*Warning! Naughty Language.
Criticism—give it a pitchfork, because whether we’re giving it, taking it, or fearing it, it’s one of our biggest vices as humans.
The fear of criticism fastens most of us to the safe yet bland-looking road known as conformity. We often alter ourselves and change our destined route to follow the prescribed path that our elders, and our elders before them, planned for us.
We go to school, to college, get a career, buy a house, get married, have a family (preferably before age 35), and so on, and so forth—that’s what most of us do.
Following everyone else presents an easy life; there’s safety in numbers and it has its perks. We avoid judgement on the path of least resistance, and there’s no turbulence or unexpected turns. Realistically though—it’s boring AF.
A great artist once said: “Normality is a paved road, it’s comfortable to walk, but no flowers grow on it.” In honour of Van Gogh, we should ask ourselves, do we want to see flowers? Personally, I know I want to see all the damn flowers.
If we observe a three-year-old, we see that they’re openminded, playful, and bursting with love. If they want to pet the dog, they follow their dreams and pet the dog. They take action without needing approval and, as long as their basic needs are met, they have a huge smile on their faces.
I believe that’s our true nature as humans—to live completely free. So what happens to us with age?
If we add 20 years to the equation, we find ourselves domesticated, doing things to fulfill duties, to earn money, and to perform our programmed roles within family and society. Most of what we do is to please others, doing what’s expected of us throughout each stage of our lives.
The fear of criticism persuades us to stay on the paved road; we might make small adjustments too such as not wearing the perfect red dress or holding our tongue on our actual thoughts. To bigger life choices: becoming a doctor because that’s what dad wanted or marrying when we aren’t 100 percent sure to please our mother.
Whatever it is, the fear of criticism is coiled around us pretty damn tightly.
Road maps are good; they’re routes that have worked before yet. Perhaps as we light a cigarette on our 100th birthday candles, after finally tossing the inner critic aside, we’ll look back, and wish we cared less about the opinions of others that shaped our lives. Or, how about we do that now, and start living according to who we truly are?
I’m not suggesting that we quit work tomorrow, just that we really think about our choices, big and small, asking ourselves if we’re being true to what sets our souls on fire. We only get one life, and if we close our minds tightly to the fear of criticism, we can harmonise with our true self and purpose a lot easier.
10-Step Plan to Self-Expression:
1. Accept what is.
As youngsters, our minds soak up beliefs poured onto us by our nurturing influences, but it doesn’t mean that we have to adopt these beliefs for life. We’re surrounded by those who believe life should be lived in a certain way, but we’re smart enough to understand that our life is our own, as is our happiness, and it’s solely our job to create a life that truly fulfills us.
I used to believe I had been dealt an unfair hand growing up with critical parents. I longed for parents who supported my goals, instead of highlighting my flaws and failings from a young age.
As I matured, I realised their comments weren’t personal attacks on my character but were their own personal views of the world and how one should live within it.
Even if I became America’s next top model, I realised that my parents would still label me unsuccessful, because I haven’t followed the path they laid for me. We have completely different ideas of happiness and once I accepted that, their critical inputs became powerless over me.
2. Weed out the unnecessary.
Our mind has the ability to talk to itself and often we hear thoughts that don’t originate in our own minds. We can pick up thoughts from others (like when someone walks in a room and we can feel their energy).
With that in mind, we can understand that a lot of the shit we hear in our heads is bull-crap that we don’t need to take seriously, in the same way that we don’t have to take spoken opinions seriously. Opinions are only points of view.
At times people feel the need to intentionally criticise us, we should first question the motive. For the most part, criticism comes from a place of envy, anger, disagreement, and other lower-level energies. If you feel like it’s one of those comments, weed it out.
3. Don’t let that shit deliver.
When we don’t take critical comments to heart, they become floppy and meaningless like a limp dick (I should erase that but what the hell, criticise me, why don’t you). It’s an unexpected response that leaves the sender feeling worse—because now that critical shit is back on their plate.
