Category Archives: General

How to ask for help without feeling weird

‘I Have Your Back’

Reaching out for support is a skill we’re somehow expected to know, yet it’s never taught and rarely modeled for us. When you need help -no matter the kind of help you need, or the person you need it from -to simply state “Can you help me?” can be fraught with tension.

A seemingly simple request for help can bring huge implications with it. You may have been raised in a family where asking for help, or letting others know that you need support, was considered a sign of weakness and was frowned upon for suggesting a lack of privacy regarding personal difficulties.

Asking family members, colleagues, friends, community, and partners for help may reflect a larger cultural dynamic of communication and give-and-take.

Saying, “Can you help me?” speaks powerfully to an instinctive desire to be of service to other people and to receive reciprocal attention. But “Can you help me?” also makes you vulnerable.

What I say to patients: please practice asking for help.
For many, it’s a new activity, and it feels rusty, like anything novel.  Yet, so many people have recently lost their livelihood, had physical health problems, financial hardship, and even loss of home and identity. More than ever, asking for help is an art form that we need. As a society, we don’t always have the experience to ask for help. In my belief, that needs to change, but requires self compassion and practice.

Where to start:
1. Make a list of what you need help with: particular errands, chores, some cooking, walking the dog, getting food or groceries, yard work, job recommendations, assistance with letter or email writing, changing filters, moving furniture, tech support, maybe even a shoulder to cry on.

2. Write down the names of friends, colleagues, and relatives who have offered to help in the past.

3. Match people with tasks based on their interests, their strengths, their time flexibility and your comfort level with them, given the intimacy of the particular task. One friend may really enjoy cooking, another may check in on you via regular texts, another might upgrade your computer, or walk your dog.

4. Pick just one thing off the list and contact the person you’ve chosen. Be direct. See the next few points, below.

5. I always talk about timing and dosage. If you’re not sure whether or not it is a good time, just ask. You can say, “I’ve love to ask for your help with something. Is there a time that’s good for you to talk?”

6. Don’t be defensive. Instead, say what you can’t do.
Instead of saying, “I need to add a few graphic elements for a major key point power point presentation, say, “I’m concerned a few of my slides for my seminar look terrible.” You don’t have to emphasize how ‘important’ you are. Just ask for the help that you need.

7. Show respect. Without actually saying it, you’ve already said, “You know more than I do.” You’ve said, “You can do what I can’t.” You’ve said, “You have experience (or talent or knowledge) that I don’t have.”

Learning is not diminishing yourself.

8. Show trust. You’re vulnerable. You admitted to a weakness.And you’ve shown the other person that you trust them with that knowledge. You’ve already said, “I trust you.”

9. Show you’re willing to listen. Instead of saying exactly how the other person should help you, you give them the freedom to decide.

By showing you respect and trust other people and by giving them the latitude to freely share their expertise or knowledge, you don’t just get the help you think you want. You get more.

10. Be grateful. Acknowledge the help you received. Even though you might feel embarrassed that you needed help, don’t pretend like it never happened. Directly acknowledge that you appreciate what the other person did for you.

11. Be sincere. When someone is helping you, it’s okay to be a little bit vulnerable. The other person might appreciate knowing that they are genuinely helping you during a difficult time.

12. Gain credibility by helping others. People will be more likely to agree to help you if you have been known to help others. Build a reputation as a helpful person. You will draw others to you who share that same sentiment.

The importance of vulnerability

Vulnerability is the driving force of connection. It’s brave. It’s tender. It’s hard to connect without it. But we’ve turned it into a weakness. Toughing it out, chin up buttercup, has become a standard. It defines strength to many people.

For others, hearing the refrain, ‘you’re so strong’, may leave them feeling that sad, tender, messy, scared, and even dark feelings are wrong. When exposed to this message, people learn to curtail and edit aspects of their own being.

