I recently read a book that talks about the ‘window of tolerance’, a concept explored in relation to individual tolerance to stress and trauma. Everyone has a unique window of resilience. Circumstances and experiences narrow or expand that window. I had the mental image of a bellows while reading about this; some people and experiences breathing expansion into my window, while others collapsed it.
Criticism brings up all our defenses and narrows that window down to a sliver. A host of emotion hits. Rational thought falls away. How can you handle it with grace and strength, and more importantly, learn from the experience?
It feels like being hit. A sharp left turn in communication--new territory.
Criticism is also chemically powerful. If you go into ‘react’ your words will fan the flames. I learned this the hard way when I got divorced. My ex husband demonstrated a wicked temper during the process. Sometimes the things he said felt so cruel and wrong; I wanted to kick back instantly. He knew exactly how to cut deep.
Unfortunately, my spitting back only made things worse. Then I was left with an anger hangover and neither of us felt heard.
A better path is to listen. Listen to yourself, first. You’re probably in ‘fight or flight’ mode, complex thinking taken offline. Just be there for a bit.
If your window of tolerance has narrowed, gracefully ask for space. Make yourself ready to hear and go back into the conversation. Don’t shy away. Grow your mental muscle by feeling everything.
Critics are human. The person criticizing you has pain and struggle, and unless they are a complete ass, it isn’t easy for them to speak up. It’s a rare individual who takes pleasure in being harsh. If it’s that kind of criticism? Get out now.
Say thank you. Because no matter what the outcome, you are grateful for the experience.
Don’t pick up what doesn’t fit. You have the right to be treated with respect even if you screwed up. You are learning about this human being in front of you. We’re all just making our way in this world. Did you push a boundary? Ask for too much? Betray or deceive? Is your critic making assumptions that need correction? Trust your own body's messages even if they're uncomfortable.
If there's truth to the criticism, let yourself be seen. Own it. Growth isn't easy, but it's important.
Then, rest. Wait until you can think again. What do you need to fix? Take the learning opportunity, make the changes. Move on.