Posted by: Donna Cunningham | May 16, 2011

How to Live with Criticism — and How to Give Constructive Criticism

© 2009 by guest blogger, CJ Wright of Auntie Moon

Donna says:  CJ is one of my very best blogging buddies, and I was burning up the phone wire this afternoon trying to reach her. Mars in Taurus has been squaring my Ascendant and Pluto for several days, and, true to the astrological picture, I’ve gotten scathing comments from total strangers. CJ can put things in perspective in just a sentence or two and make me laugh. (If those qualities sound good to you, too, visit her blog.)

Well, today of all days, she wasn’t home, but finally I read her current email post. At the very bottom was a link to this article on living with criticism. It turned out to be exactly what I needed, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it‘s just what a few of you need too. It’s kind of a fitting companion to our discussion of teasing.  Here’s CJ. Enjoy!

The celestial buzz is that Virgo is the critic of the zodiac. It’s because of that discerning eye, that Mercurial analysis, that earthy, practical logic. There’s Virgo in each of us, and there’s a critic in each of us. How do you handle that critic?

My first profession was in the theatre where criticism was a regular part of the artistic life. Ego had to be left in the wings while critical words poured forth from the director (and sometimes with asides from the cast and crew). I may have felt that I just gave an award-winning performance only to hear the director say, “What was that?!”

Rejection was a part of daily life and I had to develop a tough skin in order to stop taking everything personally and hit the pavement for the next round of auditions.

This type of criticism was almost always constructive, rarely personal. The director’s goal was to make me look as good as possible while improving the overall production. I learned something about the art of performance and when “The Review” came out, I usually fared well.

Learning to take constructive criticism isn’t always easy, but there’s a payoff ~ improvement of character or skill. Suffering at the hands of constant negative criticism is a whole other story. Egos take quite a beating and self-esteem suffers. Nothing is gained. These types of “criticisms” are nothing but verbal attacks and we can choose to accept or refuse them.

Let me stop a moment and say that all Virgos aren’t super-critics. There are no zodiac stereotypes defined here. Criticism is a part of everyone’s life. We’re all critics.

Maybe you’re a Virgo who has been told that you’re too critical or “nit-picky.” Maybe you’re a Gemini, or a Pisces, or a Sag who has been told the same thing. It doesn’t matter. The sign isn’t important. The skill of offering and accepting criticism is.

Here are some pointers on how to offer criticism:

  • Look at the whole. If the first words out of your mouth are negative, stop. You may have jumped the gun with the bad news without looking at the whole. Don’t focus solely on a couple of little weeds in what just may be a beautiful garden. “Pour a little water on the weed.” (That’s a line from a song my husband, the Virgo, wrote.)
  • Stay detached. If your words are degrading or to put someone down, stop. That’s a personal attack. There’s nothing to be gained by attacking your target. Constructive criticism is meant to improve without judging someone personally. Kindness counts. A lot.
  • Understand that some things don’t change. If you’ve offered these same criticisms over and over again, stop. Your target may not be capable of doing things differently. Don’t make them a whipping boy.

A few ways to accept or reject criticism:

  • Keep an open mind. There may be something of value there that can help you.
  • Don’t let emotion take hold of you. Critics hit you in your Moon. Listen with your Mercury. Analyze the critique. Let the Virgo in you separate the wheat from the chaff.
  • Consider the source. Is this someone whose opinion you respect? Are they exemplary in their field or have high standards of quality that you want to emulate?
  • The Buddha said that criticism is a gift. We can choose to accept it or reject it. The choice is yours.

If you’re someone who has been listening to a constant stream of ”you’re not good enough,” here are some pointers to guide you toward rebuilding your self-esteem.

  • They’re not God. Don’t make them one. They’re putting you down to feel superior and control you.
  • Ask yourself if it’s true. If it’s a constant negative attack, and no matter how hard you try or how much you improve, they still put you down, it probably isn’t true. It’s an opinion and you’ve bought into it. It’s negative brainwashing.
  • Make a written list of everything that’s good about you. That’s not self-aggrandizing. You’re rebuilding your self-esteem. It really is okay to acknowledge your good qualities.

HOW ABOUT YOU, READERS?  ANY WORDS OF WISDOM ABOUT HOW TO HANDLE CRITICISM?  Share your perspectives in the comment section

Related Posts: Teasing—Is It Ruled by Mercury or Mars?  and How to Recognize and Deal with an Abusive Person.