What I have found, in my individual and couples work with patients is that without mutual vulnerability, relationships struggle. Vulnerability is, ‘Here I am – my frayed edges, my secrets, my fears, my unabashed affection.’ In return, it invites, ‘Oh, I see you there. It’s okay, you’re safe. And here – here’s me.’ It builds trust, closeness, and a sense of belonging. Relationships: friendships, romantic relationships, family relationships, will not thrive without it.

Vulnerability is openness to experience, people and uncertainty. It’s terrifying at times, and tremendously courageous, always. We will get hurt. Relationship pain is an unavoidable part of being human.

Dr. Brene Brown is a research professor from the University of Houston and an expert in the field of vulnerability. She’s looked at those who have a strong sense of connection and belonging and those who don’t. Her research found that a primary difference between the two groups was that those who had a strong sense of love and belonging believed they were worthy of it. People who believed they were worthy of connection experienced greater connectedness.

When people believe themselves worthy of connection, they’re more likely to move towards others. They’ll be the first to say ‘I love you’. They’ll be quick to say, ‘I miss you’. They’ll ask for help and they’ll be open to the love, affection, knowledge, and efforts of others. They’ll be grateful. They’ll be connected. They will appreciate learning and the give-and-take of reciprocal communication.

This doesn’t mean they’ll always get what they want. What it means is that they are more willing to be open and vulnerable in relationships because their potential for shame is less. If the connection falls short – if the ‘I love you’ is left hanging, the ‘I miss you’ isn’t returned, the request for help is declined, people who believe they are worthy of connection are less likely to blame themselves and their own ‘unworthiness’ for the disconnection.

They are often the people who will not give up on others. They will try again. And again. They will not let the pain of disappointing relationships sour them for future ones. They are open to love, connection, attachment. And the underbelly- disappointment, loss, grief, a broken heart.

Vulnerability, the understated superpower.

Signs that a family member, colleague, partner, or friend might be having trouble

When to check in:

– They have socially withdrawn.
That includes avoiding social media, not responding to phone calls, emails, or texts, and a lack of overall participation in activities.

-They are going through a difficult life event.
This may include unemployment, bereavement, break up of a relationship, health problems, financial hardship.

-They are behaving recklessly.
When they are making seemingly bad choices as a pattern, engaging in self-destructive behavior, or seeming to be oblivious to consequences.

-They are acting out of character.
They may be snapping or becoming easily irritated, having bouts of rage, or crying spells that seem to be out of nowhere.

-They frequently mention having sleep difficulties.

-They may be neglecting grooming and hygiene.

-They have extreme fluctuations in appetite, from forgetting to eat to binge eating.

-They seem to be emotionally distant.
They may brush off caring gestures or attempts to connect.

-They talk about the future in a hopeless or helpless way.
They may state that ‘everything sucks’ and is not going to get better.

-They become upset easily over little things.

-They want to be left alone the majority of the time.

-They are restless and uncomfortable.
They may not be able to sit still, focus, or even relax.

-They may be experiencing frequent physical (somatic) symptoms.
They may complain of having headaches, stomach aches, gastrointestinal problems, bodily aches and pains, or chronic physical distress.

-They frequently state they are overwhelmed by their life.
They may describe work, child care, life activities, and overall responsibilities as tiring and hard to keep up with.

-They frequently engage in mindless activities.
They may spend the majority of their time scrolling through social media, playing video games, binge watching YouTube’s and shows, or shopping online for items that are not needed.

-They appear disengaged in conversation.
They may not want to talk to people they care about or discuss topics that they usually find engaging. One sign that I look for is frequently saying “I don’t know.”

– They appear fatigued, or say that they are tired more days than not.

– They may avoid eye contact or reciprocal conversations.

The Science of Compassion

In my doctoral studies, I had the honor of working on a research study on conjugal bereavement with Dr. Dacher Keltner. Dr. Keltner, in addition to prolific work in a wide range of areas, has developed the science of compassion and empathy into a multidisciplinary field. In short, the study I co-authored found that in a study of individuals who had lost a long-term partner, and who ultimately showed greater psychological health over a five-year span after the loss, were those who received ongoing empathy and social support in response to their vulnerability, as the primary variable related to mental health and adjustment.

