Day 283 : Take that Criticism With a Smile!

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Yesterday I Zoomed (yes, that’s a new verb) with my PhD advisor, who gave me much awaited feedback on the final chapter of my dissertation,

As many of you know, I had been struggling for months to write it, and handed in about a week ago. Whereas she loved chapter 3, she asked me to rework chapter 4 and send it to her in a couple of weeks. Gulp. My initial reaction was a great big internal “NoooooOOOOoooooOOOooooOOOOoooOOOOoo”!

The last thing I want is to have to face that giant blob again.

Of course, now that the overwhelming disappointment has faded, I can see that her feedback was constructive. Actually, the parallel with the other areas of my life are not merely striking, they’re almost ironic.

Her main point is that she wants me to be braver and state my ideas loudly and clearly instead of drowning them in an ocean of references and quotes. She wants be to be more argumentative, or as she put it, “polemical”. LOL

In other terms, she wants me to get over my self-consciousness and insecurities, and stand up for my ideas. This has been my struggle all throughout academia, and the main reason for which I want to get out. For almost 10 years now I’ve dragged around a severe case of impostor’s syndrome which makes me cower and hide behind the thoughts of others instead of stating my own opinion. This, we are actually taught to do in the French system. In the USA I had to unlearn all that and slowly, timidly venture my own opinion, doing my best to ignore the counter-arguments that come to mind even before the initial idea is fully formulated. We laughed together on Zoom yesterday when I told my advisor she had identified my main Academic Neurosis and was giving me Academia-Therapy.

I am always amazed at how the mind works. My advisor’s feedback contained a lot of positive elements too (my favorite being “Your ideas are revolutionary, Anne”). But of course, all I could think about were the negative points, which haunted me all day. Believe me, I tried my best to accept. I meditated, read, engaged in positive self-talk, remembering that nobody and nothing is perfect. I reminded myself that giving constructive feedback is the job of the advisor, which takes away neither the value of my work nor my self-worth. As you all know, there can often be a huge gap between what we know (intellectually) and what we feel.

Still, I proudly acknowledged that this time last year, receiving this kind of feedback would have been (disproportionally) devastating for me, but that now, with 4 chapters under my belt, I am more solid and capable of taking it into consideration without completely crumbling to pieces.

Still, I was upset.

When my friend came over and saw the state I was in (which I would describe as “trying to keep it together in an elegant dignified manner, yet with tears streaming down my face”), he said that the intensity of my reaction showed that I was still suffering from PTSD from my childhood [and there I was, thinking I was doing well, reacting in a more composed manner than in my past]. By PTSD, he meant from growing up with a constantly dissatisfied, bitter, alcoholic mother. 

Several therapists have said I could be suffering from “complex PTSD”, but I often forget this and catch myself thinking there something wrong with me. First for not being perfect, then for my inability to let go of the perfectionism. Even at age 33 I can still hear my mother’s voice, telling me to stop being like this: “Oh Anne, get a grip, you’re such a drama queen and a hyperperfectionist, just like your mother. You’re too emotional, you make such a big deal of things, you have such low self esteem. Just stop”.

I can still remember how, having been the star pupil and top of the class for most of my life, when I was about 6 or 7, I was crying in the kitchen one evening because I couldn’t find my school notebook and couldn’t do my homework. Everything was the wrong way round: the child was freaking out about work and the PARENTS were telling the child to chill out and relax about it.

Sigh. 

I know the perfectionism is (and was) a coping mechanism to survive in an alcoholic household. 

Before my friend came over, I thought I was doing well by accepting the “imperfection” of my work, not fighting the tears, and sitting with the “humiliation”. By just letting it happen and observing it like a wave, or clouds, or a cloudy wave, or a wavy cloud. 

But my friend’s reaction showed me that my emotional difficulty/inability to take criticism is still not “normal”. And this is why despite all my efforts, I am really really dreading the PhD defense which is scheduled for September-October. A PhD defense is basically a 2 hour long extra-harsh-criticism-session. To which you must respond on the spot. And be calm and say smart things. The mere thought of it gives me anxiety. A year ago I couldn’t see myself surviving it without medication, a miracle, or drinking beforehand to loosen the inhibition. Today I am hoping to do it 100% sober, without supernatural intervention, with my own humble skills and resilience.

When (if) I survive that challenge, I will have proven to myself how far I have come. 

I guess the whole point of this ramble was that the more solid your foundations and your self-esteem, the easier it is to simply listen to criticism without getting defensive, falling apart, or becoming overwhelmed.

Then it struck me.

The same goes for compliments! Just listen, accept, take it in, neither cling nor push it away. And of course, when you are ready, let it go 🙂

I’ve learnt how to do it with compliments, I can learn with criticism.

