How to Handle Criticism

Awhile back something happened that really rocked me. I received my first scathing email from someone who attended a retreat I led. As I opened the email and read the first sentence, I stopped breathing and braced myself for the blow that was coming. My eyes raced through the first paragraph, trying to avoid the stinging words leaping off my computer screen. I thought the quicker I could read through it, the less it would hurt.

As I proceeded to read through the 13 paragraphs of what I did wrong, my emotions went in every direction imaginable.  I felt angry, shocked, hurt and sad.

It was my worst nightmare come true…someone didn’t like me or what I had to offer. My inner people-pleaser was crushed.

My mind started racing around all the “wrong” things I did, and my thoughts spiraled to “I must be wrong,” “I must not be good enough if someone else thinks so.”

Then, the other part of my brain kicked in, my inner defender who digs her heels in the dirt, points the finger back and says, “That’s bullshit,” “She’s out of line,” “This is about her and not me.”

My thoughts continued to run rampant and the email became the last thing I thought about at night, and the first thing I thought about in the morning.

It took me a few days before I decided to revisit the email, this time with a compassionate perspective. I put myself in the messenger’s cowboy boots to see where she’s coming from.

Once I adopted the compassion angle, I realized this was a gift. I pride myself on doing a damn good job in my work, and doing the best I can, but I can’t please everyone. Thank goodness I realized this because it gave me relief. Not everyone will like me. Or be happy with me. AND THAT’S OKAY.

“Appreciate the constructive; ignore the destructive.” – John Douglas

Before I re-read the email, I burned sage, said a prayer for the messenger and myself, took a huge breath, and clicked “open.” This time my body wasn’t in fight or flight mode and I could read the words clearly without my emotions taking over. From this place, I plucked out the constructive feedback and bypassed the destructive criticism by taking deep breaths and staying present.

“Criticism is something we can avoid easily by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” – Aristotle

I’ve avoided criticism most of my life and have gone extra lengths to be in the “approval” zone. For many years I played it safe, stayed under the radar, limited my exposure, and sought out relationships and scenarios I could control. That is all shifting as my desire to create and expand grows, and I realize I can’t please everyone. My growing edge is to continue putting myself out there in spite of the familiar fear, “What will they think?”

“Sandwich criticism between two layers of praise.” –Mary Kay Ash

Before and after I re-read the email, I went through testimonials on my website and feedback from other women who attended the same retreat, whom had raving reviews. Their positive reviews shored up my strength and reminded me that I don’t suck at this, and I shouldn’t throw down my toys and quit because someone doesn’t like me or what I have to offer.

“The dread of criticism is the death of genius.” –William Gilmore Simms

Now I know in my bones that I can handle criticism. It’s part of putting myself out there. I can hide and stay safe or I can rise up and keep showing up. Keep improving. Keep being true to myself and sharing my gifts.

If someone doesn’t like me, I won’t crumble as a result. Criticism allowed me to face my fear head-on, and walk through it. Many women at my retreats courageously face their fears, and through this experience, I faced mine.

My old fear is replaced by growing strength and conviction that I can handle whatever comes my way.

Only when we face our fears can we overcome them.

How do you handle criticism? I’d love to know. Share in the comments below.

Grateful, stronger, and always learning,

8 replies
  1. Kim Dove
    Kim Dove says:

    Wow! That was harsh! It is always a blow when someone decides to lash out at a good person. You handled it well it sounds like. I have been in your shoes with a pet sitting client but it really taught me alot about myself & how valued my services & expertise is. It wasn’t about me at all; it was totally about the other person. However; it did bruise me for a day or two until I journalized about it, re-read my testimonials & remembered just how good I am at what I do. Unfortunately, these people that lash out are hurting & really want to drag someone down into their hole with them!
    Sounds like this person who did this to you just cannot face themselves & the timing isn’t right for them to “clear” out their junk! That certainly does not ever give someone the right to chastise a “healer”! Ha, that is actually funny if you think about it!
    Stepping away and not saying a thing is the best antidote because you will never come out on top by trying to talk to someone like that. Kudos to you cowgirl. There are soooo many women who love you & what you do that this is just like a speed bump in the road of life! Shine your light my love!

    • Devon
      Devon says:

      Hi Kim, thanks for your beautiful comment and sharing about how you handled a similar situation with a pet sitting client. I love what you said “…it taught me a lot about myself and how valued my services and exercise is”. That’s a powerful takeaway. I appreciate your insight and wisdom! xoxo

  2. Caroline Nadi Carey
    Caroline Nadi Carey says:

    I am stunned at how damaged someone may be to not drink up the joy being around you, horses, and the beautiful places you work. Amazing.

  3. Vonie
    Vonie says:

    Devon, as a horse handler and witness at one of your retreats, I can attest to the beautiful work you do. To be sure, it is rough getting that kind of email.

    Good for you for responding the way you did and protecting yourself during the process with all the positive tools you have.

    A couple of years ago, I, too, have faced one of those emails. They also went out of their way to leave a nasty review. It took some time and a
    conversation with Melisa to believe it wasn’t true and realize I’d come
    in contact with someone who needs a lot more than I could offer.

    Then today, I faced a different kind of criticism that left me feeling defeated. I had to remind myself that the person offering their advice wasn’t intentionally trying to hurt me. After a few tears, I got back up and got back to work on the project I’d been working on. There will be a conversation between the two of us about our differences in T/F personalities.

    Thank you for your post. Hugs, Vonie

    • Devon
      Devon says:

      Hi Vonie, thanks for your kind words and sharing your experience. I love how you are able to step away from the “criticism”, reflect, realize it wasn’t intentional, and get back up! That’s inspiring, my friend. Big hugs back atcha!

  4. Kathi fair pelliccioNe
    Kathi fair pelliccioNe says:

    You are amazing.. you posted your thoughts about criticism just when I needed to read them. I’ve been struggling with this issue all my life but more so recently. After experiencing your retreat and meeting you and my new “sisters”, I came home ready to face my demons, however old habits die hard. Logically I know who I am but when someone close to me criticizes me, I suddenly lose all perspective and take on what was said to me as the truth and I doubt myself and who I really am. For some reason critical voices have more power over me than compliments. I feel terrible and guilty about even being alive. It’s so damn hard to turn around and scream STOP to myself, which is what I need to do (as I learned recently from the retreat). I thought by the time I was 65 years old I would have self confidence, trust myself and above all, not really care about what others say and think. But that is not the case. I am, like you, a person who wants everyone’s approval. It takes strength and courage to put yourself out there and be open to judgement and take whatever you are given and be able to sift through it. Take the good and throw out the bad. You lead through example and I feel so fortunate to have you in my corner. You are one tough cowgirl! Thank you for posting.. I will save it.. K

    • Devon
      Devon says:

      Hi Kathi, thanks for your comment and sharing your struggle with criticism. I appreciate your honesty and courage in sharing! You are a light in the world and I’m grateful to know you. Much love, Devon


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