(Bonanno, G. A., Siddique, H. I., Keltner, D., & Horowitz, M. J. (1996). Correlates and consequences of dispositional repression and self-deception following the loss of a spouse. The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC).

Dr. Keltner runs a compassion-based research studies program at UC Berkeley. He writes prolifically about the importance of compassion for psychological health, social justice, and even the survival of our species.

Compassion literally means “to suffer together.” Among emotion researchers, it is defined as the feeling that arises when you are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering.

Compassion is not the same as empathy or altruism, though the concepts are related. While empathy refers more generally to our ability to take the perspective of and feel the emotions of another person, compassion is when those feelings and thoughts include the desire to help. Altruism, in turn, is the kind, selfless behavior often prompted by feelings of compassion, though one can feel compassion without acting on it, and altruism isn’t always motivated by compassion.

While cynics may dismiss compassion as touchy-feely or new age-y, neuropsychologists have started to map the biological basis of compassion, suggesting a deeper evolutionary purpose. This research has shown that when we feel compassion, our heart rate slows down, we secrete the “bonding hormone” oxytocin, and regions of the brain linked to empathy, caregiving, and feelings of pleasure light up, which often results in our wanting to care for other people.

Compassion makes us feel good: Compassionate action activates pleasure circuits in the brain, and compassion training programs, even very brief ones, strengthen brain circuits for pleasure and reward and lead to lasting increases in self-reported happiness.

Being compassionate—tuning in to other people in a kind and loving manner—can reduce risk of heart disease by boosting the positive effects of the Vagus Nerve, which helps to slow our heart rate. A recent study found that people who have a greater level of empathy live 9 to 10 years longer than others, controlling for other factors. 

One compassion training program at Stanford has found that it makes people more resilient to stress; it lowers stress hormones in the blood and saliva and strengthens the immune response. Compassion training may also help us worry less and be more open to our own and others’ negative emotions. In short, people who are more compassionate tend to be less avoidant of the range of emotions.

Compassion could improve our mental health: One research review found that practicing compassion meditation improved participants’ emotional life, positive thinking, relationships, and empathy. Brain scans during loving-kindness meditation, which directs compassion toward suffering, suggest that, on average, compassionate people are happier.

Practicing compassion could make us more altruistic. In turn, it may also help us overcome empathic distress and become more resilient in the face of others’ suffering. Too often, we hear people say, I can’t watch the news because it’s just too much for me. Instead, the practice of compassion makes people more able to tolerate the pain of others, and yet provide support.

Compassion helps make caring parents: Brain scans show that when people experience compassion, their brains activate in neural systems known to support parental nurturance and other caregiving behaviors.

Compassion helps us be better friends and partners: Compassionate people are more optimistic, forgiving, and supportive when communicating with others.

Compassion helps make better doctors: Medical students who train in compassion feel less depressed and lonely, and avoid the typical declines in compassion that sometimes happen during medical school.

Employees who receive more compassion in their workplace see themselves, their co-workers, and their organization in a more positive light, report feeling more positive emotions like joy and contentment, and are more committed to their jobs. A compassionate workplace culture is linked to less burnout, greater teamwork, and higher job satisfaction.

Compassionate people are more socially adept, making them less vulnerable to loneliness; loneliness has been shown to cause stress and harm the immune system.

Compassion is contagious. According to Dr. Keltner’s “the greater good project”, based out of UC Berkeley, compassionate behavior rubs off on other people.

Is Crying Healthy?

Client: please teach me how not to cry.
Me: what would happen if you did?
Him: it’s not acceptable. 

Crying is a natural response humans have to a range of emotions, including sadness, grief, joy, anger, and frustration. It is not unusual to cry, and both sexes cry more than many people may assume. In the United States, women reportedly cry an average of 3.5 times per month and men cry an average of 1.9 times a month. This is likely to be under reported. According to neuropsychology, there are a number of benefits to being able to shed tears.

