Are you afraid of criticism???
A while back I was thinking… for as long as I can recall (we’re talking 30+ years here!) I had always got upset and defensive when it came to disagreements or anything that felt like criticism of me. When I witnessed other people in these situations it really surprised me how much less they seemed to be affected compared to me. Friends or family who I sometimes talked to about it would say “you’ve just got to let it be water off a duck’s back” or “just be yourself” and “don’t take it personally”. I wished I could have! I had no idea how to change and be like that.
Then, as part of my “mid-life growth spurt”, I started reading Louise Hay’s book ‘You Can Heal Your Life’ and one of the first things I learned was that I had a big “thing” about approval: getting it (imperative!) and avoiding disapproval (also imperative!). In fact, I realised I was so driven to be approved of and accepted by other people, that I had taken up behaving like a chameleon - changing how I dressed, spoke and behaved depending on who I was with. Confusing? Yes. Tiring? Yes. Conducive to a satisfying and authentic life? Not at all. But, at least I finally understood why disagreements and criticism were so difficult for me and why I was constantly trying to mould myself to what I perceived others would approve of: if I disagreed with someone, they might not like me, and if they criticised me it was proof that they didn’t!
But you can imagine the pregnant pause when I started asking my chameleon- self that age-old question all self-actualisers ask themselves “Who am I?”…. “Ummm… Er… Can I have a minute to think about that please…?”
The simple fact of realising this had an effect like someone started shining a spotlight on every situation where my approval – seeking (slash disapproval- avoiding) was at play. For a while it was like living in the Artic summer – it was never dark!
Pretty soon I realised a deep and unpleasant truth. I was prostituting myself (figuratively) in return for acceptance (which ironically I still didn’t necessarily feel I got)! Not good. Not healthy, and definitely not happy.
With Louise Hay’s “I’m always doing my best with the knowledge and skills that I have” and “I’m OK just as I am” as my new mantras I started to allow and trust the ‘real self’ who was gradually demanding to be let out (despite the risk of criticism and disapproval!). And guess what? It has been OK. Yes, there have been some ups and downs. My biggest lessons have been learning to feel ok about saying ‘no’, to trust my own opinion and to un- self-consciously do the things that I love to do. But the day that I danced on the beach (by myself, in broad daylight, just because I wanted to) I realised how far beyond need for other peoples approval I had gone. Wow.
After all those years of looking to other people to tell me whether what I was doing was OK (or not) learning to appreciate / like / love myself has been a big (huge!) change. For quite a while what got me through was using lots of affirmations - reminding myself that it was ok for me to disagree with someone, to say ‘no’ or to receive criticism simply as “someone else’s view of the situation” (instead of the infallible truth about it).
So a big shout out to the wonderful pioneers of the self-awareness world who helped me believe that I'm OK just as I am. And that you're OK just as you are too. And that we don't have to agree or believe the same things to be OK with each other. We're all just doing the best we can. And that's good enough.
PS great books to read:
You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay http://www.louisehay.com/products-events/
The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown http://brenebrown.com/books/
The Art of Extreme Self Care by Cheryl Richardson http://www.cherylrichardson.com/store/the-art-of-extreme-self-care/