The Single Biggest Tip I've Learned from Therapy

A simple trick for changing the way you think about criticism.
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I'd love to be the kind of girl who can brush things off, but that's simply not who I am. When I'm criticized, even by strangers, my first reaction is to be sad, which is compounded by the public nature of my job. I love what I do, but making myself vulnerable to negative feedback can be difficult. Whether I've purchased something "too expensive," failed to address a political issue or raised Sloan in a way someone doesn't agree with, it's easy for people to be accusatory from behind their screens. But my therapist recently shared some insight with me that I've found particularly helpful, and can be applied to anyone, no matter your job or circumstances. It may sound simple and obvious, but here it is: It's not about you, it's about them. 

People naturally project their own issues onto others, so chances are if someone is yelling at you in a grocery store line, it isn't because they cannot stand people who accidentally cut in line, it's because they had an incredibly stressful day, or just had a fight with a friend. Instead of asking yourself, "What did I do to deserve that?" ask "What happened to them to make them so angry in this moment?" By placing the burden on them rather than yourself, it makes it much easier to brush off. Gwyneth Paltrow, who gets more than her fair share of criticism, put it well in a recent interview with Net-a-Porter, "You get inured. It's literally not about me, but what I represent. There's a lot of projection. And it only hurts your feelings if you already think that about yourself. So when criticisms stung, I used it to think, 'What judgement am I holding against myself?' I tried to learn from it."

And unsurprisingly, it works both ways. If I find myself feeling bitter over someone else's accomplishments—whether they've had a major career success or done something as small as purchased a pair of shoes I've been coveting—I take a minute to look at why I'm not celebrating that person. More often than not, it's because of my own insecurities.

To that end, my mom has recently really been watching her carbs, sugar, and alcohol intake and my first reaction was to say, "You're not fun anymore," and put her down, but what it comes down to are my own insecurities—I've been bad about watching what I eat and neglecting to exercise. Her discipline calls attention to my own lack thereof, so instead of saying, "Good for you!" I'm critical, which has a lot more to do with me than it does with her.

Another tool I use is to determine what "tribe" a person is in. Our office is near an incredibly busy intersection, so anytime I leave work, there's someone honking at someone trying to change lanes, and another person who's jogging through the "no-walk" sign. When I'm the one being honked at, I try to take a more holistic approach and just say, "Oh, they're in the asshole tribe," or to the person changing lanes, "And they're in the confused tribe." Whatever micro-drama is occurring in the intersection has nothing to do with who I am as a person.

When I think about the type of person I want to be—and, perhaps more importantly, the kind of person I want to raise Sloan to be—it's someone who's kind, patient, and willing to admit fault, but also willing to stand up for herself. Therapy has taught me that as important as it is to have a level of self awareness, it's just as important to maintain an understanding of what other people are going through—there's no reason that one person's terrible day should become yours as well.