Act Three: Making Peace with Criticism

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You now know about the ninja-level tool of breathing to slow down and try to be present in the face of criticism (that was Part II Knowing Good Criticism from Bad) as well as how to evaluate whether the criticism is real or an apparition from childhood (that was Part I How Well Do You Handle Criticism?).

It’s now time to look beyond criticism, to get big and powerful in spirit, and a bit abstract:  imagine yourself in a place in which you’re not intimidated or affected by criticism — where you can be with it peacefully in a room, without fearing it. For example — imagine how you might notice a book sitting on a table in a hotel lobby and see that the book is labeled “criticism.” Just notice it, notice the criticism hanging in the air like a balloon with its string dangling before you. The balloon is there. You’re there. It’s not “attacking” you and it’s not after you. And the person who has blown up the balloon and tried to hand it to you — the person “criticizing” you — is there, too, but not at war with you. They’re standing there, too.

Once you can get to a place where those entities (you, the criticism, and the other person) are separate, but present, and you’re breathing in and out while solid with your worth, flaws, and self (all!), then you can take the next step.

That next step is truly a leap. Think about what will be there in the room between you and the other person once the criticism departs – the balloon goes out the window. Just you and that person in a room. You are there, vulnerable. The other person is there, having expressed something clumsily – also vulnerable. What remains? I will tell you:  intimacy.

Intimacy and vulnerability are at the core of human existence. And just like distractions and addictions, criticism works as a barrier to intimacy — when we misunderstand its message.

Say that I’m sitting on the couch with a lover, who is trying to express to me his yearning for intellectual conversation about art and literature. My first thought is, “I don’t give him that. I lack something.” And I react from that assumption, that vulnerability and fear. I might say to him, “I could say the same about you — where’s the discussion of philosophy, Kant, Nitetzsche, etc.?” And we’d be distanced from one another by our swords and shields. However, instead imagine that once he began to express to me his yearning for intellectual conversation and I imagined it as the balloon hanging there — him, me, and his comment (the balloon) in a room — and I said, “What does that mean for you, intellectual conversation?” A conversation can then begin; I can listen rather be deaf with fear, and I can focus on understanding another person. The focus shifts to Love/Listening away from criticism and fear.


I have failed in that kind of situation — the lover, the couch, the opportunity for verbal intimacy — and yet learned big lessons through getting it painfully wrong. In the moment that we can disengage from criticism, we can apply the lesson of breathing and disengaging from the specter of criticism. We learn step one, then step two, and then we can learn to lean into Intimacy. It takes time, and the time is well worth taking.

In a moment in which you might recoil from your partner in defensiveness, rather, you take a step closer to your partner in vulnerability, in curiosity, and love.

Consider this:

Can you think of an instance in which you got derailed by reacting to criticism and might have missed an opportunity for deeper understanding, vulnerability, and intimacy? Could you have shared your innermost self then, but threw up your shield instead? Could you have shown compassion for someone attempting to express himself who got it clumsily wrong? Could benefit of the doubt have played a greater role?

-be kind to yourself.

* * *

Act 1: How Well Do You Handle Criticism?

Act 2: Knowing Good Criticism from Bad

Act: 3 Making Peace with Criticism


  1. Surianna says:

    I just wanted to thank you for writing such insightful and helpful posts on criticism. You could have been writing about me. I take criticism as a reflection of my entire being. Having grown up in an environment that was very critical/judgemental, I find a your tips extremely helpful. When I see the balloon, I go into panic mode. I have some work to do.

