I’ve been called many things in my life.
Sensitive. Shy. Crybaby.
Stupid. Ugly. Fat.
And I’ve been told many seemingly casual yet hurtful things, as a child and adult, mostly by adults, such as “why can’t you be more like your sister?” or “why don’t you wear more makeup?” or “why are you so damn quiet?”
When I was very young, I was called “war baby” and my first grade teacher informed me that my dad was a “baby killer”. I didn’t understand the Vietnam war then, or know what “baby killer” meant. But a lack of understanding didn’t stop me from experiencing the pain of her hatred piercing through her cold, angry eyes and wedging deeply into my little 5 year old heart.
These were all hurtful things when they were said to me, to my face. And they made me feel ashamed to be me. They made me want to hide in my bedroom and never come out again. After all, I wasn’t worthy of breathing the same air as everyone else.
I’m sorry I’m taking up your air. I’m sorry I have to bother your eyes enough to see me when I happen to walk by. I’m sorry I’m me. I don’t know who else to be, but I will try to be someone different, I promise.
After 40+ years of trying to be someone different, I was exhausted. It’s a lot of work, every day, to pretend you’re someone you’re not.
When I was weak, I pretended to be strong. Acting as if you don’t care about things when your insides are dying is exhausting.
When I was lost, I pretended to be together. Acting as if you’re whole when everything inside you is shattered to a million different pieces is exhausting.
So a few years ago, I made a promise to myself that I will be me. Unapologetically.
I will draw silly stick figure doodles, even though I’m an adult.
I will talk to these silly stick figure doodles (and hear them talk back), even though I’m certifiably sane.
I will express my truth to the world, even though the world is uncomfortable with truth.
I will no longer explain or apologize or resist or deny or hide who I am or why I am.
If I am still breathing on this earth, someone must’ve decided that I’m worthy of breathing this same air that everyone else breathes.
I’ve lived 44 years on this planet, and yesterday, BEING ME finally garnered me a new title. In fact, two new titles that I’ve never been called before.
I’m not gonna lie. Those hurt too.
A few days ago, I posted a story about how my family pushed my buttons to the point of no return and my body started shaking – in the middle of a restaurant – because I was overwhelmed with emotion.
It was a humorous piece, so I thought. Many thought so too. I received a comment stating it was one of my most powerful articles. I also received a comment stating it was in poor taste.
Here’s one of them:
The truth is, NO, I never thought of the people who actually “HAVE THE CONDITION”. In fact, when I wrote the article and when I was in the restaurant, I wasn’t actually thinking of ANY condition. Maybe that makes me more of an ignoramus than an asshole. Or maybe that makes me even more of an asshole.
I didn’t equate having seizures to what I did because I wasn’t pretending to have a seizure nor did I think it even looked like a seizure nor did the thought of seizures even cross my mind. I thought it looked like a desperate lady shaking wildly because her family keeps poking her in the ribs and she doesn’t know how to make them stop without yelling and hurting their feelings.
I thought nothing more of it than that. Until I received 5 eye-opening emails from readers stating the correlation between what I described and a serious medical condition.
Three were very nice as most of my readers are, two were mean and resorted to name calling. All in all, five angry people are not that many considering I have thousands of readers and considering every time I throw an F bomb in my writing, I receive at least 20 angry emails.
But as a person who cares deeply about others, I took those comments to heart. I removed the article from my blog. Not because I’m caving in to the name callers, but because I don’t want to hurt anyone intentionally. And after re-reading what I wrote, I realized that I in fact was describing exactly what a seizure looks like. With my description, it made the entire article appear as if it was about faking seizures and making fun of a serious medical condition. Now that I’m aware of that, it would be a conscious choice to leave it up… and intentionally be an asshole.
I may be an asshole, but I’m not an intentional asshole.
So I took it down.
We all know that when people criticize or make mean comments about others, it’s more about them and not the other person. The criticism, the words they choose and the emotions behind them are ALL about them. Hurt people intentionally hurt people.
But that doesn’t mean YOU can’t learn anything from it. And it doesn’t mean what they’re saying has no truth, for YOU.
Sometimes criticism and harsh words have nuggets of wisdom just waiting to be discovered.
