How to cope with criticism without losing sleep (or your mind!)

No matter how confident we are, or how sensitive, few of us enjoy having our behaviour, performance or work scrutinised and commented on by others. We’ve probably all encountered subtle or overt criticism at work, in a friendship group or our family.

If you’ve experienced this, how did you deal with it?

Did you consider it a personal attack or view it dispassionately, as feedback that you could act on or ignore? Sadly, many people spend hours or days re-running conversations in their head, or re-reading an email or text, where a perceived criticism is contained. Many assumptions are made as to the accuracy or fairness of the observations, and the motivation of the commentator. In my experience little is resolved through in-depth examination of the comments or conversation.

Perfectionists who routinely ‘tell themselves’ that they aren’t good enough (or their work isn’t) are likely to seize on any feedback and use it as a stick to beat themselves with. Those who tend to be self-critical will focus only on the negatives within any commentary and completely ignore or dismiss any complementary comments or positive remarks.

Clients often seek my help to stop this destructive pattern which they struggle to break on their own. Many report spending hours tossing and turning in their bed and losing much-needed sleep. They stress about other people’s words and how they could or should respond to them. This is energy sapping, demotivating, and for some, downright distressing.

The typical advice from friends or partners, to reduce the effects of this behaviour is often to ‘just let it go’, but for many people, this is far easier said than done. I use integrated therapies including CBT and hypnosis, which can make it easier to see situations objectively, dispassionately, and in perspective. Hypnotherapy can be incredibly effective in building self-esteem and resilience too. I teach my clients self-hypnosis and other stress-reducing psychosensory techniques which can help them interrupt unhelpful thought patterns.

So, how do you handle criticism without losing your equilibrium or giving your power away?

These are the steps I recommend.

Step 1:

Reflect on any comments that are troubling you and ask yourself if you have taken them out of context or filtered out any positive content which might provide a truer picture. Then consider if there is any validity in them.

DO: If you believe there may be a kernel of truth in the comments, treat them as useful feedback rather than mean or unfair. This will keep you in a more positive mindset which will have a less detrimental effect on your wellbeing. Then create a plan of how you will use the information for your career or personal growth, regardless of how the message was communicated.

DON’T: Counter their criticism with accusations or observations about their performance. This can lead to the issue you want to address becoming lost in the ‘back and forth’ and negative emotions being heightened rather than reduced.

Step 2:

If the criticism feels unfair and takes you by surprise, it may be that the person who sent the email or made the critical comments is having a hard time themselves and has forgotten (or doesn’t know how) to be diplomatic.

DO: If you feel that you may have simply got the rough end of someone else’s dramas, then pause. Once some time has passed, they may recognise that they’ve been harsh or unduly critical and apologise for their behaviour. If they don’t and you can’t (or don’t want to) let it go, arrange a time to discuss the matter once enough time has elapsed for any emotion to subside.

DON’T: Take it personally, especially if it’s not typical behaviour. Even the best friend, partner or boss can be affected by ill health or personal tragedies which may impair their judgement or manners.

Step 3:

If you believe the comments are unwarranted, personal, or undermining, it may be that their displeasure is misdirected and that you are a convenient target. Unhappy people often misjudge other people, or their actions. Those who are dissatisfied with themselves, or their life, are more likely to be cruel or overly critical of others. By being negative or judgemental rather than offering developmental feedback, they seek to turn their attention away from their own shortcomings or dissatisfaction with themselves. The important thing to remember here is that someone else’s behaviour is not your responsibility.

DO: If you live or work with someone who is frequently critical, unkind, or unsupportive, you need to think about what you want the result of any verbal or written communication with them (or their superiors) to be. Naturally, the options open to you will vary depending on whether you’re in a personal or professional relationship with them. You will also need to decide if your goal is realistic, or wishful thinking. Consider all the options open to you, e.g. if or how you can effect change, or ways that you can reframe the situation, or view it differently. Crucially, it’s important to decide on your boundaries and stick to them.

DON’T: Accept the unacceptable. You are worth more than that. We all are!

If you want to stop overthinking and improve your sleep, why not download my free guide. There’s loads of practical tips and videos of techniques that could help you stress less and relax more.

And if you’d like to book a no-obligation chat to discover more about hypnotherapy and working with me, schedule a time here.

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