How to Accept Constructive Criticism

First, let’s define what I mean by constructive criticism.

Whoever wrote the little lyric of “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me,” clearly wasn’t bullied or criticized. If there is one thing I can say about criticism, especially in childhood, it can have very damaging effects to a person’s self-esteem. Sometimes this can make us hyper-sensitive to any type of criticism and we end up perceiving what someone says as critical when it wasn’t intended that way. If we don’t have a complicated history with criticism, we can still initially feel hurt when hearing that we have done something incorrectly, or have made a misstep. In either case, we put our armour on and deflect what is being said instead of actively listening. Here are some steps to accepting constructive criticism:

  • Recognize that it is constructive. Generally speaking, constructive criticism is delivered in a calm manner and is quite specific. It often includes your strengths as well as what needs to be improved upon or tweaked. It tends to focus on the situation and not on character. It can include actionable solutions.
  • Recognize where your sensitivity is coming from. Take a deep breath and be open to the fact that perhaps you are perceiving something as critical, when in fact, it isn’t.
  • Recognize the value in it. Being able to be open to hearing someone else will help build and strengthen relationships. When you can accept constructive criticism, you create an open space for others to approach you.
  • Sleep on it. Sometimes you may not entirely agree with the feedback and that is okay. Take some time to gather your thoughts about it, vetting them to someone else to make sure you are being objective and create more conversation once you have made your own points about the situation.

Being able to accept and work with constructive criticism leads to overall flexibility, greater self-awareness and a strengthening of a sense of healthy self.

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The Importance of Accepting Praise

Ever hear these kinds of comments?

“This old thing? I got it real cheap on sale.”

“Thanks but I could have done better.”

“Oh it was nothing, took me no time at all.”

“I’d look even better if I was 10 pounds thinner.”

Sometimes receiving a compliment can feel uncomfortable or awkward. Perhaps we don’t like being the center of attention, perhaps we learned somewhere along the way that to receive a compliment led to being conceited, perhaps no one ever taught us how to accept praise, perhaps our self-esteem doesn’t allow us to see our true worth.

When we accept a compliment by downgrading ourselves, we serve no purpose. We put ourselves in a position of first accepting the praise then denying it, and we can make someone giving us the compliment in a position in which they have to convince us that we are worthy of it. When we deny a compliment, we fail to show compassion to ourselves.

Being able to smile and say “Thank you; how nice of you to notice,” is a response that will help to build your own sense of pride while also acknowledging the kindness of another person. When we both give and receive compliments, it tends to strengthens relationships. It can also help reinforce our self-worth. Hey, if other people can notice your great skills and hard work, you can too!

Learning to accept praise is a small but important skill in effective communication and contributes to our healthy sense of self. It can also help us feel more comfortable in social situations.

A general rule? When you have an opportunity to give a compliment, do so. When you are in the position of receiving one, simply say “Thank you.”

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The Risk of Black and White Thinking

Emotions will create action urges; we are often compelled to a behaviour based on the way we are feeling. In order to make a sound decision, we allow logic and reasoning to inform our emotions; a concept known as Wise Mind.

Every so often in therapy, I meet clients who rely too much on their logic and they tend to ascribe to black and white thinking. They see things a certain way, and that’s that. No amount of trying to bring their attention to another perspective sways them; they remained locked into their opinion and subsequent solution.

The risks of this type of thinking include:

  • Decreased capacity for closeness in relationships. If the people in your life feel they don’t have an opinion or a say in how decisions are made in the family, it will create a roadblock for true intimacy.
  • Black and white thinking can lead you to tactics such as the silent treatment or cutting people out of your life who don’t agree with you.
  • By not listening to another person’s perspective, you run the risk of losing their respect and admiration. Without respect, you actually lose compliance.
  • Black and white thinking will continue to create and cement a pattern of rigidity; people will begin to perceive you as  stubborn, unapproachable or cranky.
  • It undermines those you love; making them feel small or powerless in your presence.

Life tends to be more grey; there are always two sides to a story and a purpose to compromise. We are much better served when we lean into flexibility and looking for solutions rather than looking to be right. Being open to others opinions, and to our own emotions can guide us into a healthier way of thinking.

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The Difference between Forgiveness and Redemption

We are naturally drawn to forgive. It is a part of the emotional process that we possess that strives for us to live in peace. There are times, however, when it seems impossible to forgive as residual emotions stand in the way of truly feeling peace in our hearts. Yesterday’s post explored three essential understandings of the process of forgiveness; today we look at the difference between forgiveness and redemption.

We are also naturally drawn to wanting to be forgiven. Redemption is the act of working towards someone’s forgiveness and when both forgiveness and redemption are working to heal the relationship, our journey to being able to accept someone’s wrongdoing is greatly supported. There are times when a relationship can be repaired through this joint process and reconciliation becomes the goal. It may also be that even with the joint process, it changes the relationship, and knowing that is okay.

Sometimes, we are not afforded the gift of redemption. Through denial or avoidance, the person who has wronged us does not take responsibility for their actions and choices. Although this can slow down the process of being able to forgive, it does not need to impede it. For it is our goal to forgive, so as not to live with the weight of a stone in our heart. 

Sometimes we need therapy to process our emotions in order to forgive; we can read books on forgiveness, repeat positive affirmations when feeling especially resentful, we can pray or journal, we can talk to others about how they found forgiveness. No matter our chosen way to achieve it, forgiveness is nothing short of an active process.

We are naturally driven to live with peace; forgiveness is possible.

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Some Thoughts on Forgiveness

To forgive someone of a hurt they have done to us is not an easy task. Fraught with many emotions – sadness, anger, fear, betrayal, loss – we are thrown into an existential place of trying to understand why it happened and how it has changed us. Sometimes, we deal with the effects of cumulative wrongdoings in a relationship that is unhealthy and we struggle to forgive those who continually act towards us in ways that are dismissive or unkind.

