I recently received a piece of criticism on my website, and it took me a long time before I was able to process it.
It’s one thing to have differing opinions on a viewpoint. That can lead to some healthy discussions and an ultimate decision to agree to disagree, as I shared in my newsletter at the end of March.
But this person wasn’t critiquing a post. Well, not only a post. He was critiquing me as a person.
Who am I to write a mental health blog? I’m being too vague because anxiety and depression are so much bigger than the issues I’ve talked about in the few short months that I’ve been blogging. Don’t encourage people to seek therapy, because it doesn’t work for everyone. I completely disagree with your negative viewpoint on…
And the list continues.
Two weeks before this happened, one of my homework assignments was to ask for feedback on my website design.
In several groups that I’m in, I posted my website with a list of questions like:
- do you understand what I blog about?
- is the site easy to navigate?
- is it cluttered and busy?
- is the font readable? do you like the colours?
- is there any advice you can offer on improvement of functionality?
This was specifically about the design of the blog, not the content, and even that was hard for me to post.
It took a couple days before I worked up the nerve, because I knew that posting those questions was inviting criticism, and I know this is not easy for me.
Accepting Criticism is Never Easy
After doing some research on ‘how to handle criticism’, ‘how to accept criticism gracefully’ and ‘how to respond to unfair criticism’ – I realized that this isn’t necessarily a problem specifically excluded to those who suffer from mental illness.
It’s hard for anyone to hear and accept criticism, especially when it’s unfair.
This assignment was to ask for criticism, and so I had to work up the nerve. It went well! I got a lot of feedback on the site design, and I made changes accordingly.
To this day, I continue to do that – or I roam around to see other people’s sites and make subtle changes to my own based on things I like.
I feel like this is good practice. In the online world, it means you’re constantly creating a better user-experience.
In life, it means you’re constantly improving yourself.
However, with this one particular person, I struggled. First off, he was butchering my content. Secondly, I hadn’t asked for his opinion.
It did not come at a time when I was asking for feedback on site design. I had asked a question, if I’m being honest, but it wasn’t for feedback.
I simply asked how to incorporate one site into another.
I am trying to learn how to do something, and also incorporate my Mental Health and Me blog into this new program.
This is where my passion lies. Helping others improve their mental health.
If I can’t figure out how to incorporate the new program, then I give the new program a miss.
I didn’t realize that I was inviting criticism on my content when I asked what I thought was a simple question.
There was no time to brace myself.
Preparing for Criticism
That’s usually how criticism goes. It usually comes without prompting, and we tend not to be prepared.
When I’m unprepared, I tend to deal with these new emotions, the same way that I deal with embarrassment.
Silence, tears, anger, repeat.
It’s all of these things.
- I don’t know how to process – silence.
- I’m hurt by what this person said – tears.
- I don’t feel like I deserve that – anger.
Several things happened next. First, I reached out to my husband, showing him the comment and asking advice.
My husband is really good at handling this sort of thing with a professional mind.
He says it’s because he’s been blogging long enough to know better – but I truly believe it’s a part of his personality.
He’s able to step outside of the criticism, look at it as if it’s not pointed directly at him, and then answer respectfully.
What he said to me was there was only one thing in the comment that actually applied to me.
This person had recommended something about blog design, and since my husband handles the blog design, he said, “I’ll look into this a little deeper. It’s valuable feedback. Before I make any changes to your site, I want to look at other sites in your niche to see what they are doing. Let me get back to you.”
Which is really nice – of the 8-10 horrible things this person said to me, one might have been helpful and my husband was investigating. What about the rest?
How do I handle that criticism?
How do I accept that criticism gracefully?
I found it unfair and utterly uncalled for, so how do I deal with that?
The Positivity of a Support Group
Next up, I reached out to the Mental Health and Me online support group. This is a closed, private group of like-minded people.
We are all dealing with various stages of anxiety and/or depression, or we are helping support our loved ones battling mental illness.
I said the same thing in the group that I did at the start of this post. I received a piece of criticism and I felt attacked.
I did feel attacked, because a) I hadn’t asked for that, and b) it was on my content, which directly reflects me as a person.
At this point, I received a bunch of positive feedback and emotional support, and this is what I needed.
Not so much “how to deal with the criticism” but “you are awesome and we love what you do.”
My husband tells me how to deal with the criticism. My online support group gives me the motivation I need to keep going in spite of it.
I need both.
The thing is, when reaching out to ask for help, you need to know who to ask. Otherwise, you might get bad or wrong advice that seems right at the time.
For example, if anyone had said “Tell the critic he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” Or “<insert insult on critic> because your blog is amazing and you serve so many people.”
Well, it would be something I might need to hear when I’m already in a bad mood.
It might raise me up. It might get me all fired up and think “Yeah, who is this guy? What does he know? I’m so much better.”
But would I be?
What good is it to bring yourself up by bringing other people down? That serves no purpose, and in fact makes things so much worse.
When you come out of that funk, and look at the criticism from an outside perspective (the thing my husband knows to do from the beginning), you will feel awful about putting someone down.
It’s Not Always Personal, But It Can Feel Like It Is
The simple fact is, I don’t know anything about this critic either.
In his post to me, he did tell me that he suffers from a different type of anxiety than I suffer from. One I know a little bit about, but not enough to talk about firsthand.
He doesn’t like my blog because he can’t relate to it.
He is likely not the only person that feels this way, and I completely respect that.
Anxiety is such a big topic, that I can’t expect to cover it all on my website. If that was my end goal, well, I’d have to do it for years and years before I ever came close.
I’ve only been at this for a few months and I haven’t scratched the surface.
What I have learned from this whole experience is this – sit on the criticism.
Do not react.
There is valuable information in there somewhere, and lessons to be learned – but you cannot learn them when you’re in your emotional state.
I reached out to my husband and my online support group before going back to the critic to say anything at all. I probably could have waited longer than I did.
Sit and wait.
Process all of your emotions and don’t expect to be able to step outside of the criticism right away. Sure, my husband can do it. I know that I can’t.
I need to process, and my processing time takes longer than average. That’s ok.
If your immediate response is rage, hurt, anger, and insult – well, deal with that. Process it. Take as long as it takes to get over that before going back to the critic.
You have no idea what that person is going through, and attacking them back is not the answer.
I also learned that you can’t please everyone. You will never be able to impress everyone no matter how hard you try.
Focus on what matters and discard the rest.
These are big lessons. Take the time you need to process before reacting, and be patient with yourself.
Your mental health can improve significantly if you exercise patience and kindness. That’s what this is all about it, isn’t it?