a critique, because that has negativity attached to it. Rather, we learn how to tell someone what they did really well (with their prepared speech or impromptu talk) and what they could do for next time to make it even better. So, our feedback is always encouraging and positive, but still honest. We learn from that.

Some people don’t know how to give feedback like that. Some don’t think before they speak, and they offer up criticism that can hurt, or really sting. Sometimes its unintentional. Other times, it is purposefully designed to hurt. That’s the kind of criticism we don’t really need. I know why I get so rattled when someone criticizes me, and why it hurts more than it should.

I have always been self-critical. I never thought I was good enough. I stuttered, was overweight, had bad skin, didn’t make friends easily, thought no one liked me, was not athletic and was one of those  kids that was ALWAYS picked last.  So not only did I feel I wasn’t good enough, but everyone got to see it during those humiliating moments. I didn’t measure up to everyone else, and I had a long list of reasons as proof. (I still have some of those things, but I perceive them differently now).

I spent so much time adapting to others, trying to please others and trying to live up to the roles in my life – daughter, caregiver, sister, partner – but never seemed to do them good enough. I was criticized by my father, a lot, and for everything. I can remember him telling me all the things I did wrong, but can hardly remember ever being praised for doing anything right. I was criticized by peers and school mates for how I looked – too fat – and how I dressed. My mother’s fashion sense never appealed to me and my sisters. I have a horrible memory of a pair of blue shoes, and they weren’t blue suede! My peers also criticized me for how I talked. When I dared to speak and I stuttered, they would laugh and mimic.

I never seemed to get it right taking care of my brother and sisters either. I hated being in charge all of the time, and sometimes really resented being the built-in babysitter. I would get criticized for that as well.

And my partner, with whom I spent 20 years for all the wrong reasons, was also very critical of me. But by that time, I thought I deserved it.I thought no one would ever want me, so I settled with this guy, even though I never really loved him, hoping that I would grow to love him. He was the worst critic. He expected me to do everything, but it was never good enough.

When I finally began to stop hating myself for all the things I thought was wrong with me, and began to appreciate the things that were good, my partner wasn’t having it. He was used to me having been one way only, and any change was not tolerated. He began to try and reinforce in me all the bad things about me, and that I should consider myself lucky to be with him. No one else would want me , so I should be happy with what I had. He would tell me that all the time, and for a long time, I believed that.

But I wasn’t happy. As I awakened inside and realized that I had  gifts and talents to offer, I began to want more for myself and slowly began to believe that I also deserved it. But the habit of being self-critical was hard to break. It still is. I grew up thinking I had to be perfect in order to be liked. And when I wasn’t perfect, I kicked myself or believed it when other people tried to do the same. When someone told me I wasn’t good enough or hadn’t done something right, I took that to heart and let it bother me and worried that I was a failure.

So criticism can sting so much when one is used to self-hate and not liking who we are. It took me a long time to reach this point, where I can recognize that this was what I was doing for so many years. My partner told me when we separated that I’d be back, that I would never make it on my own, that I would see that he was the only one for me. Well, that has not happened. I am still here, living my life, taking one day at a time, realizing that I have strength that I didn’t know I had.

Sure, its hard. And there are some things I would like to change about myself. We all have things we would like to improve. But my core being – who I am – the inside Pam that answers to me every day – she is just fine the way she is. My stuttering, my outside package – being heavy, being short, having imperfect skin – these are not as important as the inside package. It is what is inside our heart, mind and soul that really matters, and I am proud to have finally put this down on paper.

Tell me what you think. Does criticism sting for you? What works to help you not internalize other people’s hurtful criticism? How can that help us be stronger?

5 Responses to "Why Criticism Stings So Much"

Sounds like your partner wasn’t just having trouble adapting. Good riddance.

I was the opposite of you. I succeeded in everything I thought was important, and my parents and society (at least the adults) agreed. That meant academic, housekeeping, and Girl Guides. Social and athletic weren’t important.

Failures hit me hard. My son is the same. He was in tears last night over a math problem. (He was in the provincial math contest. Those questions are supposed to be hard. This was assigned in a regular math class.) Dealing with his feeling of failure was more important than the math problem.

I’m still afraid of failure. I manage it by setting reasonable goals, sometimes as simple as “Show up.” “Improve.” “Fifteen minutes three times a week.” “Try something new.” I’m still a perfectionist, but I pay attention to how well other amateurs do, rather than expecting perfection.

I also know my strengths. Some of them are pretty mundane, but when I look around I see many homes that are in way worse shape than mine, or families who never play board games together, or people who haven’t tried something new in years. That helps reassure me that I’m not worthless.

Modeling confidence and self-esteem for the kids also helps. I’ve read enough self-help books I know what I should do after a set-back. Knowing the kids are learning from me gives me the incentive to actually do it.

Learning about the people criticizing also helps. I’m preparing to rewrite a huge story, originally issued in installments over 4 years, to 24 readers. Yesterday I finished finding all the comments. Before, I read them as they arrived. 24 comments on one installment. Sometimes hard to remember personalities between issues. This time, I noticed the personalities. Huge variety. Non-authors who are happy with whatever they read. Good authors who point out exactly what they like, maybe with something to improve. Some who read faster and miss details — they claim something is missing, when two others raved about how well I showed it. Some with “I think he’d phrase it like this,” or “Try showing us what she cares about, to make us care about her.” Sometimes I agree with them, sometimes trying their suggestion is a good exercise — even if it doesn’t work, I learn something. Sometimes I remembered how they hit me when I first read them. “The dialogue is clunky,” hit me really hard. She gave no clue how to fix it. Stupid of me to get upset, because I think her dialogue is extremely clunky. The good author who went on and on about how some famous books (invariably ones I don’t intend to read) did something really well that I didn’t do, but she has no clue what to recommend used to get to me, until I noticed her ego.

End result: Knowing the reviewer helps.

So, yeah, my self esteem is still based on what I can do, but now I have a much broader perspective, and I know how to learn to do even more.

My comment just showed up on the feed, so of course I re-read it. From that it looks like I base my self-esteem on doing better than others. Oops. Can’t say it’s not partly true — another flaw to work on — but my goal isn’t to be “better than” them, it’s to help set reasonable expectations. If other people struggle, then why should I expect myself to be any different?

I identify with a lot of your insecurities and I applaud you for making a step in the right direction, in accepting you as you are and liking the person you are.

I am trying to do this myself becasue I am tired of having to compare myself with others and always feel like I am living a substandard life.

You are truly an inspiration and I looking forward to reading your posts.

Hey Pam,
That was a totally intense post. I love that you allowed yourself to rant about all those negative energy events that took over parts of your life… and now you are acknowledging them in order to get to the brighter side of them.
I, too, was once in a relationship where he told me “You won’t find better than me… I’m the best you’ll have! You’ll regret this!”… Looking back and echoing those things he said to me I laugh! I can’t believe I dated such an arrogant egotistical person! For him to think he is the best and for him to say it aloud!! Unbelievable! So, for me I am forever grateful for getting out of a relationship with that type of man.
Critiques that contain criticism are tough to deal with when you let them manifest. I find that I try and remind myself to not let that person (who just criticized me) control my emotions. When I walk away and am angry/upset/confused for the rest of the day, week, year I am allowing that person WAAAY too much control of me. No one will anyone ever have that control of me… unless I allow that to happen.
Don’t give your control of yourself away to any negativity. You take in what you allow in and let the rest float away from you.
Much love,

The best of the best! The deeper you go, the more free you will become! Keep up the good work!……and beautiful you are!

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