The Gift of Criticism

by Amy on December 28, 2017

Guest post by Jackie Gartman

Ah, the holidays. It’s the time of year for candlelit caroling, cocktails by the fire, and a fresh round of criticism from your family, your pals, and even those old and unavoidable frenemies who pop up at events and parties. Whether it’s your aunt raising an eyebrow at how you raise your kids or your old high school friend giving you unwanted and insulting advice about how to dress for your body shape, criticism can be plenty triggering. If you’d rather spend your holidays steaming chestnuts instead of in steaming rage, here is some insight that might help.   

Coaches aren’t immune; I sometimes struggle just a bit when someone criticizes me. Okay, sometimes I just out and out get pissed off, defensive, and feel like I want to punch the offending critic in the nose. When you’re stung by criticism, it’s easy to feel angry and want to lash out. You might even find yourself justifying or explaining yourself. Sound familiar?

Why it bothers us…

Here’s the thing:  We get defensive because our critics have exposed the uncomfortable stuff we hope to keep hidden—what Carl Jung calls the “shadow self.” Our shadow selves contain the dark aspects of our personality that we reject, suppress, resist, or deny. We’ve all got them. But when we criticize and issue judgments of others, we are projecting that shadow self onto them, and this is exactly what your critics are doing to you. Let me give you an example from my own life.  

A few months ago, I was at a family dinner when my father announced to my kids that I am a “provocateur” (without provocation I might add), and proceeded to define that term to my kids. I sat there seething because all I heard was my dad criticizing me once again. I didn’t know what to say because, honestly, I was stunned. His comment came out of nowhere and it hurt.  

The choice is yours…

I stewed over that comment for days. How could he say such a thing to me when everybody knew that he was the provocative one!?  But then I realized that my 87-year-old Dad was never going to change.  So, I had a choice: I could continue to feel upset, or I could use his comment as an opportunity to go more deeply inside myself. Yes, and dammit, it always comes back to me. AFGO (another fucking growth opportunity)!

Here’s what I figured out. When you’re upset because you feel someone is judging you, it’s your own mind that’s the source of all that stress. Words, in and of themselves, can’t hurt you. It’s the story you are telling yourself about your critic that causes the true wounds. And the story you are telling is likely about the shadow part of yourself you fear has been exposed.

What story are you telling…

Criticism-induced stress is actually a wonderful opportunity to forgive yourself for those flawed parts of yourself as well as to forgive the other person. One of my mentors, Byron Katie, says that forgiveness is when you realize that what you think happened, didn’t. Whoa! I take this to mean that we have beliefs that we need to address. And in my case, it meant discovering the truth of my father’s criticism so that I could end this war with myself and him, and remove the stinger from my own sting.  

How I worked through it…

In short, I learned how to find and accept the gifts inherent in criticism. If you want to learn this for yourself, too, let’s work through my example so you can see how the turn-around goes.

My dad called me a provocateur. What he meant by that was simple, that I provoke people. My first order of business is to ask the question: Why would he see me this way?   

My father, I concluded, sees me as provocative because:

  • I’m direct, honest, and forthright
  • I don’t back down from getting what I want
  • I bring up subjects other people avoid discussing
  • I speak my mind

When I understand the reasons for his “criticism” and see that these reasons aren’t in the least bit insulting, I can see the truth in his statement. I don’t even perceive it any longer as a slight or a criticism. By getting this honest and humble with myself, that criticism just doesn’t stick … like Teflon, it just slides off of me.   

Try this the next time…

So, next time someone criticizes you, ask yourself, “Why would this person/or these people see or experience me this way?” Find the kernel of truth in what appears to be a harsh judgment, and see why your best qualities may look like something else to your critics, especially if your critics are projecting their own dark shadow onto you.

When you learn that the criticism of others has everything to do with them and very little to do with you, it’s quite the confidence booster. Now that’s what I call a true gift of the season.

Confidence is key when standing up to the critics out there. Click here to take Jackie’s Confidence Quiz and learn more about how you can increase your confidence quotient:


Jackie Gartman
A Master Certified Life Coach and a self-described eternal optimist, Jackie loves helping her clients blast through the blocks of their limiting beliefs in order to boost personal and professional confidence and to live authentic, electric, and purposeful lives. Jackie brings both grounded calm and a lively sense of humor to her work with women whose dreams have been diluted by “grown-up” responsibilities, and who are craving more passion and meaning in their lives. As part of her work with author and O Magazine contributor Martha Beck, with whom Jackie trained, she also mentors newly minted life coaches and is an integral part of the Martha Beck Inc. training and instructional team. Jackie lives in Los Angeles, California with her hubby John, her pup, aka “Luna the Lunatic,” and, intermittently, with her two grown children who have (mostly) flown the coop. 



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