Healthy criticism can help us refine and focus our talents, skills, and creative projects in pursuit of personal excellence. When self-criticism is based on excessive perfectionism or an unrealistic self-concept, your self talk may become destructive and limiting, eroding – perhaps even killing – your creative assurance and vitality.
As a writer, it seemed like it was an overwhelmingly long road to find the place within myself to be able to accept criticism – and its equally healthy counterpart: compliments – without internalizing them and turning them against myself. And why not? I’d had more than 30 years of practice at tearing myself down and doubting my skill and talent. I said disparaging things about myself, disguising them with humor and self-deprecation.
Many creative people, even when they have received recognition for their work, may experience self-critical thoughts and insecurity. It’s become a seemingly natural part of our inner construction.
Irish author John Banville, just before he received the Booker Prize, considered the world’s most prestigious award for new fiction, was sure he would not win; “I tend to think all my books are bad,” he stated.
Many talented film actors refuse to watch their own movies. Joaquin Phoenix has said more than once that he doesn’t like the way his teeth or lips look on-screen. Kate Winslet has admitted that before going off to a movie shoot, she sometimes thinks, I’m a fraud and they’re going to fire me…I’m fat; I’m ugly. Winslet is an academy award and grammy award winner for her work.
Creatives are found to be extremely self-critical and sometimes overreactive to the criticism of others. We express near-constant dissatisfaction with ourselves, our lives, and especially our work.
We see what “ought” to be in ourselves…embodying a vision of perfectionism that is measured against our own self-perception and perceived self-worth, to the point where we can become despondent or depressed, allowing our self-loathing to block us rather than spurring us on to greater success.
Our ideas about identity can also be limiting. Director Jane Campion, praised for The Piano and other films, once said, “I never have had the confidence to approach filmmaking straight on. I just thought it was something done by geniuses, and I was very clear that I wasn’t one of those.”
Other creatives, like Will Smith, use their self-doubt to push them to greater heights in their achievements without allowing themselves to become incapacitated through their doubt or insecurity. Sure, we all experience differing levels of insecurity and self-doubt. It’s what we do with it that makes us different from others.
Here are some ways in which we can effectively deal with external criticism, self-criticism, and rejection:
BE OPEN – If you’re seeking a specific reaction or response to your work, state it openly. If you’ve done your best and you’re rejected or criticized, you might feel that you’ve somehow ‘failed.’ At that point, seeing the positive becomes exponentially more difficult. Try to open yourself to the possibility that the perceived ‘failure’ may be leading you on to something else, usually better than what you thought you wanted. If you’re not ready to hear criticism, state that unequivocally. I’m not always willing to hear criticism – of my career, my creative projects, or something that I believe in – and I state that aloud if someone “volunteers” to force their opinion on me. Everyone has good days and bad…and some we’re simply better able to handle criticism and rejection than others.
BE CONSISTENT – Keep going, doing the little things every day that keep you creative and that keep you connected to other artists and to yourself. The dramatic moments – those highs and lows – will come and go. Have a steady routine that you can keep coming back to, and this will help place criticism or rejection in perspective. If this ability to remain objective continues to elude you, pair up with a friend and create a ‘Mutual Appreciation Day’ in which you receive repeated positive reinforcement and counterstatements to the rejection or criticism. Personal coaches can help in this area as well.
BE FOCUSED – Always keep your end goal in mind and always be mindful of why you’re doing what you’re doing. That will help focus you on the bigger picture and avoid getting bogged down in self-doubt or even self-pity. Try not to get tripped up by each bump in the road along the way.
BE RESILIENT – Remember that your sense of self-worth comes from inside you. When you’re able to be confident in yourself regardless of the feedback you get from other sources, you’re able to bounce back more easily from any negative feedback you may get.
STAY POSITIVE – Focus your attention on the positive whenever possible, and you’ll attract more of it. This is the premise behind the “law of attraction,” and I’ve certainly seen it at work, and used it in my own daily life. Create a “Yay Me!” file that you can refer to when you need reminding of the good you do, as well.
Writers of every kind will always be met with criticism. You don’t have to like it, but can refuse to be wounded by it. Learning to handle criticism and rejection in a calm and self-confident spirit will help you to grow as a writer and as a person.