I recently blogged about all of the ways in which I am seeing healing and growth in my own personal journey using Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), determination, and trusting in the process. You can read about those, correlated to the symptoms of BPD, here.
I still, of course, face challenges. This morning I received an upsetting email. It was from someone who was upset with me for a number of reasons, mostly having to do with her self-revelation that she feels she is lacking much in her life, including the support that she desperately feels she needs and deserves. For that, I felt compassion and empathy. Her message went on to criticize me in a number of ways, many of which I read as having more to do with her own current problems than really about me, but it rattled me none the less. I felt badly that someone felt this way. I knew I had to put up my boundary bubble and NOT take on this person's reaction as "the truth" of my experience. Just because she felt it and expressed it vividly did NOT mean that it her perception and feelings were true for ME. This is a huge issue for a lot of us with BPD -- discovering where others end and where we begin -- but it has been an essential part of healing for me and many others. Perhaps you have noticed improvements in your ability to cope as you learn to implement and enforce boundaries in your life.
I've talked before about how it used to be intolerable for me to cope with someone not liking me or what I do. I would bend and twist and morph to try to please everyone, because it meant more to me to please others, retain their admiration, and not "rock the boat," than it did to figure out who I really am, what I want, what my values are, and how I choose to live those out -- not to mention the need for taking care of myself when attacked verbally. Sound selfish? It might if we've spent most of our lives focusing on keeping everyone else happy, content, and okay and little attention directing that same love and care toward ourselves.
It isn't selfish. It's part of healing.
If I'd received this critical message even two years ago, I probably would have acted impulsively -- maybe even as extremely as removing my blog. I'm not that same person.
Can you relate? Do you feel a need to compensate for others criticisms? Do you find, as an emotionally sensitive person, that you want to accommodate others and make them happy, because knowing they are unhappy with you causes distress?
Coping Effectively With Criticism
I'm not going to say that this person's email didn't upset or hurt me, because it did. But with continued reflection, I brought my Wise Mind online. You can try this the next time you find yourself reacting to criticism:
- Sometimes criticism is constructive. Being emotionally sensitive may mean that our initial reaction is to become alarmed or upset by criticism, seeing it as an attack on who or as rejection. We can usually tell the intention behind the critical remark given the context in which it is delivered. Sometimes we also need to ask for further clarification.
- Check your sensitivity level. Might you be reading more into the critique because you are feeling particularly vulnerable for other reasons? (I personally received some very upsetting, hugely triggering information about a friend of the family yesterday, and I also felt a little bit triggered by a friend's story, though ultimately I found it healing and helpful. I was in a space to receive things from an even more sensitive perspective than usual when I opened that message.)
- Check intentions when you can. When criticism is clearly given to make you feel bad or judge you, you can often notice other messages in the person's communication that can help you see that the criticism is less about you and more about the other person. They may be hurting, lacking, feeling jealous, or seeking approval or validation. If you pick up on this, try being a little bit kind, but also set up a boundary that you do not accept being treated badly when someone else is feeling badly about themselves.
- Use your DBT skills to cope with the distress. Rather than making matter worse, turn to your Distress Tolerance and Self-Soothing skills to care for yourself until the intensity of your reaction diminishes. The intense emotions and reactions that can come up with receiving criticism WILL pass. No matter how intense they feel right now, I've found it's better to wait a bit before taking any action, as we often regret behaviors that we act out in the heat of the moment and as a reaction to feeling hurt or attacked.
Is coping effectively with criticism an issue for you? How do you cope? How might you use some of the ideas here to cope more effectively in the future?
Thanks for reading.
You may also enjoy reading this post: Beware of Energy Vampires: Boundaries and Borderline Personality Disorder