Criticism is never meant to deflate and discourage your progress. Its positive intent is not to harm and destroy your confidence. Why do we allow this to happen? Healthy criticism is a perspective that is meant to strengthen your journey, to cheer you on, and help you achieve your goals.

Two years ago, my husband gifted me a deep tissue massage with a sports physiotherapist. My time with her was a new way of thinking and left me with much to consider. I gleaned from her expertise. Her insights have been transformative.

We talked about, what I call, the nervous energy I carry in my body. Something that’s been with me since I was a little girl. For example, I remember in primary school holding a sheet of paper in the palm of my hand to see how much it would shake; a game I would play with my friends.

She said, “Why do you accept this about yourself? It’s not healthy for your body to carry this much nervous energy. People with your type of physiology hold pain in their bodies. Every sports injury you’ve had or hardship you’ve experienced you’re holding inside you.”

As she continued with the massage, there were areas where I felt excruciating pain; almost unbearable. When she started on my neck and jaw, the floodgates of tears were released. I wept.

I asked, “What is happening? Do people normally cry this much?”

She responded, “Most of the athletes I work with cry. They carry a lot of pain and trauma from their sports injuries.”

She added, “I too get deep tissue massages weekly. I don’t want this to build up in my body.” 

She continued, “You are a person that will need these deep tissue massages. It’s one way to help release trapped pain.”

She also suggested I spend more time meditating, taking hot yoga and carving time out of my day for tranquility. Over the past year and a half, I have been taking her advice seriously.

Which leads me to the topic of criticism.

In my reflections, I’ve learned there’s an additional reason I carry this nervous energy: my body is holding on to criticism. Interesting to think that what started with me exploring ‘nervous energy” led me to “criticism.”

I have known I struggle with a self-critic on certain topics. What I did not know, and perhaps some of you can relate, is that I continue to carry self-criticism in my body. This silent enemy thwarts my confidence.

The second form of criticism I carry in my body is some of the judgment I have received because my path does not align with others. I do not take offense when someone disagrees with me, however, I have come to learn that it still had an impact on my physiology.

It’s been eye-opening. I appreciate healthy self-criticism as well as the positive criticism I have received from others; because it helps me in my personal development. However, with every positive intention, we need to be aware of its rival. 

A small portion of salt flavors your food and is an important electrolyte; while too much salt dehydrates your body and attacks your kidneys. Criticism is similar. With every great word, there is its arch nemesis. As much as criticism can be a good thing, it can also be debilitating.

Although criticism can have a negative affect on your physiology, the good news is it’s easily fixable.

There are four categories of criticism; and within each category is a positive and negative component. Which category can you most relate to? If you recognize yourself in its negative state, switch your thinking to its positive state. Replace one for the other.

[I] Self To Self

Self To Self is feelings you experience based on what you say about yourself.

  1. In its positive state, Self To Self is beneficial for self-realization and self-awareness. Self To Self empowers you to excel and pursue personal growth. It shows you where you can adjust your behavior and help you to focus on your fullest potential. Healthy self-criticism helps you keep a broader perspective and walk in humility.
  2. In its negative state, self-criticism can be mean, berating, and harmful. It creates guilt and shame, leaving you to think you’re not good enough. Negative self-criticism attacks your confidence and carries an unhealthy amount of blame and responsibility if something didn’t go the way you had hoped it would.

“It is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of high maturity, to rise to the level of self-criticism.” — Martin Luther King Jr

[II] Others To Self

Others To Self is feelings you experience based on what others say about you.

  1. In its positive state, when others provide critical feedback they are well-intended and their desire is for you to thrive. The people offering positive criticism have your best in mind and are confident that their feedback will help you excel. Similar to a coach and mentor, they offer different perspectives so you will flourish.
  2. In its negative state, criticism from others will feel like judgment and a personal attack. You might feel like your way is the wrong way and their way is the right way. The critical words are discouraging and affronts your personality, character or your competency.

“Don’t criticize what you don’t understand, son. You never walked in that man’s shoes.” — Elvis Presley

[III] Self To Others

Self To Others is feelings you experience based on what you say about others.

  1. In its positive state, Self To Others is providing feedback when someone has opportunity for improvement. Self To Others shows you are invested and care about someone else’s success. You have a perspective to help the individual excel and you want to provide insights that might have otherwise been overlooked. Self To Others is for the benefit and growth of someone else. 
  2. In its negative state, Self To Others is used to be confrontational and combative. It is judgmental and accusatory. Negative Self To Others is pointing out flaws and where an individual is wrong. It lacks graciousness and attacks a person’s personality, character or competency.

“Average players want to be left alone. Good players want to be coached. Great players want to be told the truth.” — Doc Rivers

[IV] Self With Others

Self With Others is feelings you experience based on what you say with others. 

  1. In its positive state, Self With Others empowers team cooperation. It opens up conversations and welcomes shared insights. Think tanks are derived from Self With Others and provide a space where everyone’s feedback is considered and matters. There is freedom to agree and disagree. It’s inclusive and, together, the best plans and outcomes emerge.
  2. In its negative state, Self With Others is gossipy and guised as venting. It sows distrust and guardedness. It isolates others, causing them to feel like they don’t belong. It is hurtful and can permanently damage relationships. It creates a toxic environment where people no longer feel safe and included.

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” — African Proverb

CONCLUSION

Criticism is never meant to deflate and discourage your progress. Its positive intent is not to harm and destroy your confidence. Why do we allow this to happen? Healthy criticism is a perspective that is meant to strengthen your journey, to cheer you on, and help you achieve your goals.

As is common in the English language, one word can have several meanings. You may view the word criticism in a negative or positive light based on your personal experience. Some of your memories were empowering while others were damaging. Take a moment and ask yourself, “Is there any critical voice that has had a negative impact on my life?” 

Positive criticism can be a cup of cold water for your soul. Negative criticism can suck your soul dry. 

Karen Thrall | Business Coach | Human Catalyst