Strength to all!!!!

Xxx

Anne

Published by nomorebeer

Learning how sobriety helps you ENJOY life.

21 thoughts on “Day 283 : Take that Criticism With a Smile!

  1. Not being a great student of “classrooms” (maybe they were different back in my day) I can’t imagine going through what you described. You have come a long way, girl! And absolutely agree that the more solid and secure one is, the less threatening the criticism is….. and great opportunity to learn opens up! Thank you for this great post Anne!💐

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  2. I am going it say something now which may or may nit be helpful, but what the hell, I’ll say it anyway. Personally I think there are very few people who would have been in this situation, sweating blood and tears creating a huge piece of work, and not felt devastation and heartbreak receiving feedback that it needs reworking. The logical attitude is that this is the nature of the beast, take it on the chin and stop making a fuss. The, dare I say it, ‘normal’ reaction is the emotions you felt. Any kind of criticism is hard to take. The sort of people who aren’t fazed by it are the sort of people who won’t reflect, self analyse and make necessary changes. It’s ok to feel upset and disappointed. Its even ok to feel attacked, angry or devastated. As long as you can then let go of that and make the changes you need to. That’s the process. You are doing it and you are awesome!

    Just my thoughts … for what they are worth. You will get there and you are not an impostor. It may feel like that at times but you deserve this. Be proud.
    Claire xxx 😘😘

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    1. Awwwww thank you Claire ❤ Yes, that was exactly my mindset: feel all the feels now, cry if necessary, whatever it takes, so as to then be able to let go rather than cling and hold on too tightly. I am trying my best but parts of me are still resisting. I am trying to remember that most of my friends in Academia have also confessed to similar insecurities – at least the more honest and less cocky ones. Thank you for your thoughts, which are worth $$$$$$$$ ❤ xxxx Anne

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  3. I’m kind of between you and Claire with this Anne – I think it is completely understandable to feel frustrated and upset at having to re work some of a big piece of work like a PhDas it’s like your baby but the difference I think it is when the constructive criticism of your work feels like or is experienced as an attack on the self, evidence of not being good enough as a person and shaming which can be behind perfectionism – often part of a compulsive attachment strategy where you’ve organised around trying to meet carers needs to prevent bad things happening through your achievements/performance so it’s full of anxiety but when it doesn’t work (in our cases as they drink anyway) so you fail – all unconscious of course – the overwhelming disappointment at not being able to ensure your caregiver is available for you becomes about not getting 100% on a test. Of course this gets reinforced by teachers and other adults as you are a compliant child and grown ups like that. (I was like this as a kid but then as a teenager switched to a more ‘f – you’ attitude but then have been caught between the anxst of what if I’m not good enough coupled with not trying as hard! It’s a split A/C strategy and can make you feel crazy with all the flip flopping but that’s me and this is about you!) – I think allowing yourself to experience the emotions was a big step and you’ve held on to the positive (revolutionary is a pretty big compliment!!) – now you just need to use your thinking to get it in perspective – she wouldn’t be doing her job if she said nothing negative, it’s one chapter not both, etc etc. Sorry for long reply – hope that helps and good luck! 💞💞💞

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    1. Hiiiiiii DGS !!! Thank you so much for this comment (please don’t apologize: the longer the better^^). Of course you’re 100% spot on with the analysis of the function and signification of the perfectionism. I would even add that it’s barely unconscious anymore lol: I’ve thought about it a LOT in therapy. But the pattern is still there. Today I’m at a place where I can observe it when it comes up and work on accepting /practicing being “imperfect” (i.e. human) a little bit, but the distress and difficulty in that process is still very much present. I still struggle with taking criticism (not just academic, also body-image, etc.) without my sense of self crumbling and have trouble not overachieving/allowing myself to “fail”. Most of the time I keep all the distress to myself, and people think that I am a self-confident person, but internally it’s extremely difficult. In fact, my current relationship has so many arguments because for the first time ever I am standing up for myself, and revealing less “likable” aspects, rather than be liked at all costs. My absolute dream is to experience some of that “f****k you” attitude that you mention.(I did try it a bit during teenager years, but I was still getting straight As the whole time so it barely counts^^). For now I can gently coax myself into ore self-acceptance and less caring about self-image, but I am still very far from not giving a f***k. Living in America for 6 years has tremendously helped though. American women have this “if you don’t like it, you can f****k off” attitude that I am definitely taking back home to France with 🙂 OK MUST STOP NEVER ENDING RESPONSE 🙂 ❤ ❤ ❤ Thank you again for commenting, I LOVED it 🙂 xxx ❤ Anne. PS. If you have any reading tips on self-acceptance let me know !