Note: Each month Auntie Moon has a series of articles like these on the current zodiac sign, and if you go to her blog, you’ll see her post on the current New Moon. With each New Moon, she posts a list of things to do during that month. Her site also contains pages on Cooking with Astrology and Gardening by the Moon.

What the Author Says about Herself: “My interest in astrology grew out my exposure to the tarot. In 1991 my dear friend, Barbara, gave me a deck of tarot cards even though I kept saying, “no, no, no!” I’d always loved symbols and these cards hooked me in no time. All those numbers on the cards and references to signs and planets sent me on a quest to learn as much as I could about astrology and numerology. For someone who loves symbols, it was easy to see how the three systems work together. If you’re interested in numerology or tarot, please take a look at my blog, Year~Seer. I also have a page at selfgrowth.com where you can find some articles on numerology.

 


Responses

  1. This is an interesting topic and one that probably hits close to the bone for many people. When I was young criticism was harder to hear and I took it to heart, believing whatever the other person said. In many cases they were right (my parents, for instance), so I learned a few things.

    But I have to say the best way to handle criticism for myself is to know myself: to know my strengths and weaknesses, to have learned from life’s lessons, and to have developed a strong sense of Self. I did it through becoming a professional astrologer many decades ago, and through 35 years of meditation which had the effect of clearing out a lot of the inner debris, and also helping to get a clear picture of who I am, as well as becoming detached/objective from the opinions of others.

    Whether that is my Libra Moon or my Capricorn Mercury (they are square) is hard to say. Maybe its my Virgo MC or Chiron in Virgo. Regardless, if a person has a strong sense of who they are, they will be less likely to suffer from the harsher opinions of others, and can take the constructive criticism in the right perspective.

    • Gail, TOTALLY VIRGO!!!!!

      Which kinda proves the utter uselessness of any criticism:
      Those with fragile egos will only be devastated by harsh comments.
      And those with a strong sense of Self can do their own reasoning and assessment of a situation without outside help (as I always tell my dad: “tell me something I can’t think of on my own!”).

      Myself, I never pass judgements. I don’t have to, my life is a fortress, really. I only share it with people of my own “tribe”, in an ambience of love, trust, respect and admiration. We’re basically alike, and it’s this sense of “kinship” that allows us to celebrate our -rather insignificant- differences. And while I’m friendly and polite with all the rest, I never let them get too close. Which has earned me a reputation of being cruel and a snob- but I can live with that!

      Ultimately, criticism is a sign of incompatibility, a proof that we value different things or see things differently. It denotes frustration, resentment and contempt rather than helpfulness and affection. So, when I get in a judgemental state of mind (did I mention I’m a Virgo?) I know I’m done, and that it’s time to hit the road.

      I was raised to believe that respecting others (even those who one might say don’t deserve it) is essentially an act of self-respect, and that while it’s noble to stand up for the underdog, it’s tacky to stand up for yourself. In my family, when we lose our respect or feel disrespected, we don’t take our guns, we take our hats!

      Donna, not particularly wise, but I hope it helps🙂

      • I’m confused!? Why is my comment awaiting moderation??? And why do I have a different picture!?!

      • How do I know you are really VR? My gal VR never writes 15-word comments. Donna

      • I used to live my life in a very similar way, VR. My mom always told me, “If you don’t like the way they treat you, honey, get your purse and go home.” I went home A LOT, usually from jobs (Uranus in the 6th). Sometimes that was good, and sometimes (looking back) I wish I had stuck it out.

        I spent most of my life in big cities where it was always easy to walk away. I think I found a stronger voice when I found myself in very small town. I run into my critics at the grocery store all the time. (A trip to the grocery store here is a social event.) Instead of just leaving, I face my critics…which surprises them. They’re not used to being disagreed with or to encountering someone with very different social, political, and religious views who will actually say what they’re thinking because of small town backlash. The tables are turned when they hear an opinion or criticism that’s different from the norm. Some of them actually expand their views and lighten up. Oddly enough, I consider some of these former critics a part of my tribe now.

      • lol!!! Well, your gal VR is perfectly capable of mis-typing her e-mail address, there’s one!
        Plus, who else? What, a raving impersonator? I wish!!!!😛

    • I agree, Gail. If someone’s sense of self is strong, they’re not likely to be harmed by harsh criticism. Some folks have a hard time reaching that point, and some never do. It’s those who have received criticism in the form of abuse, where they’re beaten down and beaten down until they don’t really know who they are anymore, that need positive reinforcement and to hear that they’re not always wrong or “less than” the critic. When they can finally see the truth of who they really are, that they do indeed have worth, the words can’t hurt anymore.