    • Amy Eden says:

      Thanks! Criticism is such a big, loaded, and important topic that, to cover it in a post, it required three parts to cover it all! I’m not sure it’s even “done” now. It’s been incredibly helpful, in my own journey, to categorize types of criticism. And to be kind to myself when I’m trying to deal with what FEELS like criticism, but the person it’s coming from isn’t buying that. Those kinds of arguments (“I feel criticized,” and “I’m NOT criticizing you,” or “You’re SO SENSITIVE…I feel like I’m walking on eggshells around you…” Ever heard that kind of thing? Or been in that kind of catch-22 argument, trying to get heard?!) That stops happening, for what it’s worth. It really and truly does. If you’ve started to cultivate self-care, you’ll get there! It’s very freeing once you can get out from under entanglements with perceived criticism, which feels the worst. Solving that issue happens much more easily when self-esteem is strong. You’ll feel more like You and lighter and lighter (less heavy with shame) as time goes on. :-)

  2. Jill says:

    Thank you Amy! Your words speak exactly to it. I like the ballon metaphor and this is what I will try to imagine. All I need is a split second of space (maybe just a moment to notice the balloon!) between being triggered by a perceived criticism and reacting, so that i can make a level headed action rather than a fiery reaction. I am learning more about our various internal “parts” through the Intra Family Systems (IFS) model which provides a helpful context for these overreactions — they are protective parts that worked really hard for us as kids but probably can relax now that we are adults. Beneath is a vulnerability to be explored and nurtured. I treasure your wisdom, your patience, and your ability to articulate. Bless you!

    • Amy Eden says:

      Jill, exactly – exactly! It’s getting that space between Event and Action where we catch our breath, gain perspective that soothes our fight/flight response, and we heal and learn then – as well as come into our power. I write Event and Action rather than Event and Reaction because what we want is to have a genuine, fear-free experience of the “attack” or “criticism.”

      I was just talking about this with a friend today. We were marveling at the “Ahhhh ha!” of how very different the stage of reaction/flight is from the stage of perspective. It’s a matter of being sure to get enough distance to see things for what they are, in a non-reactive frame of mind. That’s the key. That comes first. I was reflecting that it’s like at first, I’m scared by the unknown ‘something,’ some kind of large and suffocating and very scary thing clinging to my face — blinding me and making me feel like my life is threatened. Sensing great urgency (react now!). Then, through the act of peeling it away from my face and holding it at arm’s length, and breathing because there’s no urgency anymore, I finally see — oh! — it’s a baby octopus. It’s just a baby octopus, I can see it now! I didn’t know it was a baby octopus. I THOUGHT IT WAS THE END OF THE WORLD.

      Thanks for comment. I’m going to read up on Intra Family Systems. If you know of good links or books on IFS, feel free to share.

      Be kind to yourself. Give yourself space and time. There’s no rush.

  3. Jill says:

    Check out the new Pixar movie, Inside Out. I haven’t seen it yet but i believe it is loosely based on IFS. Also,
    It is so wonderful that you spend time identifying and feeling the baby octopus on your face! I am learning that this is part of the healing process. How it manifests in our body is different for different people. My experience is heat and pressure in my chest and seeing lots of red. Panic!!

    • Amy Eden says:

      That is wild, a Pixar movie based on IFS. Cool.
      And thank you for the URL.

      Some of the current parenting advice is to help young kids understand their feelings by modeling them, like saying, “It sounds like you might feel angry or frustrated,” as a way to help them link-up how they feel, help them match-up the name of the feeling. As I re-parent and self-parent myself, that’s a part of what I’m doing. It’s similar to what we’re talking about, that pairing-up of a bodily sensation and naming the feeling. I love what you wrote about red and heat. Yes! (This kind of thing needs to be done really carefully with kids because only they know how they feel, just as only we know how we feel. And kinds (and us) are sensitive to the opposite: I overhear parents say things like, “you’re not hurt, you’re okay, there’s no reason to cry,” and while their intentions are probably good, I fear that leads to self-doubt in the long run for the kid.) Is it okay to cry? Does this situation/feeling warrant tears? Sure! Yes! If it’s true, yes

  4. Eileen says:

    I SO needed to read this series right now. Criticism is one of the hardest things for me to deal with! Baby stepping toward better…

    Thanks for writing this!

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