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      1. It’s great that it’s conscious now as that means you can work with it and cultivating a US style sassy attitude sounds great! I think the yoga journey helps a lot with self acceptance – the being here now stuff – I like Jack Kornfield – A path with Heart and I like Steven Coupes (May have spelt that wrong!) book too but can’t remember the name of it! He’s probable written loads! Xxx💞💞💞

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      2. Oooo yes I just finished Kornfield’s The Wise Heart this week – it was great 🙂 Yes, for sure yoga and loving kindness meditation work wonders 🙂 Even if it’s one small tiny wonder at a time xxxx Anne

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  4. I’m SO IMPRESSED!
    It is a LOT of work and pressure getting your PHD!
    I remember when I got my masters my advisor would mark up my papers, but the interesting thing was, I became a much better writer because of her feedback!
    xo
    Wendy

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    1. Yes, you are right Wendy 🙂 I am going to try harder to remember the positive aspects of this and see how she is helping me write a better project 🙂 xxx ❤ Anne

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  5. Anne- God it must have been hard work always being top of the class and a perfectionist. I wouldnt have a clue what that feels like. But you are aware of the whole psychology of it. What’s great is you put yourself through all this rather than run away. You’re brave and you confront the tough stuff. That, to me, is real growth. For some perfectionists the moment that their world is not perfect can feel like a liberation of sorts. And fuck impostor syndrome. It’s the one who dont feel like impostors who are the real impostors. Good luck! You’ll do great I’m sure. Jim x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. awwwww thanks Jim ❤ Yes, sometimes I catch glimpses of the liberation there is in completely letting go of the perfectionism. It's just glimpses for now, but I trust than one day I can just bathe in a gigantic ocean of "don't care what others think". Until then I will keep plodding along 🙂 xxx ❤ Anne

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  6. I studied in France for a year when I was in college, and I remember very well how extremely critical the professors were compared to our American counterparts back home! It stuck with me. For what it’s worth, I have had imposter’s syndrome my entire life/career, and I know a lot of people in academia who do, too! It does not help if you are being constantly overly criticized; I did a graduate degree at a place that “broke you down to build you back up,” and what ended up happening is, I lost all confidence in not only my writing, but myself (my belief that I could even be a writer). Not good. Eventually, as I got older (out of my 20s and 30s, into my 40s), I started to see my worth and realize that, um, everyone’s got an opinion and a lot of the critiques are kind of shit anyway! Haha. Good luck, bon courage, you got this.

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    1. Awwwww thank you ❤ Yes, the French system is kind of based on breaking students down and removing all traces of a personal opinion, replacing it with "knowledge". It's very very old school and vertical. And inhibiting. The American system really helped build some confidence back in me, and my advisor is actually the most gentle person in the world. I know that I am the one overreacting. Technically she didn't even say anything mean, just pointed out aspects that needed improvement and ways to do that, plus lots of encouragement that I could do it. I hope I will be able to grow like you and see my worth too… because by now I have learnt that no amount of university degrees will do it if I don't believe it myself 🙂 xxx ❤ Anne

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  7. Oh, I can so relate to this! I have an immediate feeling of devastation whenever I receive anything that could remotely be interpreted as criticism on something I’ve worked hard on. Thank goodness, we can always take the time we need to cry about it and then realize, maybe, it wasn’t actually so bad or … it was actually helpful! I also usually call my dad to talk these things over when I’m really not sure how to feel about it. It helps to have a level-headed and thoughtful person to bounce things off of when I need to! Take care and hugs! You can definitely do this!

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    1. Awwww thank you Leafy 🙂 I feel a lot less alone knowing others suffer from this too. Yes, I complained about my low self-esteem to my close friends and had a good cry and now after 2 days I feel like I have gathered enough strength to face this chapter again and start making changes to it. I hope we manage to become more solid so that feedback doesn’t hit us so hard in the future 🙂 xxx ❤ Anne

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  8. I feel this way about getting criticism too, it sticks to the bones in a way that compliments don’t. I’ve been trying to save the nice things people say and intentionally replay them in my head so that the negative comments don’t get all the airtime.

    One thing I learned through running was that it helps to think about the race as a celebration of all the training you put in, not as the only part of the process that matters. Hopefully when you get to your thesis defense you feel the same way about all the knowledge you’ve accumulated.

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    1. that’s a great tip! Recalling the compliments more often, and considering the “end goal” as just one part of the overall path. When I look back I can see that these 5 years have taught me SO MUCH and although it was hard, I don’t regret any of it. Thank you so much for helping me reframe the whole experience 🙂 ❤ xxx Anne

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