  2. Hello CJ & Donna! Did you write this for me???

    I was raised in a Virgo-type home. My parents were kind, but there was a prevailing deep concern/critical response to seemingly everything. It was often suble, but I obviously felt it because I learned to walk carefully, and work hard to please.

    I should add that I have Sun/Jupiter in Virgo, so negative/critical responses do make sense to me. I am USED to seeing ‘the one weed in the garden.’
    The man that I married (in my 50’s), who rocks my socks…. has Sun/Venus in Virgo, & Virgo rising!
    EEEEEK!
    I can only say ‘Thank God for Astrology!🙂’
    Also I am so grateful for my Sag moon. It allows me to find a teasing response that identifies critism for what it is, while lightening the mood and letting everyone off the hook. That is why I LOVE teasing.

    The thing that I have the most trouble with is my knee-jerk defensive response mechanism. When I am low, my super-sensative Cancer rising, and all my Virgo, immediately jump to a defensive stream of rationalism. You should hear it…. I am so good at rationalizing.

    I am Aware of it, I Try Not to go there, but I am defensive, it is a life-long struggle that I can’t seem to win….of course I blame my upbringing :))
    and that there is soooo much Virgo in my life.

  3. I have a critique for society and the world in general and have often thought of making you tube videos. On the other hand to my way of thinking based on the talks of Hopi Elders etc I see we are at the end of the 4th age and that at the end of an age it always gets corrupt. Its part of the process. I think it would be interesting to share the process of sinking into corruption, its purpose etc.
    Personally: Criticisms…what criticisms?

  4. Søren Kierkegaard wrote

    If One Is Truly to Succeed in Leading a person to a Specific Place, One must First and Foremost Take Care to Find Him Where He Is and Begin There

    This is the secret in the entire art of helping. Anyone who cannot do this is himself under a delusion if he thinks he is able to help someone else. In order truly to help someone else, I must understand more than he—but certainly first and foremost understand what he understands. If I do not do that, then my greater understanding does not help him at all. If I nevertheless want to assert my greater understanding, then it is because I am vain or proud, then basically instead of benefiting him I really want to be admired by him. But all true helping begins with a humbling. The helper must first humble himself under the person he wants to help and thereby understand that to to help is not to dominate but to serve, that to help is not to be the most dominating but the most patient, that to help is a willingness for the time being to put up with being in the wrong and not understanding what the other understands.

    • Excellent, Mads🙂

      • Truer words never spoken. Thank you for the eloquent reminder, Mads.

    • Another great (ouch!) topic!
      You know those lines from childhood that never seem to get erased? One of them for me from my mother (who else?) was, You can’t handle criticism. It was said so often or perhaps at particularly impactful moments that as a young adult, away from home, I found myself remaining mute in the face of criticism–fair and unfair–practicing “taking it”. When I discovered astrology a couple of years ago, I found out that my mother and I have exactly the same moon, 16 Virgo. Mine’s in H10; don’t have a birth time for her. My father and I share the same Saturn 20 Scorpio; mine conjunct Ascendant. He was extremely critical of me in a taunting way through my teens; after that, silent. I married my dad the first time–very silent, saved his criticism of me until after the split—says very sarcastic things about me to my 25 year old daughter. No need of it but there you have it. The second time, I married my mom–same Moon! I worked and worked and worked on seeing his criticism as constructive–and in fact I benefited from all that work–but then it reached a critical mass and that was it–it was over. Still going through a post-divorce phase in which any criticism coming my way–however constructive–is met with silence and a steely gaze. I’m working on getting myself a herd or tribe like VR has and I’ve declared my house a criticism (“constructive” or otherwise)-free zone. It’s a small herd so far–just me, my three kids, and my dog (he never criticizes me; just loves me, loves me)–but it feels just fine and sooooo safe. And if I slip with any of my kids, I apologize profusely. Criticism is poison. It smacks of arrogance and power mongering.

      • There’s an old southernism that describes what you heard during childhood about not being able to take criticism ~ “you’ve got your feelings out on a stick.” Boy did I hear that one a lot! Being super sensistive as a little girl, even a slight criticism stung. But I didn’t have a strong sense of self then, and as pointed out by many here, that’s of utmost importance.

        What you said is so important to hear, Judith: “I worked and worked and worked on seeing his criticism as constructive–and in fact I benefited from all that work–but then it reached a critical mass and that was it–it was over.” Like VR said, sometimes we do have to grab our hats.

