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How Do You Handle Criticism? [Loving the haters]

Posted Apr 13 2011 12:02am

Boy howdy do I miss Jack Handy.

Worst idea ever (second only to flags as apparel, as you shall soon see): The night my roommates and I decided to sit in a big circle and tell each person what bugged us about them. It started with “she leaves her shoes in front of the door” and quickly progressed to “she poops pebbles like a deer and never flushes” (true story!) complete with screaming, door slamming and even hair pulling. “Constructive criticism” can be good but only in moderation (and never with someone who just sharpened their French manicure).

It turns out the Internet is a lot like a bunch of freshman girls caged in a tiny dirty apartment all winter. According to the Internet, I am “a terrible mother” , “mentally unbalanced”,  ”glamorizing eating disorders”, “stupid”, “in need of serious help”, and – my personal fave – “should have all her fingers cut off so she can never write again and then killed as slowly and painfully as possible you socialist liberal *$&%^.” That last one, bizarrely enough, was from a Huffington Post reader who took exception to a post I wrote in 2008 about the fake Sarah Palin bikini pictures circling the web at that time. People take their American flag bikinis very seriously. (As well they should – there is nothing funny about covering your stars with a spangled banner. Or your new glories with Old Glory. Or, oh my stars, did you see the stripes on that one?! Definitely not funny.)

While the vast majority of press, comments and feedback I get about this site, my book and my writing in general are very positive and encouraging, there is a certain amount that is negative. Some of it is really negative. First I want to give a HUGE thank you to every single one of you who have taken the time to write me and tell me how I’ve helped you, touched you or made you laugh or cry – I keep every single one of your e-mails/notes/comments and I re-read them on days I feel down. But I’d also like to thank those of you who have given me some negative criticism. I’m sincere in this; I’m glad when you guys have the guts to tell me the bad stuff along with the good, especially when it comes from a place of kindness and caring. I’ve learned a lot from you guys over the years – never be afraid to tell me how you think it really is. And if you can do so in a civil, un-profane way then I’ll be even more grateful.

Why am I talking about this now? And on here? Several things made me think I need to publicly address this and I’d like to address each point:

- A dear friend recently e-mailed me asking how I dealt with all my bad press. She read some hurtful comments about me on a website and said that she wanted to cry just reading them and she couldn’t imagine how I must feel.

- In an interview I’m doing for Journey Beyond Survival, the first question she asked me (and I’m parsing) was, “In your book you have all these realizations and lessons learned and then in the very next chapter you’re back to over-exercising and criticizing your body. What the heck?!” It’s a sentiment that several of you have echoed on here and that several reviewers on Amazon and other sites have shared.

- Simon recently commented on my Do You Need to Look Healthy to Work in a Health Store post, “Hey Charlotte, please stop with the absurdly positive responses to every comment, regardless of its content. It comes across as deeply insincere and gives people no idea of what you really believe.”

Question 1: How do I deal with criticism?

Answer: I’m not going to lie: it’s tough. There were a couple of Amazon reviews that made me cry. It’s especially tough since I put a lot of personal feelings into my book and this blog so when it gets rejected it can feel like I’m being rejected as there really is no line between the book/blog and myself. But this is what I’ve found helps:

1. Accept the pain, acknowledge it hurts and then choose to move on. Sometimes it hurts a lot. The first time I read a negative comment or review, I go through all the expected emotions of anger, sadness, defiance and defensiveness. Sometimes I cry. But by the second, third and fourth times through it, by and large those feelings pass pretty quickly. I made a choice a long time ago to choose happiness. For me that means choosing to be optimistic even though my natural inclination is to be a cynic. It means being open, honest and kind even if it means I look gullible, uncool or am taken advantage of. It also means choosing to believe the best about people even when they aren’t acting it. Because of this, I’m able to see that many of the criticisms leveled against me have a grain of truth and from that a lesson I need to learn, even if it is just that I need to stop making jokes about our national treasures as swimwear.
2. Be open and humble. I’m very aware of my limitations, mistakes and foibles and I’ll readily admit that I’m no expert and not even very sane. I try to recognize when people have a valid criticism and I answer them in the kindest way possible. It can be really hard to admit that I screwed up but hiding from my mistakes only makes them worse. Plus, people respond to kindness and 9 times out of 10 will calm down and back down a bit. People don’t expect me to respond when they blast me so they’re often surprised by my replies. It can sting initially but I’ve gotten some really good feedback and dialog going this way.
3. Pray. I believe my life has a larger purpose than just to exist. I don’t know the end from the beginning but knowing that God is over all from the tiniest sparrow to the biggest foot in my mouth, is very reassuring. People are fickle but God loves me no matter what. (And he loves you too, in case you were wondering.)
4. Be grateful. Yes, there have been some really awful things said about me and to me but the vast majority of interactions that I’ve had have been very positive. I’m so grateful for all the opportunities to grow and experiences I’ve been given and I try to focus on all the amazing people that are now in my life because of this.

