Most of us can accept compliments. Some of us can accept suggestions. One or two of us can bend our minds around a completely new idea.

But when it comes to criticism, that’s where most of us shut the door and hang up the “closed” sign. After all, who wants to hear the sentences that begin with, “You want to know what your problem is?” or “If only you would just change (fill in the blank) about yourself”?

Few people learn how to accept (or give) criticism gracefully as they are growing up. Many may have been criticized harshly or told things for their “own good” that were hurtful rather than helpful. We learn to dread anything that seems judgmental or critical.

Yet, if we can learn to truly listen to criticism about ourselves, we open the door to possibility. Learning to accept and use criticism can be one of the most constructive and profound tools to change ourselves and improve our relationships with others. Not only can we learn more about who we are and how others see us, but we may also learn that it’s okay not to be perfect. And, as a bonus, we may learn that people will love us anyway, warts and all.

Criticism as Opportunity

Bernie Siegel, author and physician writes that criticism is an opportunity to become a better person. “When you feel inadequate or imperfect, criticism is threatening and makes you feel that you have to defend yourself. When you are secure—not perfect, but secure—you can listen to the criticism and consider its value.”

Byron Katie, author of Loving What Is, calls criticism “a powerful tool for self-realization and growth.” She suggests that when we are criticized for being wrong, unkind, uncaring, etc., we should ask ourselves if the criticism is true. If we can accept the truth without stress or pain, we free ourselves from trying to hide who we are from others. We know our faults and we accept them and, therefore, criticism from others cannot hurt us. “When you are genuinely humble, there is no place for criticism to stick,” she writes.

Learning from Our Children

Parents are often among the most criticized group of people. Their parenting choices are targeted by relatives, other parents, strangers and parenting “experts.” And when their children are old enough to speak, they join in the chorus! But of all the voices, it may be our children who offer us the most valuable criticism because they see us at our most vulnerable and unguarded. Children—especially teens—will tell us exactly what they think, in unadorned, sometimes painfully honest, language. If we are able as parents to drop our authority roles and our belief that we know better because we are older/wiser/better, we can learn some awe-inspiring truths about ourselves. (And yes, it will hurt at times!) By doing this, we also model the art of accepting criticism—a valuable skill for our children as they grow up.

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