  5. I’ve got a lot of Virgo in my chart, yet I am INCREDIBLY sensitive to criticism. I can handle it when it is constructive and worded positively, but when it’s not, it leaves me feeling wounded for hours after.

    Because of this, I am always super, extra careful when criticizing others.

  6. This is perfect. And quite timely. Says the person with Saturn, MC and North Node in Virgo.🙂

  7. There’s another kind of “criticism” that I have seen, which really isn’t criticism at all. Many people find it hard to give constructive, compassionate criticism whether its job related, about someone’s talents, or if its about personal matters, like maybe their manners or some other behavior related issue. Instead many people prefer to just stay silent and say nothing to the person, but then turn around and criticize them behind their backs to others! I have seen friends do this to other people, and then I start imagining that their doing it to me (could my Scorpio moon square my Aquarius sun have anything to do with that?😛 )!

    I would prefer that someone tell it to me like it is than stay quiet & go gossiping behind my back. At least if its something I can and want to fix I’m then able to, or I can make the decision to ignore the criticism.

    • That’s a great point, Marie G!

  8. Hi CJ. Oh, that’s a tough one. I’m used to professional critisism (I’m a writer), so I’ve learned to pick what’s useful, and disregard the rest. I never take critisism from an editor personal anymore. Early in my career, when I was complaining about yet another rejection, letter, and a friend told med I had a choice. I could believe that a rejection of a manuscript meant that I was useless, or I could use it to become a better writer. It’s important not to let other peoples opinion of you define who you are or who you want to be. Then you’re in big trouble since it’s impossible to please other people – you’ll get exhausted just trying. I see there’s a lot of references to Virgo, and I’m not sure that’s right. I’ve got 4 planets in Virgo, so I can be “all of the above”, of course. But I find that the Virgos I know (myself included) are harder on themselves than anyone else. I think the really personal and hard criticism is more of a Plutonian thing than anything else. I don’t criticise other people. It’s not my job to change them (even if they should), it’s my job to change me (and of course I don’t have to …). he, he very Pluto/Virgo, indeed.

    • Hi Natalie! You couldn’t be more right on Virgos!

      As cj pointed out, all signs have judgemental thoughts. The question is what they do with them.

      Here’s what I think about Virgo’s criticism:

      Virgos were cursed with an x-ray vision. They can’t help it- I’m not sure they even like it- but they notice things, the little stuff that give people off (again, God is in the details). They don’t make such a big fuss about it (they may play dumb, act silly or pretend they’re searching for their keys while someone is outting himself) but give them a week and they’ll know everything about you, from your deepest fears to your childhood traumas.

      So, what do they do with that knowledge? Evolved Virgos wouldn’t use criticism to help others. Just like you said, once we get to truly know ourselves, all we want is to be left alone and do our thing. Ultimately, we’re a self-absorbed sign, we just don’t care that much about others. And, in the end, everyone has his own lessons to learn and his own path to follow.

      They wouldn’t use it against others, either. Knowing other people’s weakness is a strenght we wouldn’t easily misuse. I honestly don’t think Virgos would ever go that low, outting a person. Plus, our knee-jerk reaction is to be sympathetic and compassionate with the underdog.

      Until someone challenges our deep sense of justice, that’s when I think Virgo nastiness comes in (and we can be nasty like nobody’s buissiness!)

      Here’s how it works for me: when someone mistakes my polite dumbness for a weakness, I get so angry I want to give him a blunt piece of my mind, which clashes with my refusal to take the low road (I owe that much to myself). So I end up being sarcastic and picking at him over trivialities. He thinks I’m being nasty, while I think I’m doing him a favor. I honestly hate that about myself, but no matter how hard I’ve tried, I never really managed to fix that about myself. So I resolved this issue by keeping a list in my mind of the traits that push my buttons, and hitting the road the minute I trace them in someone (see comment above)

    • To be totally fair, shadow Virgos ARE guilty of the crime Pads described above.

      That said, don’t you just love how our sign serves (duh!!) as the dumpster of the zodiac for all kinds of undesirable flaws?😛

    • Natalie, as a writer myself, I really relate. I’ve learned to take editorial input really well, and I have to say, I would NOT be the writer I am today without these 40 years of being edited by the very best. It’s like they’re behind me, looking over my shoulder as a write–I hear what they have to say, even, sadly, those that have passed on. (God bless you, Betty Lundsted, whereever you are.) Donna

      • VR – I love that you are such a great defender of Virgos. Thanks for your great input. Donna, I’ve worked with bad editors and good ones, and the good ones are rare. No wonder writers follow their editors and not the publisher. Just wanted to share how I really deal with criticism: http://singhandnormann.blogspot.com/
        – and of course, all this happens below the surface. Above the surface I’m like the mighty duck, all calm and collected.