5. I rarely read the comments for sites that I know are going to be mostly negative. (I always read every comment here though!) Too much criticism/negativity at one time is overwhelming and, frankly, depressing. For example, apparently my newspaper spread got some nasty comments on the Star-Tribune site so rather than get bogged down in it, I just chose not to read them.

6. If people are personally attacking me or just spewing vileness without any discernible point – remember the guy who e-mailed me to tell me that the world would be a better place if my ex-boyfriend had killed me when he had the chance? yeah – I don’t answer them. Flame wars are nasty business. Don’t feed the trolls.

Question 2: What is up with all the inconsistencies in the message in your book? Am I healthy or not?

Answer: A huge part of the confusion stems from my publisher’s last minute decision to rearrange the chapters to follow a traditional Jan – Dec format. I lived the Experiment and originally wrote the book starting in October 2007 and going through September 2008. So while it looks like I didn’t learn my Very Serious Lesson about over exercising in my Double Cardio Experiment (Feb, chapter 2) because I basically do the same thing in the Vegan Experiment (Nov, Chapter 11) the Vegan Experiment actually occurred before the Double Cardio epiphany. I’m not saying my publisher did the wrong thing but I want to be clear that the chapters are not in chronological order in the book. Basically I still look crazy no matter which way you shuffle the chapters but at least in the chronological order I do appear to learn from my mistakes. I am deeply sorry for the confusion. The other issue of course – and those of you who have been reading for a while already know this – is that I was not recovered by the end of my first year of Experiments. All the Experiments had broken me open, so to speak, so I could see I had a problem and I had just begun to take steps to remedy them but I was in no way “cured” by the end. And I tried to be honest about that. These days, while not perfect, I’m light-years better than I was then. You have to remember that was 4.5 years ago!

Question 3: What do I really believe?

Answer: Simon’s comment brought up a really good point (which he is probably going to hate me for saying because that’s exactly the type of thing he was complaining about but it’s true). Basically, I replied that 1) Since this blog is my platform I figure I get the 1,000-word post to make my argument and state my position so I assume that people know where I stand and 2) every reasonable appropriate comment deserves a reply in kind. However, just because I say I can understand someone’s point doesn’t mean I agree with them. I’m not trying to be cagey or insincere; I’m trying to let people know that they’re heard. Clearly from Simon’s comment that is not how it’s coming across though and I’m going to work on being clearer and less cheerleader-esque in my replies to you guys. You deserve to be respected, not patronized. If I’m ever unclear about what I believe or what my opinion is, I’m more than happy to elucidate! [Update: I'm not trying to throw Simon under the bus here - I wanted to single out his comment because if he said it, then I'm quite sure other people are thinking it which is why I wanted to answer it on the blog and not just to him individually.]

Everyone has to deal with criticism in their life whether it’s from a family member, a coworker, a lover or a friend (hopefully not all at the same time!). Those of you bloggers/writers also have to deal with criticism from strangers on the Internet. So learning how to take criticism is an essential life skill. I don’t think it’s easy for anyone – half the reason I wrote this post was to convince myself, frankly – but I do think we can learn to be better at it and even use criticism to our advantage. Help me figure this out – I need all the help I can get!

I would really appreciate it if you could tell me about a time you were criticized and how you handled it and how it worked out! And, now I have to ask: have any of you girded your loins with a flag?



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