My least favourite part about being a writer is when I get criticism.
Actually, I'm terrified of it.
The first time someone criticised me online, it was a mixture of insults, condescending comments, and a challenge to my ego. I remember starting to shake after I read it. Thankfully, I had a support group to talk to — to help me through it.
Since then, I’ve had more people tell me I give bad advice, publicly say that I’m an arrogant prick, and even ask me to burn in hell.
For a reformed “nice guy” like me, it can feel traumatic. How do you know if you’re a “nice guy”? Conflict-avoidance is one of the major signs.
If you always try to avoid conflict — even when it badly affects your life — I highly recommend you read Dr. Robert Glover’s classic "No More Mr. Nice Guy." It might help you become less frustrated with life.
Anyway, here’s how I try to deal with criticism nowadays.
1. Expect and look out for conflict
Trying to lead a conflict-free life is both delusional and counter-productive. It leads to frustration.
I understand that nobody wants to fight all the time. It’s tiring. But the conflict in life is inevitable. And by conflict, I don’t mean throwing punches at the club. I mean that every person has different opinions and that leads to disagreements.
The first step to dealing better with conflict (and criticism) is to not try to avoid it at all costs. It’s not to please everyone so they only say good things about you. But it’s to acknowledge that conflicts are bound to happen. Especially when you have strong opinions and beliefs — which is what all interesting people have.
That doesn’t mean you’re always mentally preparing for bad things that are going to happen.
It means you realise that conflicts (handled properly) are actually good things. Because with conflicts, people can actually be honest with each other, resolve things, and create progress.
2. Look for the emotional motive
Behind every seemingly-offensive action, there’s an emotional motive.
For lack of more refined language, people lash out when they’re butthurt.
Maybe that guy who’s rude to women online is just devastated that his ex-girlfriend dumped him. Maybe that girl who keeps bitching behind your back is just jealous and craves attention. And maybe that asshole who criticised you in front of your boss is really trying to get a promotion — because he currently feels like a loser.
Looking for the motive helps me see if the criticism is warranted or not. If I really deserve to be criticised — fine. Let’s see how I can do better next time.
But if I realise that someone is lashing out because they have an emotional need — I can feel better. I can put myself in their shoes: “Hey, if I had been hurt like that, maybe I would act the same way too.”
It helps me be gentler on myself, and gentler on them.
3. It's not you, it's them
Constructive criticism is one thing. But sometimes criticism crosses the boundary and becomes a personal attack. Especially online.
Most people aren’t assholes in real life. But there’s something about the Internet (some say it's anonymity) that brings out mean tendencies in people. If you’re getting hate online, understand that most Internet users are the silent majority. It’s only the small minority who really hate/love you that’ll comment.
But even small minority hatred hurts. Even one lousy comment hurts.
I find it easier to handle if I try to detach myself from the situation: Yes, he said that I was an idiot and that I should rot in hell. But he doesn’t really know me — he’s only an outsider looking in.
For some reason, my opinion made him angry. But again, it’s my opinion processed through his brain that’s the problem. It’s not me.
Love the sinner, hate the sin: I’m not an idiot. And I hope I don’t rot in hell. I’m just a writer who has someone hating his opinions. I can comfort myself by telling myself that.
But first I have to be pretty sure that I’m not an idiot. And I need to understand this: what I think of myself is more important than what others think of me.
Take my advice with a pinch of salt though
I’ve already told you that lots of people disagree with me. Besides, I don’t have a degree in conflict management or anything. I just thought that sharing my own struggles might help you in dealing with your own.
And lest you think I’m a whiner — I understand that public criticism is part of the package that comes with being a “public” figure. You don’t get the good without the bad. You don’t get fans without having haters. To be loved, you have to be hated.
I’m trying. I’m learning. To be okay with that.
Sometimes when someone criticises me, I can be strong now. I go through all the steps above, try to smile, and reply as professionally as I can.
But sometimes, I get upset, curl up in a corner, and hit “delete.”
I guess that’s okay too.