The joys of criticism (NOT!)
People in PR and marketing say a book is a great way to appear ‘credible’ in the real world. So in ~2015 I wrote a cookbook. Long story short, I still have many, MANY copies in my garage from the self-publishing experience.
Take 2: In 2019, I wrote another book: ‘A Girl’s Guide to Body Confidence’, but this time, I was SURE I was going to be discovered by a literary agent who would say “I’ve been waiting for a book like yours, you’re amazing. The world needs you. We are going to represent you as your publisher”.
Now, the reviews. Or should I say, review.
Has that ever happened to you? Do you ever feel like you’re constantly seeking approval from others, or like you can’t fully be yourself around certain people? Many people do.
But just because something is common doesn’t mean we should accept it as the norm.
Our approval seeking brain
Our brains are hardwired to seek out social approval and avoid social rejection. When we receive negative feedback or criticism from others, it can trigger feelings of anxiety, shame, and self-doubt. This can be especially true when the criticism comes from people who are important to us, such as family members, friends, or colleagues, making us feel ‘kicked out’ or unimportant.
One study that supports this idea was conducted by researchers at the University of Colorado in 2020. Participants underwent a brain scan while playing a virtual ball-tossing game. During the game, some participants were excluded from the game, which led to increased activity in the same brain regions associated with physical pain.
Furthermore, the study found that individuals who were more sensitive to social rejection in their daily lives showed greater brain activity in response to social exclusion during the game.
Fight, Flight, Freeze or… Fawn?
Whether you learnt it in school or through a viral TikTok video, you would have likely heard of the concept of ‘Fight, Flight or Freeze’. But have you heard of their lesser-known baby sister – fawn?
Yes, like Bambi… but not.
The term “fawn response” was coined by therapist Pete Walker to describe a coping mechanism that some people use in response to the stress of trauma.
Basically, when someone has a fawn response, they tend to prioritise the needs of others over their own, even to the point of ignoring their own boundaries. They may also fear rejection or abandonment if they do not comply with others’ wishes. This can happen when someone doesn’t feel very confident or secure in themselves and their own needs – as individuals who do not value themselves may feel that their own needs and desires are not important enough to assert. In other words, individuals who do not value themselves may be more likely to exhibit a fawn response as a way to cope with their underlying feelings of inadequacy or unworthiness. By prioritising others over themselves, they may feel a temporary sense of validation or acceptance, even if it comes at the cost of their own well-being.
It’s a survival instinct of sorts, and you can easily see how this can happen when you are highly dependent on the opinion of others. We perceive the negative judgement of others as a type of danger or threat.
While the pattern of behaviour described by Pete Walker was more so related to discussions around childhood abuse or neglect, I think it’s highly applicable in regards to fear of judgement in the social context (including at work) as it can lead to difficulty setting boundaries, low self-esteem, and an inability to assert oneself.
How to detach from judgment
So I think it’s clear: letting other people’s opinions control our thoughts and actions is a surefire way to limit our own potential. When we allow ourselves to be held back by what other people think, we essentially give away our power and agency. It’s kind of like that scary guy in the movie Gladiator who determined life or death based on the direction of his thumb:
So how can we learn to let go of other people’s opinions and start living life on our own terms? Here are a few tips:
#1 Practice self-awareness:
The first step in overcoming the fear of other people’s opinions is to become more self-aware. Start paying attention to the thoughts and feelings that come up when you receive negative feedback or criticism. Ask yourself:
- How does it feel to be me right now?
- Why do I feel this way?
- Is this criticism really about me, or is it more about the other person’s own insecurities or biases?
By becoming more self-aware, you can start to separate your own beliefs and values from those of others.
P.S. A great way to build up your emotional vocabulary is an emotion chart. You can easily Google one, or download mine below ⬇️
Emotional Agility Download
#2 Build self-esteem:
Another key to overcoming the fear of other people’s opinions is to build your own self-esteem and self-confidence through self-compassion – that is, treating yourself with the same kindness and understanding that you would offer to a good friend. Dr Kristen Neff is a leader in this field – and has lots of resources on her website.
#3 Surround yourself with positive influences:
It’s important to surround yourself with people who uplift and support you, rather than tear you down. Seek out friends, mentors, and colleagues who believe in your abilities and encourage you to pursue your goals. And remember, just because someone is important to you doesn’t mean you have to take their opinions to heart. It’s okay to respectfully disagree with others and make your own decisions.
#4 Embrace failure:
Finally, while it never feels great, it’s important to remember that failure and rejection are a natural part of the learning process. A baby couldn’t learn how to walk without falling down. When we allow ourselves to be held back by the fear of other people’s opinions, we’re essentially avoiding the possibility of failure. But the truth is, failure is often a necessary step on the path to success. Instead of avoiding failure, try embracing it as an opportunity for growth and learning and make sure to surround yourself with positive influences (#3) along the way.
Who likes peaches?
Letting go of the fear of other people’s opinions and living life on your own terms is not going to happen after you finish this blog (but if it does can you let me know?) It’s a process – a LONG process. Be patient with yourself, and keep working towards building your own sense of self-worth and self-confidence.
And here’s something you might not expect – but I think is the most important nugget of this blog:
It’s ok to feel good (and even GREAT) when someone validates you!
Remember those two people who didn’t like my book, there were hundreds of others that loved it – and I celebrated every DM and email that I received.
And then, this happened. I was reading an article online about self-esteem and BOOM! about halfway down the page – THERE WAS MY BOOK!
And it was recommended by EMINENT AUTHORS AND RESEARCHERS!!!
So, remember, your life is your own – don’t let anyone else tell you how to live it. Because at the end of the day, you could be the juiciest peach in the world, and some people just don’t like peaches. But also celebrate when people celebrate you – because girl, you’re worth the party.
Dr Kat xoxo
- Leary, M. R., Tambor, E. S., Terdal, S. K., & Downs, D. L. (1995). Self-esteem as an interpersonal monitor: The sociometer hypothesis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 68(3), 518–530. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-35184.108.40.2068
- Neff, K. D. (2003). Self-compassion: An alternative conceptualization of a healthy attitude toward oneself. Self and Identity, 2(2), 85–101. https://doi.org/10.1080/15298860309032
- Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55(1), 68–78. https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066x.55.1.68
- Sassenberg, K., & Woltin, K.-A. (2019). Fear of social exclusion: The development of a new measure and its relationship to social anxiety, need to belong, and attachment style. Journal of Personality Assessment, 101(6), 645–655. https://doi.org/10.1080/00223891.2018.1504278