In either case, we bear the act of forgiveness. It is only ourselves that can truly find peace through the grace of being able to come to release the stone from our heart. Understanding that, is the first step in starting a journey of forgiveness to someone who has hurt us.

Perhaps the second greatest understanding is that in which we can give ourselves permission to forgive while also making decisions about where the relationship shall go. We can forgive and decide that although we hold peace in our hearts, we cannot have a relationship as it was with that person.

And the last of our understanding lies in knowing that thinking of the act that hurt us can still bring back feelings of betrayal and loss. The memories will remain, as will a resurgence of feelings. That does not mean we have not forgiven – it means simply that the triggered memory is tied to feelings; once we have recognized and processed them, we settle back into feeling peaceful.

Tomorrow’s post will look at the difference between forgiveness and redemption.

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Fake it Til You Make it; a Worthwhile Strategy

Fake it until you make it; this is often a concept we explore in therapy when someone comes in feeling depressed. Depression likes to both isolate and kill effort and sometimes we have to just do things anyway. Accept the invitation, get up and take a shower, walk to the store to pick up a few things.

This strategy; however, can be used other times too. Sometimes we want to change an old habit or create a new one; we realize that we are engaging in poor choices, or leaning into coping strategies that aren’t healthy. The reason that it often works is based on the fact that changes in our behaviours often proceeds internal change.  

Habits tend to form neural pathways in our brain; both good and bad ones. We tend to lean into the same routines and structure; we find comfort in familiarity. It may feel natural to simply do things a certain way, but perhaps it is not the healthiest choice. First, we find an alternative – and then “fake it til you make it.” Eventually, a new habit forms, new neural pathways are created, and the changes get accepted into your routine and internal structure, creating a healthier you 🙂

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3 Essential Feelings for Our Well-Being: Post 3

In our third and final post on this topic, we explore the feeling of joy as an essential feeling for our well-being.

We often strive to “be happy.” But happiness in this context can mean many different things; for some it comes in achievements or financial success. For others, it might be found in spending time with loved ones, being out in nature, playing sports. For some, happiness comes in moments, for others, it is an underlying feeling. Happiness is often a mix of both internal and external influences.

Joy is distinguished from happiness as it tends to be linked more to our internal process. When we feel joy, it comes with a sense of peace. Joy grounds us, it warms our insides, it reminds us of our blessings. When we feel joyful, we feel soulful and connected. In therapy we learn that happiness can be too big of a word, instead, let us strive for contentment. Once we begin to feel more content, we have opened up room for joy.

A solid well-being relies on feeling grounded; in control of the overall areas of our lives. The feelings of security, love and joy help to keep our well-being intact, providing protection from the storm. We are best served to strive to focus on creating relationships and experiences that create and maintain those feelings in our daily lives. Our well-being will thank us 🙂

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3 Essential Feelings for Our Well-Being; Post 2

Yesterday we looked at the importance of the feeling of security for our sense of well-being; today we look at the feeling of love. Love comes in many forms – the love we have for our children, our spouse, for our friends and family. Romantic love, committed love, the love we have for our pets, for our departed loved ones. We can often feel love as almost a swelling of our heart.

The essence of love; however, is dedication. When we purposefully and intentionally commit ourselves to another person, we are letting them know that they are part of our inner circle. We support the feeling of love with acts of kindness, with appreciation, with thoughtful intentions and a willingness to help.

To love is just as important as to be loved; to know intuitively that “I can count on you” feeds our sense of security and our overall sense of worth and well being.

As Lao Tzu so wisely reminds us:

“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.” ― Lao Tzu

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3 Essential Feelings for Our Well-Being: Post 1

There are three feelings, that when present, help to build and create a strong sense of well-being. A feeling of security, a feeling of love and a feeling of joy are essential to not only the foundation of our sense of self, but also to its maintenance. Today we will look at the feeling of security.

Rooted in attachment, feeling secure is a cornerstone to our sense of self. When we are consistently parented, in a way that is both stable and attuned to our needs, we are given the chance to explore. Essentially, we are given the gift of being able to learn the fundamental process of being dependent in order to achieve independence. Secure attachment creates a foundation for an intact sense of self; something that we can rely on in making decisions, being able to cope with life’s challenges, and helping our own children and loved ones feel secure in their relationships to us.

The good news is that attachment is a life long process – we are capable of attaching to others at any time in our life; this is important if you weren’t granted secure attachment from childhood. Self-reflective work and practice will help vulnerability move in from being protected, allowing yourself to be open to giving and receiving secure attachment from people in your life.

A feeling of security works as a container for both love and joy. Tomorrow we will look at the feeling of love.

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Nature Comes Through Again

Whenever an article comes along about nature, it piques my interest. Not only from a professional perspective, but a personal one as well. I like to say that I do my best thinking when I am walking through the woods.

In “Nature’s Role in Mental Illness: Prevention or Treatment” by Susan McQuillan and featured on Psychology Today, we read about how researchers at the University of Utah conducted a systematic review of research papers in order to examine the overall effects of nature on mental health:

“More than 80% of the relevant research papers reviewed for this study reported at least one association between outdoor activities and positive mental health outcomes, while none reported a single negative mental health outcome. The most common positive benefits seen were significant reductions in stress and anxiety after time spent in nature, as well as increased positive affect, or elevated mood. The overall positive effects documented in these studies were often described using terms such as “psychological healing,” “increased sense of well-being,” and “restorative.””

Restorative – a lovely word. The idea that we can restore a calmer state, clarity, a sense of feeling grounded, or just an overall good feeling gives us all the more reason to get outside. 🙂

To read the full article:

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