So here’s what I’ve learned, in my 44 years, about dealing with criticism.
It’s gonna hurt. And that’s OK.
Let it be OK that it hurts you. Don’t get angry at yourself for being affected by it. Look, you’re human. You have a heart. You feel deeply. You even make mistakes. If it hurts, honor yourself enough to honor your feelings. Criticizing yourself for being affected by someone else’s criticism is like them handing you a pile of their crap and you taking it and piling your own crap on top of it and then carrying it around with you all day. That’s ridiculous. But that’s exactly what we do when someone criticizes us and we can’t stop thinking about it all day and beat ourselves up for not being able to “shrug it off”. Don’t focus on their words, focus on flowing your pain through you.
Let the criticism stop with the criticizer.
Don’t take the baton they just handed you and run with it. Don’t give it back to them. And don’t hand it off to someone else by paying the criticism forward. You have every right to keep your hands to yourself and let the baton drop to the ground.
It totally sucks.
Maybe it’s not fair. Maybe they’re being mean. Maybe they’re right. Maybe it’s totally unwarranted. It doesn’t matter. Either way, it totally sucks. And that’s OK. Piles of crap never smell or look good. But like crapping, it’s a fact of life. And if you’re going to actually live out in this world instead of hide in your bedroom for the rest of your life, sucky things are going to come your way. That’s just a consequence of actually LIVING and exploring and loving and being vulnerable and honest and raw and alive. And human.
Find something truthful about the experience.
I mean this in two ways:
1. Put your ego and hurt feelings aside long enough to see if there’s any truth in what they’re saying. If there is, how can you use that truth to serve yourself or others? For me, it opened my eyes to how my writing can deeply affect others in a negative way. It made me more conscious and responsible about my choice of words. It also gave me an opportunity to write this article and help others learn how to deal with criticism.
2. If there’s absolutely no truth in what they’re saying, find the truth of the experience by using the pain you feel as an opportunity to lean in to discomfort. Use the hurt as a tool for growth. When you learn that you can be OK in your own pain, the overall pain of life stops becoming so scary and daunting. This includes the pain of being criticized. You’ll discover that you can take criticism and still love who you are. You’ll discover that you can open your heart and still be strong.
Don’t look at criticism as an attack, even if it was meant as one.
Instead, look at it as an opportunity to grow. When I was training in Wushu, a form of martial arts, the opponent would come at you as if they were attacking you. This was not an actual attack, even though a real fist was thrown hard into your soft face. This was actually an opportunity to learn how to absorb attacks, stand up for yourself and get stronger. The same is true for verbal attacks. I don’t care if someone meant to hurt me or not, unless it’s someone I love. What I care about is how I react to it. It’s the only thing I can control. The more I practice acting in integrity with who I am no matter what other people say or do, the stronger in integrity I become.
If you have any kind of life whatsoever… if you go to work everyday in an office full of people… if you come home to a family… if you’re a creator of art through paint, clay, words, song or anything else… if you express your insides on the outside for the world to see… expect criticism. In fact, I’ll go as far as to say if you’re human, expect criticism. I once saw some really cruel and mean spirited comments in the Facebook post of Liz Gilbert’s udemy course. Many of them didn’t even have to do with her course and I can bet that most of them didn’t even know her on a day to day basis. It didn’t dissuade me from loving Liz Gilbert, but it did open my eyes to how it doesn’t matter who you are, people are gonna judge. Harshly. So be it. Do not let the fear of criticism make you live a smaller life than you’re capable of and desperately yearning to live. Live out loud no matter what.
Be who you are, unapologetically.
Apologizing for your mistakes is different than apologizing for who you are. I made a mistake because I didn’t see the bigger picture of my words, and for that, I’m sorry. Acknowledge and make amends for your mistakes.
But never. Ever. Apologize for who you are.
What lies have you been told about yourself? Leave them here in the comments and when you close your browser, don’t take them back with you. Consider this comment board where you let go of that plate of crap once and for all.
(If you’d like to leave a comment, please be kind. No need to bash the person who called me an asshole. I know some of you readers will take to my defense but I’m not asking for that. Let’s let the criticism end with the criticizer. Let’s send loving kindness and thanks for an opportunity for growth.)