It can have a soothing effect
Self-soothing is when people regulate their own emotions, calm themselves, and learn to reduce their own distress. A 2014 study found that crying may have a direct, self-soothing effect- crying activates the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which helps people relax. Crying doesn’t only happen in response to something sad. Sometimes people cry when they are moved, happy, scared, angry, or stressed. It may help to restore emotional homeostasis- your body’s way to recover from experiencing strong emotion.

It helps ameliorate pain
Crying for long periods of time actually releases oxytocin and endorphins. These natural feel-good chemicals can help ease both physical and emotional pain. Oxytocin can give you a sense of calm or well-being. It’s another example of how crying is a self-soothing action.

It may help people receive support from others
As well as helping people self-soothe, crying can help people get support from others around them. When I was an undergraduate, I did developmental psychology research at a pediatric ward, observing the behaviors of premature babies. The actual crying of the babies elicited a caring and attachment based response in most caregivers. 

Enhances mood
Crying may help lift people’s spirits and make them feel better. As well as relieving pain, oxytocin and endorphins can help improve mood. This is why they are often known as “feel good” chemicals.

Releases toxins and relieves stress
When humans cry in response to stress, their tears contain a number of stress hormones and other chemicals. Research indicates that crying could reduce the levels of these chemicals in the body, such as cortisol, which could, in turn, reduce stress.

Crying aids sleep
A preliminary study in 2015 found that crying can help babies sleep better. Whether crying has the same sleep-enhancing effect on adults is yet to be comprehensively researched. There might be something to the old adage of crying yourself to sleep. 

Fights bacteria
Crying helps to kill bacteria and keep the eyes clean as tears contain a fluid called lysozyme, that is a natural cleanser. A 2011 study found that lysozyme in tears has significant antimicrobial properties.

Improves vision
Basal tears, which are released every time a person blinks, help to keep the eyes moist and prevent mucous membranes from drying out. The lubricating effect of basal tears helps people to see more clearly. When the membranes dry out, vision can become blurry. Crying actually helps with clarity. 

Want and Need

Psychologist Abraham Maslow introduced the idea that there are five needs everyone tries to fulfill over a lifetime. They are known as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

The first two needs are people’s most basic needs…the need for survival:
1) Physiological (i.e., breath, food, water, sleep)
2) Safety (i.e., security, shelter, employment).

The next two are social needs that deal with interactions with others:
3) Love/Belonging (i.e., love, family, friendship, intimacy)
4) Esteem (i.e., self-esteem, respect, mastery, recognition)

The last need is related to one’s purpose and legacy in life:
5) Self Actualization (i.e., realizing the full potential of one’s purpose)

Maslow’s theory says that after you satisfy one need (e.g., #2 need for security and shelter), you move on to fulfill the next need (e.g., #3 need for love and intimacy). Some argue, however, that you don’t have to strictly follow the sequential order Maslow outlined. One study showed that people may fulfill needs #3 and #5, without fulfilling #2 (see Tay & Deiner, 2011).

Being needed vs. being wanted is not binary.

It’s Better to Be Needed If…
For some, it’s better to give than to receive; if you thrive on helping someone fulfill their needs; if you prefer to use your resources (time, financial, material, informational, and emotional) to help other people, you probably need to be needed. Yes, there’s something gratifying about helping someone in need. You take pride in doing it. It makes you feel good. In fact, some people need to feel needed.

It’s Better to Be Wanted If…
If you are drawn to someone who doesn’t need you or your resources to satisfy their needs; if you have a strong desire to be loved, cared for, to feel a since of belonging and acceptance with someone who doesn’t have ulterior motives…then it’s likely that you want to be wanted. Being wanted suggests you have a strong need to be accepted for who you are…not for what you have or what you can provide. For you, there is something freeing about being able to be accepted…flaws, weaknesses, insecurities and all…without conditions. You long for a safe place where you don’t have to be who the world sees you as. You can just ‘be’…and be accepted.

