You’re WRONG! Why being criticized hurts so bad

Several weeks ago, I received a whole lot of feedback about my work.  It wasn’t solicited; it just was a by-product of an information-gathering and connection-strengthening outreach the leaders did with the church.  As the pastor, I can appreciate how meaningful it was for folk to get a call from a church leader just to chat.  How great it would be to know you are known; that you matter; that your opinions count; that the church cares.

However, it didn’t feel so great to me as a person to get some of the feedback.  Thankfully, most of it was great.  But I’m guessing that like me, you have trouble balancing out all the many comments like, “Amy is great!” with one long paragraph of all the things one person thinks I don’t do well.  Bad sticks to our brains like Velcro, because we need to learn once and well where the danger is.  Good slides right off like a well-seasoned cast iron pan, because our survival is not dependent on those lessons.  I get that, too.

But what I was struggling with is why it hurts so bad!  No one likes to receive criticism, and in the unique position as a semi-public figure whose supposed to be holy and good, that criticism is public, for the world to see.  And so it easily triggers the shame part of our emotional repertoire.

What good is that?  Why are our brains so trigger-happy when it comes to pulling the shame card?  And that’s when I realized, with a whole lot of help from Brene Brown’s writings on shame and vulnerability ” title=”Brene Brown’s TED talk”>(click her TED talk) :  My brain registers the criticism as a threat to my belonging in this group.  Throughout time, having a group, a gang, your “peeps,” a tribe,  meant your chances of survival were hugely increased.  No one little hominid was going to make it in this harsh cold world all by their lonesome.  So our brains are quite tuned to any feedback that threatens our connection and belonging in a group.

Seriously?  One crabby parishioner, who would probably tell Jesus HE didn’t spend enough time with the Seniors and the Youth, has the capacity to send my brain into a tizzy about my survival?  Really?  Yes, welcome to the 21st century wooly mammoth waiting to pounce.  ImageBut thankfully, I also have a prefrontal cortex, which can analyze these feelings and decide if those comments and that feedback are worth worrying about. And guess what.  They aren’t.  Thanks for sharing, but no thanks.  Gonna leave that criticism right there and not carry it around.   I think I’ll leave that shame behind.  I’ve got other peeps to make sure I live another day.


2 thoughts on “You’re WRONG! Why being criticized hurts so bad

  1. This post resonates with me. As a teacher I have the same experience every February when I receive my student surveys from the administration. I easily could predict who might say what on the surveys, but the negative comments still dominate my mind long after the surveys have been buried. What frustrates me about this process is that letting go of that negative feedback or refusing to dwell on it is so very complicated. Why is it so hard to leave that shame behind? Logically we can process it and make decisions about how to respond, but negative feedback doesn’t just camp out in our minds, it actually seems to brand our minds. One year I had one out of forty students describe me as a teacher who did not respect the students. Now, every time the topic of respect surfaces in my life–socially or professionally–I think about that survey and about that student. I, too, am grateful that we can feel what we feel and then logically remind ourselves that our feelings of shame may not be based on the most substantial experience. But it seems to me that this experience of feeling branded or scarred by an interaction or a bit of feedback might have some theological connection to our abilities to understand and truly accept the notion of grace. If we can’t let got of the shame that comes from perhaps insubstantial criticism, how do we let go of feelings of shame and guilt related to actual and real disappointments or failings? Are our brains wired to handle that?

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