I remember the first time I had my writing published online. It was for my favorite website and I couldn’t be more excited. I had dreamed about the moment for days as I spent far too much time analyzing each word and sentence to make sure I had the best piece of work I could possibly produce.
Finally it was ready and I sent it in excited to receive all the congratulatory comments. I refreshed the page over and over on the day it was going live, excited to see my face and words online somewhere other than my own blog.
It went up and I waited for the first comments to come in. It was going to be flooded with admirers and the site was probably going to crash, so incredibly fresh and innovative were my ideas.
Then the first comment finally arrived. Here it was. My life was going to change forever.
“This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever read”
Obviously I must have clicked on the wrong post. But no, that was definitely my picture in the top corner and those were definitely my words in the post.
This was not the initial reaction I had anticipated or indeed hoped for. But there it was.
Looking back, I am incredibly grateful that this was my first comment. Who wants people to like what you do anyway right?….RIGHT?! I have written many more blog posts since then and I’ve received probably a 50/50 split between positive and negative comments.
I’ve been called arrogant, dumb, a heretic and many other names.
Sometimes it doesn’t matter how often you receive criticism, it’s difficult to not let it stick. I can receive ten positive comments and one negative and it’s that one negative that sticks with you.
It hits you in the gut. It doesn’t matter if it comes from someone completely anonymous; you know, those Twitter egg people. It still gets me every time. I overthink it and spend far too much time mentally getting back at them and putting them down with a quick witted response that there will be no coming back from.
It consumes me.
Slowly though, I’ve been learning there is a better way to react to criticism. First it’s important for me to sit with whatever it is I experience when I’m criticized. You see I’ve started to see that facing criticism is actually a healthy endeavor. That ultimately there is no positive or negative criticism, just transformative.
What would happen if instead of seeing praise as positive and criticism as negative we see it all as an opportunity to learn something? When I say this, I don’t simply mean that criticism keeps us humble. I mean that criticism gives us a chance of responding with Grace to the critic.
Because for anyone who has ever worked in customer service will attest, the customer is not always right.
For me at least, criticism doesn’t exist in a vacuum but amongst an experience of addiction, co dependency and fear.
Here’s what I mean by that.
As a former addict, an addict who is a Christian at that, anytime my addiction took a hold of me it evoked strong feelings of shame and guilt. These feelings similarly didn’t exist in a vacuum but in the middle of relationships and how I responded to everyday life. So you know, everything. It produced a strong co dependency in me where I needed others to be cool with me, since I was definitely not cool with myself.
Which means criticism took on extra power. Even if I knew deep down that the criticism I received wasn’t true or that the critic didn’t really know me and my intentions; my co dependency wouldn’t allow me to truly believe that. Furthermore, I wasn’t even able to split the honest concern from the trolls. All I knew was that I was being “attacked” and because I was an addict and carried huge amounts of shame with me everywhere, it was probably justified.
Yes, this is the creepiest image I could find.
They were probably right.
This occurred in every single sphere of my life.
Our ego kicks in heavily when we’re criticized. Now, I’m not simply talking about the typical idea of ego in terms of thinking “I’m great” or “I deserve to be respected because of how awesome I am”. Those are simply symptoms of the larger psychological idea of our ego’s job as a protection from pain.
We don’t like criticism because it threatens our very understanding of the world and our place in it.
Take for instance, how anytime a traditional Christian belief is questioned and the reaction that provokes. It’s ultimately a reaction of fear. What if my understanding of God and the world around me is a little shaky? It doesn’t help that this often occurs in a sub conscious way. If we’re so sure that our beliefs are correct there is no need to react with fear. It doesn’t have to hit us.
But it does. Every time. Right in the gut.
And if you’re an addict also, that punch in the gut is also a line of people taking their turn slapping you in the face.
So everything suffered. My relationships, my creativity, my self esteem. The criticism of my beliefs or words even when they were supplied from people who I know love me and care for me, were taken as a damnation on my very existence. Under everything was a deeply engrained belief that I am a bad person, so any criticism was just a timely reminder of this ‘truth’.
Even praise or affirmation didn’t help, not only because shame was so deeply engrained but also because when shame is a constant voice whispering into your ear, praise is seen as misguided or uninformed.
Criticism stifled my creativity because it reminded me of how much of a horrible person I was.
Praise and encouragement stifled it because shame knew better than the person offering encouragement. Like searching for an exit from a maze, only to find yourself back in the same spot 20 minutes later.
Now I allow myself to enjoy praise and criticism. They don’t have to be my enemies. I can dance with them.
Inevitably, as the shame and co dependency from my addictions began to heal so did my creativity. It came from a purer place. I was able to be proud of my work even if some didn’t agree with it. I didn’t and don’t have to be correct all the time.
We don’t need to be afraid anymore. We can develop a greater capacity for Love.
Many Christians misconstrue the idea that we need to be humble as meaning not being proud of our work or being excited that others are benefiting from it.
And for a long time that was how my belief functioned.
Yet my beliefs about the world instructed me to react with my back up anytime some one disagreed with me too. Whether that was my theology, views on justice, politics or anything else. If one part was wrong, then everything must have been wrong so I carried a huge pile of guilt and a deep feeling in the pit of my stomach full of anxiety and worry. Instead of trusting my gut, I assumed that it was lying to my face.
The secrets of addiction, compounded with any inkling of criticism led to me shutting down. I stopped enjoying music, art, relationships, life. The real me, the one I recognized from a distant past became ever more a blip on the horizon. It dawned on me that there are groups of people in my life who don’t know me at all. On one hand that makes me sad but honestly, mostly excited for what will come from this day forward.
Now, things are different. As I’ve healed from addiction I am learning to accept that being wrong does not require me to give up on my journey. I am beginning to view Grace in a new light too. It’s not about saving me to go to Heaven, rather it’s a kaleidoscope of vibrant colors that allows me to interact with everyone, no matter who you are or where you’ve been.
Regardless of your political or theological views.
It even makes room for Arsenal supporters.
I don’t need you to like me or like my work anymore. I’m ok with you calling me a heretic. I’m ok with you not getting it. I don’t need to persuade you. It may just not be for you right now.
If my work helps or encourages you I am thankful and grateful and I would love to continue that with you. I want to help you explore your own journey and discover your own creativity.
Because I don’t think I’m an asshole anymore, it means I don’t have to think you are either.
I am ready to move forward.
My gut was once my enemy.
Now it’s my best friend.