So which is better for you? It’s important to know that there’s no good or bad option. Neither is better than the other. In fact, it’s okay to want to feel both wanted and needed. That’s the best of both worlds. There’s nothing wrong with needing your significant other to pick up some medicine for you at CVS when you’re stuck in bed with a cold, or needing tech support with work on your computer. Needing a little help here and there is a perfectly normal part of being human. But if you feel you truly need someone in your life to provide you with confidence or happiness, that might be a sign of potential codependency.

We can have people who we need, people that we want, and the overlap of both. We often see neediness as a negative thing in life. I need to breathe, eat, sleep, and have genuine caring. Those are not negative things.

Yesterday was a tough and scary day for many of us. The friends and community I had ever wanted were chatting, connecting, sharing. It was a little surreal. My head couldn’t grasp it, but some corner of my heart did. Love, want, and need. Shifting and vital.

Use cautious in a sentence

Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak

Please be careful, be safe. These words have become our default farewell, replacing have a nice day. How does being careful differ from being cautious? It’s a familiar question in my line of work. The difference between cautious and careful in my opinion is that cautious is an emotion, a fear based emotion mostly. Being careful is an ACTION; it is things you can do, like gathering data, getting additional input, studying experts, analyzing, checking your locks, wearing a mask.

Natural selection rewards the cautious. At the slightest hint of danger, most animals scurry for safety – only in human beings and the higher primates – does curiosity overcome caution to any great extent. (See Fight/Flight/Flow, Dr. H. Siddique, in press, 2021).

It’s not always that easy to uncover and address our fears. Obviously, I’m an advocate for good psychotherapy – for regular work with someone who can accompany us through our dark thoughts and help us get to the other side of many. At times, fear may cloud our vision. It clouds our judgement and can paralyze the very responsiveness we would need in a real emergency. None of us can really do much with fear – it’s there and feels stuck there. Sometimes it feels like something actually stuck in our throats or stomachs. We go around and around in this enclosed track of fear. There’s no forward movement or further understanding. We may feel frozen.

I frequently work with kids with being cautious (fear base) versus careful (action base). Being a kid is already a pretty scary and vulnerable position. Children are primed to pick up on and absorb fears of all kinds, from the darkness under the bed to frightening imaginings of someone entering their home at night. As adults, parents, and mental health professionals, we help our young folks distinguish between caution and carefulness. Quite often, I see kids who have a highly anxious parent, and their own baseline anxiety, not surprisingly, is much higher than their peers’. When your baseline is set higher, you are easily overloaded when additional stressors rear their heads.

In counseling/therapy, treatment for fearfulness or overcautiousness consists of not just relaxation strategies, but action oriented thoughts, self statements, rituals of safety and self soothing, and healthy self-care. Behaviors create new pathways that diminish existing fears.

(Picture credit, from “where the wild things are”, by Maurice Sendak, a primer in caution versus carefulness.I highly recommend it for children of all ages, five through 90.)

How to reset

“Add something new to the mix.” If you’ve ever been in my office, you’ve heard me say this.  It takes approximately 60 days to start to lay down new neural pathways, which come from consistent practice of a new behavior.

Growth involves changing behaviors—and in order to change a behavior, you have to change your thinking (or “rewire” your brain). Neuropsychologists find that habitual behavior is created by thinking patterns that create neural pathways and memories, which become the default basis for your behavior when you’re faced with a choice or decision. Trying to change that default thinking by “trying not to do it,” in effect just strengthens an undesired behavior. When you try NOT to think of something, you actually have to think about that thing in order to not think about it.

Change requires creating new neural pathways from NEW thinking.

Many people assume willpower is a character trait that you’re born with, or innately lack. I frequently work with teenagers and young adults. When they make supposedly bad decisions, I often hear parents say to their kids, ‘why did you do that, where was your willpower’?

