Next in our continuing (some might say never ending) series on emotional breakdowns is criticism. Criticism and blame can often be triggers for emotional breakdown. It particular this can be the case when the criticism is unwarranted, if we feel we have not been fairly treated, or if we were not given a chance to explain or defend ourselves. The criticism doesn’t even have to be real; perceived criticism can also trigger a undesired response from us.
Criticism and feeling blamed have been a problem for me in the past. If I thought someone else was being critical of me, I would feel deflated and depressed. The criticism (or perceived criticism in this case) hurt me because it resonated with what I already felt about myself. I was my own worst critic. My discussions with others leads me to believe this is relatively common.
Unfortunately for me, my past response to criticism or blame was to freak out and to immediately turn around and blame someone else. I was short with people, I lacked tack and empathy, and I dug into to figure out just who was responsible for the problem. This lead to some ugly confrontations on past projects. Hey, I am just being honest here! This was my emotional breakdown.
The good news is that over the last few years I have learned to deal with criticism in healthier ways. Here are some of the ways I deal with criticism and blame:
- My own worst enemy. Recognize when I am being my own worst critic. Only rarely do I find that others are criticizing me; more often it is just me. If I can eliminate the voice in my head that criticizes my work, I have overcome the majority of the criticism.
- Look ahead. Anticipate situations where I will feel or be criticized by others. Often, I know ahead of time when I am vulnerable to feeling criticized. If I do, I can visualize criticism coming from others and then practice healthy reactions. One healthy reaction is to calmly turn around and ask the critic what is going on with them or why they feel the need to criticize.
- Check it out. Be sure it is actually criticism and meant for you. Sometimes we can be taking on something that is meant to be helpful and not critical. Instead of personalizing someone’s comments as criticism or blame, check it out. Ask what they meant.
- Feedback is the breakfast of champions. My friend Cam used to say that. If you received true criticism, evaluate what part if any is true and take that as input. Discard the rest.
- Could be just them. Many people, myself included, are not that good at providing constructive feedback. I find that it helps to ignore or just have grace if someone is not good at giving criticism.
- Doesn't change anything. Remember that even if true, criticism and blame do not make you a bad person.
- Set a mistake quota. Remind yourself that mistakes are a part of our growth and development. If you are not making mistakes, you are not trying hard enough. I used to joke with a recent project team that we would strive to make only new and very creative mistakes. We certainly should not make the same mistakes, of course, but our focus should be more on success than on not making mistakes.
Finally, I would like to refer to the words of Theodore Roosevelt and his quote on The Man in the Arena, vs. The Critic.
"It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by the dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions and spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly; so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat."
The next topic in this long line of triggers leading to emotional breakdowns is physical environment.