4. Keep in mind that misery likes company.
It’s often those with broken dreams who sow the seeds of discouragement. Just the other day, I was told that my fitness efforts are a waste of time, that my body shape is ugly, and I should use my time more productively. At first, I was fuming, I take pride in my body and work hard on my diet, yet knowingly, this relative still shot me down.
I was about to let hell break loose when I realised: he’s not a fitness expert, nor is his opinion backed by facts, so why should I allow him to crush my goals? Retaliation is what he wanted—to annoy me, make me feel bad about my efforts, maybe to make me stop—who knows? Perhaps it was his truth; regardless, my ignorance paralysed his comment, and I got on with my plan.
People are unlikely to apologise for criticisms they make, nor will they stop making them, which is a bit of a bummer, but we have to swallow it in the pursuit of change.
Criticism is deeply engrained in human interaction, sometimes (this is gross, but I am guilty of it), criticism and gossip are how we interact to feel close to each other.
5. Don’t take it personally.
The reality is that most people don’t give a shit about us or what we’re doing because they’re busy thinking about themselves. When we take criticisms personally, even if it’s said about us and directly to us, we make it all about us—when actually, their comment is in reference to what they think is best from their viewpoint.
So really, it doesn’t cater to us at all. Without taking others’ opinions personally, we avoid so many upsets and dramas in our lives.
6. Please be brave and do your best.
To build a tolerance against criticism, we can use the law of habit to create new paths in our minds. Each time we take the path where we’re unbothered by criticism, it becomes a little more worn and easier to find the next time.
Reread this article as your midnight seduction; repetition adds fibres to the thread of habit that eventually becomes a strong rope, holding the behaviour of not taking criticism personally in place.
7. Make friends with planets; you will not regret it.
Planets stick to their path revolving around the sun, all day every day, until the end of days. They work in harmony in our solar system. For us, the sun is a positive mental attitude, and we’re going to revolve ourselves around that.
If we spend more time with planets (people), who live their lives positively, shunning the fear of criticism as we do, it’s easier to stay motivated and on the new path. Let’s face it, life’s better when your glass is half full.
8. Recognise constructive criticism.
A couple of years ago, a close friend told me that I was ruthless and only cared about myself in a fight. At the time, I was pissed off, but looking back—I was cutthroat.
Since I recognised that, I’ve evolved for the better. My point being, that sometimes people highlight traits in us that do need attention so we can better harmonise with our purpose. Watch out for those.
9. Reevaluate your soil.
As intangible as it is, criticism is comparable to a weed, it has the ability to flourish with little effort if our mind is fertile for it. Some minds become so thick with critical and negative weeds that no light penetrates the seedlings of positivity. You must know some people who suffer from that—they’re usually identified by a hardened and bitter attitude.
We can assess our own minds, and if we find weeds, we can attack the root and plant new beliefs in their place. I looked deep within myself and found the source of my critical beliefs to be from repetitive criticism throughout childhood; they ultimately broke down my self-esteem as I grew into an adult. Once I found them, I killed them and planted roses in their place.
10. Regularly weed and keep your garden closed.
With a closed mind, there’s no entry point for critical claws, thoughts, and fears to enter our garden, leaving our positive seedlings to flourish into expressing ourselves truly, which ultimately leads to a happier life.
I’m already walking the unpaved road. Although I’ve fallen off the cliff many times as the fear got to me, I’ve climbed back up among the flowers, in pursuit of becoming a warrior against the fear of criticism.
There’s a freeing feeling of contentedness when we live life according to our own rules. For me, it feels like the quiet power of the desert, filled with wonder and dreams as I work on fulfilling my purpose.
Cutting criticism can be a gruelling process, though I believe your efforts will be richly rewarded as you take full control of your own life, live by your own rules, and find your own path in this journey of life.