But research suggests that it is more complex: It can be trained, but it also relies on mental resources, self care, and energy, and can become depleted if overused. Researcher and psychologist, Dr. Roy Baumeister, has spent years studying how people regulate emotions, resist temptation, break bad habits, and perform up to their potential; and why they often fail to do so. Among his conclusions: Each person’s supply of willpower is limited. And, as the ‘power’ aspect of willpower implies, it’s a form of energy. It gets depleted when you use it.

So new habits depend on the basic energy supply that a person needs for all other acts of daily self-control, problem-solving, and decision-making. In short, eating well, getting enough sleep, exercising, reading, writing, learning, trying new things, having a strong social group, and caring for others are the fuel that is required for change. I call this fuel the foundation. With it, you build new roads and pathways; infrastructure.

People often view resolutions or intentions as short-term goals to be achieved. So if they don’t quit that bad habit or lose that weight in a short period of time, they become demotivated and often quit trying. Change requires uploading a new program in your subconscious. It can include deceptively simple actions. Go for a walk. Engage with a buddy who has similar goals to keep each other accountable. Put greens on your grocery list. Finish that online course or certification. Clean out your closets. Edit your contacts.


Also see Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength- August 28, 2012, by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney.

The psychology of negative people

You walk into the restaurant, dressed to the nines, for a girls’ night out. Your friends greet you warmly, except for one. She points at your sleeve: “You look like you put your arm down in something. You have a big stain.“

In my work, I often hear about negative people in the lives of my patients, and the impact they may have.

Some characteristics of negativity that appear frequently in sessions:
Judgmentalism, or the tendency to imbue negative motivations to others’ innocent actions. (Complaining that you didn’t answer their email or text right away, so you must not care, or you are lazy or careless).

Demanding nature: Although negative people are often not judgmental about their own abilities or flaws, they put pressure on others to act in a certain way.

Pessimism, or the tendency to believe that the future is bleak; for example, negative people can more readily think of ways in which any activity or event can go badly.

Risk aversion, especially in social settings. This leads to reluctance to divulge any personal or meaningful information, ultimately leading to boring conversations and superficial relationships.

Lack of interest in others: negative people are often fixated on their own lives and needs. If you ask them questions about even their closest friends and relatives lives, children, problems, and successes, they are often unable to respond.

The need to control others: negative people are inflexible, and believe that things should be done a certain way. When others deviate from this path, they are often derided or minimized.

Not being able to deviate from routine: negative people tend to limit their options and choices to whatever they’ve done in the past, rather than opening their minds to the range of possibilities available.

They are rarely loving: They struggle to see the good in other people, so it is difficult to be loving and supportive of anyone.

They rarely apologize: Even when confronted with evidence that they were incorrect, or have hurt someone’s feelings, they have a deep conviction that they are right.

Their phone is silent: they are rarely contacted by friends or family members. People tend to start avoiding negative people after a series of less than joyful experiences.

What Causes Negativity?
– How they were raised.
If someone is exposed to negativity or constant criticism early on in their lives, they may mirror that behavior. Children raised in an environment where criticism, pessimism, doom and gloom, and negativity are common will end up having that mapped into their developing brains as typical behavior. This may result in a patterned way of thinking and behaving and becomes how you respond to your environment. If they remain unaware of this pattern of behavior, and think of it as normal, it is likely it will take root, while others who are able to recognize it can make a conscious effort to change the behavior.

-It is a habit.
Old habits die hard and negativity is a strong one. When negativity is a habit it becomes an automated response that becomes an unconscious response to a situation. For anyone to change any ingrained behavior they have to recognize it is a problem and be committed to the outcome.

– They were taught not to try new things or take risks.
They may have been told repeatedly as a child to be careful, to rest, to not get too tired. They may have been warned against learning a new skill—like Scuba diving or horseback riding—because “it’s too dangerous.”

