One thing I have always had difficulty with is handling criticism – to me criticism is an attack on my abilities, my knowledge or my integrity. I never handled it well and, while I have now made inroads into accepting that criticism is part of life and that some criticism is positive, I still have trouble accepting it.
As far as I see it, there are three types of criticism:
1. Positive. This is well meaning criticism provided by friends and allies in an attempt to make things better or easier for the recipient. A comment from a friend such as, “Hey, I saw your show last night and thought it was great. You know I think if you were to do (something or the other) then it might be a touch easier for the audience to understand what you are getting at.”
Such a comment can then be considered and accepted or rejected on its merits. It is delivered in a nonthreatening and noncombative manner and with good intentions. I can accept this type of criticism and like to discuss the suggestions with the provider and see if the suggestion can be included or if there is a valid reason why not to accept it.
2. Negative. A clear attack on me or the subject matter at hand and designed to damage or hurt in its delivery. “That bit in the show about (such and such) is really crap and you shouldn’t include it anymore.” With no justification for the comment nor any suggestion for improvement. It is designed to hurt or throw doubt into the delivery of the subject matter and is usually done because of jealousy or ignorance. People do not realise just how damaging these comments are – I have been involved in shows where 99 out of 100 audience members leave happy and contented because they have been highly entertained by a quality entertainer but if just one person is heard to complain about something he or she didn’t like from the show, it is that comment that is remembered. The other 99% of satisfied customers are forgotten and this 1% is taken to heart and ruins the feeling completely. It is the power of negativity over positivity.
3. Ill-informed. Some people provide advice and criticism with the best of intentions but do not understand the reasoning behind why something is done in a particular way. For example an audience member coming up to me after a show might say something like, “I loved the show but thought the lighting was not very good as I couldn’t see the band members faces very well – you need to get some extra lighting to show them”. What they don’t realise is that the band is not really a part of the show – they are included to provide the backing music for the main singer and are deliberately kept “under toned” to ensure the audience is focussed on the main performer. In other cases the band may need to be lit the way they are so they can see the charts to read the music. Comments made by people to try to improve a show like this are good in that they get the audience members to engage with production staff or cast with what they see as positive criticism but they don’t understand that this has already been considered and dismissed.
This then leads on to everybody believing they are an expert on your subject or project. They have a little bit of knowledge and a rudimentary understanding of things but do not know the intricacies or detailed information that has been the reason behind decisions. This is particularly of interest in the field of anxiety, depression and PTSD – everybody seems to think they are an expert in the field and are able to provide advice to anybody suffering the conditions. I know before I was diagnosed I had an “expert” opinion of it and was happy to provide armchair advice to anyone I saw as being soft and weak – “They just need to toughen up and get over it” I would say out of ignorance. But this was because I knew what was going on in my head and I thought I was surviving okay, therefore, they can do it as well. In fact before being diagnosed, I didn’t know there was anything wrong with me, I thought all the crap gong on in my head was what went on in everybody’s heads – I thought it was normal. Evidently it isn’t.
So the lesson here is that many people are armchair experts – they think they know what is best without really understanding what is going on. They are happy to provide unsolicited advice in an attempt to help the person in trouble. Sadly, while meant in the best possible way, the advice generally doesn’t help the individual because it is either a) from a family member or close friend whose advice will be ignored or b) from someone whose opinion is not valued and once again ignored. In some cases the advice might be taken on board and cause more problems than it actually solves.
The key point is that friends, family and even enemies will provide advice about how you need to behave – in most cases it will be meant in the best possible way but it is not always provided from an educated and understanding point of view. That is why it is important to seek advice from experts in the field – I know this is not an easy thing to do but, from my experience, the moment I first contacted a help line to seek support, my life changed for the better – they understood what was going on in my head and they provided positive and valuable advice that put me firmly on the road to recovery.
So do not be afraid to call a help line and seek support – or go to your GP and ask to be referred to an expert. I know it is a really difficult thing to do in the first instance but it is the best thing you can do.