How to Cope with Criticism, even as a Highly Sensitive People-Pleaser

A dear friend of mine recently received a very nasty email from one of her clients. In the email, the client...

A dear friend of mine recently received a very nasty email from one of her clients. In the email, the client blamed her for being the reason why everything in that client’s business was failing. An absurd accusation, considering my friend had done just the opposite by trying to warn her client about her lack of commitment towards her own business. And yet, my friend took it very personally. To her, it almost felt like the world was ending. That email made her feel like a bad person. In a very open and deep conversation we had about it, we explored why people-pleasers are so sensitive to criticism.

My friend is an amazing woman. She has two children, helps her husband out with his business, takes care of her household, works with clients, and helps entrepreneurs to be successful online. And she does all that without ever complaining. She’s always positive. Truly, she’s an admirable person, and I really love her. So why could one criticizing email, itself the result of my friend trying to help her client, make her feel so bad? How can someone who achieves and does so much, who is so inspiring and good, be so devastated by the opinion of one single individual? Well, simply… she’s a people-pleaser. Just like me.

As people-pleasers, when someone criticizes us, sends us bad vibes, is angry at us, or gives us any sort of negative attention, we feel horrible. We take things personally. Always. And after we’ve overcome the shock of the attack, we only have one idea in mind: how can we make things right? How can we get this person to like us again, bring the scales back into balance, and make the nastiness go away? Because, for people-pleasers, any form of negativity is scary. We think it means we won’t be loved… that we are not worthy, not good enough.

That fear is what makes us want to please everyone to begin with. And it’s a very difficult and tiring way to spend our days, pleasing everyone being an impossible task to undertake. We can never please everyone: it’s simply impossible. The energy we put into trying to please others, and the worry that comes from receiving nastiness (like the email my friend got), is what keeps us from living happy and fulfilled lives.

Being so highly sensitive to criticism is difficult, and gives us a lot of pain. It also makes us really bad at listening to positive feedback. Believe me, I know (and so does my husband, the poor fellow). But along my journey to self-love, I learned a few strategies that really help ease the sting of nastiness, put things into perspective, and allow me to move past any type of criticism and into positive action.

How to cope with criticism, even as a highly sensitive people-pleaser

1. Never take anything personally.

I owe this one to Don Miguel Ruiz from “The Four Agreements”. This is probably one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever been given, and a mantra for a people-pleaser like me. People-pleasers always take things personally. That is the birthing ground of all the pain and suffering that ensues. So, being able to detach yourself from the situation and to look at things from a different perspective can be really liberating. It won’t always work, and it won’t make the sting go away completely, but it will ease your heart and calm you down.

2. Whatever someone says about you doesn’t define who you are.

By the age of 25, we have all lived close to ten thousand hours. Now, imagine how many experiences that amounts to. Or how many words were spoken during that time. Whatever your path, these are likely to be big numbers. Remember these numbers when the words of one single individual make you question yourself. You’ll know in your heart that what you’re feeling just isn’t real.

3. Never worry alone.

I’ve gotten this little gem from Dr. Hallowell. And for me, it’s a magic worker. One of the biggest issues that I have as a people-pleaser is the ‘worry chatter’ inside my head. When I encounter a negative experience, the chatter begins. And as time goes by, the louder it gets. The only way to silence it is to talk about it with someone else – a real person, that is, not the little mean girl in my head! So now, when something bothers me, I’ve made it a habit to stop whatever I’m doing and pick up the phone to call a friend. This simple act of expressing how I feel and telling my story shuts that little mean thing right up. Every time.

4. Cover yourself with a blanket of self-love.

I owe a lot to Julie Parker, life coach extraordinaire and founder of the Beautiful You Life Coaching Academy. More than she will ever know. But if I had to single out one thing, I would say that she’s the person who gave me permission to love myself. It transformed me and made me into the woman I am today. Now it’s my turn to pass those wise words down to you. Whenever you feel hurt, sad, all alone, attacked, misunderstood, or any other negative emotion, cover yourself with a blanket of self-love. Just be good to you, nurture yourself, and be compassionate for the vulnerable and real person who you are.

5. Be open to different perspectives. There is always a lesson.

As a final note, it’s important to stress that not all criticism is bad or meant to hurt. On the contrary, most of the time, criticism is nothing more than good-intentioned, pragmatic feedback, meant to help you move forward. And that’s often difficult to grasp for people-pleasers. I invite you to try and be open to the perspectives of those who offer their opinions, and see if there’s a lesson in there that you could learn. More often than not, there will be, and it will be something valuable that, if taken to heart, could make a big difference in your life.

But if it’s really just plain old cheap and easy criticism for the sake of being nasty…. Well, there’s a lesson there, as well. That person is not your people, and it is simply time for you to move on.

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