– They may have been taught that certain behaviors bring shame or embarrassment.
For example, they may have been told not to tell neighbors, family friends, or even family members about failures or mistakes. Likewise, they may have being routinely exposed to negative judgments about other people (“I can’t believe the neighbors don’t keep up their yard. It makes the whole street look terrible”).

-Interpretation of life.
Good and bad things happen to everyone. If your interpretation of life is that bad things usually happen, life isn’t fair, I am unlucky, my sister was the pretty one or the smart one, etc., chances are you have a negative interpretation of life which will show up in the way you talk and behave.

-It feels good.
Almost everyone vents at some point or another. We need to get things off our chest and this is healthy. Habitually negative people repeat the same venting experience over and over with multiple people, sometimes telling the same story several times. They may repeat the same litany of complaints about a person, partner, friend, or family member, not allowing the person to even make corrections or amends.There is a difference between venting and staying tethered to a situation. Repeated venting keeps us tethered to the negative emotions of the experience and does not provide any type of release.

-Low self-esteem.
Some people complain about others to feel better about themselves or their lives, or they require constant validation from other people. They may complain that people are ungrateful if they are not thanked profusely for everything they may have done for that person. If you can bring down the value of other people through negative comments, it has a temporary effect of lifting someone up. From German, the term Schadenfreude is a complex emotion where, rather than feeling empathy or sympathy, one takes pleasure from watching someone’s mistakes or misfortune.

See also: Nine Tips for Dealing Calmly with Criticism

8 Tips for Dealing Calmly with Criticism

In ancient Greek mythology, the goddess of wisdom, Athena, was criticized and trespassed upon by the beautiful nymph, Medusa. Athena was full of rage at her words and actions, and turned Medusa into a Gorgon, with tresses made of snakes. Anyone who looked at her was turned to stone. 

Many people have a hard time being criticized, corrected, or accused – even of the smallest mistakes – and may react very angrily. Struggling to respond calmly and constructively can be a challenge.

Here are some of the strategies that I try to use to help clients accept criticism, from employers, colleagues, family members, partners, and friends.

Listen to what a critic is saying.
Really listen, try to understand that point of view, don’t just nod while you internally formulate your retorts.

Don’t be defensive.
This is the toughest step for many. With my own writing, for example, I always have to take a deep breath before reading an edit letter or meeting with an editor, to remind myself, “I welcome criticism. This person is helping me. I want to hear how to improve my book/article/post.”

Don’t fire back by criticizing your critic.
Your comments will just sound defensive, and you’ll escalate the exchange. This urge is very difficult to resist, because the impulse to justify and attack is strong when you feel criticized, but it isn’t helpful, and it certainly isn’t effective. We may not turn people into Medusa, but our words of anger resonate for long periods.

Delay your reaction.
Take the Pause. Count to ten, take a deep breath, sleep on it, wait until the next day to send that email…any kind of delay is good. I find it’s much easier to apply this rule when I’m responding in writing. Train yourself to think long and hard before hitting “send” or “enter.”

Explain honestly the reason for your actions.
Sometimes it’s tempting to re-characterize your actual feelings, actions, and motives to make yourself “look good.” Usually, though, that just complicates things more. It becomes impossible to have an honest exchange.

Admit your mistakes.
This is extremely effective.  This shows accountability and responsibility, and helps both parties move on to improve the situation.

Explain what you’ve learned.
If you can show a critic that you’ve learned something, you prove that you’ve understood the criticism and tried to act on it.

Enjoy the fun of failure.
Yes, failure can be productive. Re-frame the issue entirely to embrace criticism. Fact is, trying new things and aiming high always opens you to criticism. Being able to take it in stride, use it constructively when it’s helpful, and letting it go when it’s not: It’s a fine balance.

Embolden Psychology

Embolden offers the ADOS-2, the gold standard assessment for kids on the spectrum.

Combined with psychoeducational testing, it helps provide comprehensive information and recommendations to help children and teens six and up.

Thank you for contacting us.