In some situations, it’s a good thing – well-meaning criticism can, when delivered in the right way, help us to grow and improve. But in other cases, it can be anything but a positive: especially when it leads us to change parts of ourselves to try and appease the desires of others.
In this way, learning how to deal with criticism – and sort the constructive from the vindictive – is incredibly important. And that’s what makes Matt Haig’s latest interview such valuable listening.
During a recent appearance on the How To Fail podcast with Elizabeth Day, the author and mental health advocate spoke openly about how he deals with criticism and hate online – and explained why changing yourself to meet the demands of your critics is never worthwhile.
Speaking about the importance of authenticity, Haig explained how he found comfort in the knowledge that he was doing his work “for the right reasons” and how, despite all the criticism that has been levelled at him over the years, that knowledge had provided him with a “foundation” which remained unshakeable.
“You can chip away and chip away, but if what you’re offering actually means something to people because it means something to you and you’re not being cynical – you’re not selling snake oil you’re actually talking about your own experience and talking about things that still help you – then they can’t actually take that, because that’s you and that’s you being authentic,” he explained.
However, just because he’s found a way to cope with criticism in the long-term – meaning he’s able to ‘bounce back’ quicker than he used to – doesn’t mean he doesn’t allow himself to be upset by what is said, although he never lets that affect his behaviour going forward.
“I think one of the worst things is when we deny that it doesn’t hurt at all, because then you sort of live with that for longer, because you haven’t acknowledged it,” he explained. “I try and feel it and get cross about it, then analyse it then move on. And while I move on, I don’t change anything at all.”
Haig continued: “There’s no point in life changing your behaviour to win over people who you will never win over.
“Why gravitate towards the negative to try and actually sort that out. Why not build up the positive? Why not go to where the warmth is and actually sort of work on that?”
Although most of us won’t have the same kind of platform as Haig, it’s safe to say his words about dealing with criticism – especially in terms of changing yourself to ‘win over people who you will never win over’ – are seriously powerful.
It’s all too easy to want to change yourself just to ‘fit in’ or avoid criticism from friends, family or strangers online, but why should you? Why not, as Haig rightly suggests, put that energy into the positive parts of your life? Not only will it help you to ‘bounce back’ from criticism more easily, but it’s also a great way to show yourself a little love, too.
As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and women’s issues. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time. You can find her on Twitter at @laurenjanegeall.