How to Handle Criticism to Change

By , September 26, 2012 12:55 pm

How to Handle Criticism to Change 

“Staying REAL is one of the most courageous battles that we’ll ever fight. When we choose to be our true selves, the people around us will struggle to make sense of how and why we are changing.” 

Brené Brown, writer and research professor.


Criticism is a natural part of life.

At some point someone is bound to criticise you because you’re stepping out and trying something new. As we grow, the people around us struggle to make sense of how and why we are changing and worry about the impact on them.

Criticism is different than feedback because it feels painful, raw and personal.

Ridicule hurts because it makes us feel embarrassed and uncomfortable. We question the original decision to step up and be different.

Arthur Schopenhauser, German Philosopher and Author, reminds us that all change goes through three steps:

  1. Ridicule
  2. Violent opposition
  3. Acceptance as self-evident

I’ve coached people through all three stages when they decide to show up bigger in their life.

Here’s a real example to demonstrate these stages:

Jenny started working with a coach to help her stop being a people-pleaser and sacrificing who she was for the sake of what other people thought.

She set boundaries and started saying no to things that no longer served her.

Her husband started to notice a difference…



“Look at you! You’ve been talking to that coach of yours again haven’t you?”

 He made fun of what she was trying to do.

This ridicule could be enough for Jenny to give in and go back to how she used to be, just to keep her husband happy. Our natural instincts are to be socially accepted. It’s tempting to go back to how she used to be, even though the new way is far more authentic and real.


 Violent opposition

“I hate these damned coaching sessions! I don’t like what is happening to you. You’re different! The ‘old’ Jenny was much nicer than the ‘new one’. You are being selfish these days. This coach is brainwashing you – Have you joined some sort of cult?!”

 Her husband felt fearful and unsure about the change he was seeing. His life was much easier before. He was worried about how it would affect him and their relationship. She had held a mirror up to him and this made him feel uncomfortable. He felt threatened by the ‘new’ way.

Verbal aggression is cruel and painful and can stop us in our tracks. We question our judgment and ability to move forward and achieve our goal. Again, it’s easier to go back to the old way so the hurt will go away.

It’s easier to criticize someone when they are taking risks, being brave or speaking out, especially when they are doing it imperfectly because they are trying something new.


Acceptance as self-evident

“I’ve learned so much about our relationship and we’ve grown closer together. We understand each other at a deeper level.”

Over time the new way of doing things becomes the new normal. Jenny stayed true to herself remaining consistent in her approach, despite the opposition. She let go of trying to be everything to everyone else and was able to step up to become an equal partner in her relationship.

Most of us don’t naturally look inside ourselves to find the source of our discomfort and we tend to look externally for someone else to blame. We become cynical or critical in reaction to this difference and it is often shows up as sarcasm, ridicule or criticism of someone else’s attempt to try something new.

Criticism is often a reflection of the other person’s own discomfort to stay stuck in their comfort zone. They might be feeling jealous and envious of the other person’s decision to create some changes in their life.

Here are some tips for handling criticism:

1. Take personal responsibility for your thinking. Stay in your power and stand your ground. Step back and remind yourself that you don’t have to shrink so that others can feel comfortable around you. Choose to be courageous. Don’t let outside noise cause internal interference. Remember, we all have equal value, worth and dignity. No one is better, bigger or superior to anyone else. It’s just ego that makes it so. Focus on your truth and what is important for you. Have faith in your intuition and believe in YOU. Leave the emotional stuff behind as this energy will keep you blocked.

2. It’s NEVER about you – Criticism is always about the person who is delivering it. The source of the criticism is with the person making that criticism – You are not the source. Opinion is just information based from the other person’s map of the world and not from your map. As you step up to do things differently others will criticise you. It’s going to happen. It’s okay. Those who are closest to you may have stronger opinions. Opinions can be driven by the other person’s fear, envy or worry. These feelings from loved ones can feel very personal if we let them in.

3. Re-decide – remind yourself of your WHY and in the face of criticism, get clear again. Learn how to teach other people how to treat you. Make being authentic your number one goal. Stick with it and allow your courage to overcome any fear. Don’t let fear rule you and your decisions, just because somebody has challenged you. People WILL push up against you – especially when you’re doing something different. Make decisions from where YOU want to be. Learn to rescue yourself and step back in alignment with your vision every day.

4. Accept that everyone won’t like you – Some people will like you some won’t. We can’t please everyone all of the time.

5. Set a time limit – Allow yourself space to work through the pain and dis-comfort. Talk it through with someone you trust. Set a time limit to dwell on it then, reframe the situation, focus on what you’ve learned, remember that it’s NOT about you, and let it go.


8 Responses to “How to Handle Criticism to Change”

  1. Elaine I love that you refer to Arthur Schopenhauer who was indeed himself criticized and ridiculed but never accepted in his own lifetime.

    I like this input about how difficult it can be to change patterns of interactions with people you’ve known for a long time. Maybe it would be worth feeding these people with a quote from ancient greek philosopher Heraclitus:
    ”It’s in changing that things find repose”
    (I’m thankful to Laurel Stinnet to share this quote with me).

  2. Jools says:

    Wow, Elaine – fantastic article! Thank you – very timely for me today. It’s all stuff I ‘know’, just needed to be reminded!

  3. elaine says:

    Thanks Jools! Glad you liked it. It’s true how we need to be reminded about these things from time to time – especially as we get stuck deep in our own thinking.

  4. elaine says:

    Hey thanks Ulla… and Yay! to Laurel! Great quote!

  5. Susan says:

    Wow…jusy what I needed to hear. For me, I have discovered Louise Hay:). She invites us to repeat “I approve of myself” hundreds of times each day. I am surprised at how difficult this affirmation is for me to say…and believe….but I am using it daily…and it allows me to rain in my power.

  6. Susan says:

    Typos from phone:)
    And remain in my power:)

  7. ElaineBailey says:

    Glad this was what you needed to hear Susan – thanks for stopping by…

    AND… yes the Iphone has a mind of it’s own! 😉

  8. ElaineBailey says:

    I LOVE this mantra too – thank you for sharing it… very powerful

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