      • Natalie, I’ve just visited your blog for the first time, and it is a delight! First of all the design is very appealing, and I loved reading another writer’s ups and downs. Donna

      • Thanks, Donna. That’s so nice of you to say!

  9. “Don’t let emotion take hold of you. Critics hit you in your Moon. Listen with your Mercury. Analyze the critique. Let the Virgo in you separate the wheat from the chaff.”

    Hi CJ and Donna – What a great way to sum it up, from an astrological perspective! The closest square in my chart is my 5th house Moon in Aquarius square my Mercury in Scorpio, which sits right on the cusp of the 2nd/3rd. And my Saturn in the 4th sits at the exact midpoint. Thankfully, my 12th house Pluto (in Virgo conjunct my Virgo Ascendant) sextiles Mercury, which is conjunct both Jupiter and Neptune (in Scorpio).

    My dad (a double Scorpio whose Ascendant/Sun/Venus was also conjunct Saturn) was a very harsh critic – growing up, it felt as if nothing I ever did or said was right. Nothing. Our home was a battlefield and words were used as weapons, designed to destroy.

    Although I recognized his criticism for what it was, hypocritical and pointless (as well as a reflection of his own inner critic), that didn’t stop me from taking everything to heart and internalizing those frequent negative messages. Even worse, was my mother constantly telling me I was just like him! As a result, I’m often my own worst critic. No one is harder on me than ME and I try very hard to live up to the exacting standards I’ve set for myself. I also try not to intentionally hurt people with my words, realizing as I do that my insights can be scathing.

    To my dad’s credit, I still remember with great affection the time he stayed with me all evening, helping me to learn my multiplication tables after learning I was struggling with them. Since I’d always done so well in school, I think he was shocked by the thing he’d taken for granted – which was the illusion of my perfection. It was one of the few times his words felt like helpful criticisms – unlike other times, on this particular night he never made me feel less-than. His patient, persistent reminders made all the difference.

    I actually love constructive criticism, the kind that teaches something useful in a kind, respectful way without demeaning. At its best, this kind of criticism seems like a form of love. Throughout school, most of my teachers saw how eager I was to learn and rewarded me with their encouragement and attention. My Saturn sextiles Venus, and I try to be that kind of teacher as well. Only wish I could learn to be a little gentler with myself.

    Great post – thanks to all! We all need occasional reminders to be kind. Not everything that can be said is worth saying.

  10. Hi, cj and All, has anyone noticed how popular criticism is on TV now?! With competitive reality shows (dancing, singing, cooking, etc.) featuring contestant survival of the judges’ criticism every week. Some of those judges are pretty good at it, don’t you think, so maybe TV-watching is good for constructive criticism skills. 😉

    • Hi, pdw. I’m a reality show junkie (not the Jersey Shore/Bachelorette) and love watching how people evolve and master themselves. As CJ notes, you can’t really grow much if you can’t take constructive criticism.

      But I’ve also noted that there’s another brand of criticism rampant–the snarky, mindless rage looking for a target. That’s what prompted the past two posts. People are ANGRY out in the world at large and ready to dump it on anyone….I think because of a general sense of powerlessness to halt the difficult sitution we’re in. Donna

    • Remember when Simon Cowell used to be on American Idol? I couldn’t stand him because his critiques were quite hurtful. I’d feel so bad for the people who were at the receiving end of his barbs.

      Schadenfreude makes shows popular. There will always be people who enjoy watching others being put down.

    • And, in the rare case that a so-called talent dares to talk back to the judge and question the critique he received, the Judge snaps, lashing out in a rant which always ends with the phrase: “You must learn to handle criticism.”
      Am I a total bitch for finding that hilariously amusing?😛

  11. When I was a teen through my twenties, I heard several variations of, “Your problem is you don’t have enough self-confidence!” Yeah, it didn’t exactly boost my self-esteem much — I’ve got Pluto in Virgo, in the 3rd conjunct the IC. Sometimes people who dish out negative criticism are clueless and tactless, and sometimes they’re just enjoying dishing it out.

    I think now though that being really grounded in that IC is a great way to open up to Pisces side of the polarity. There’s space and freedom to be creative, because the fear of doing something wrong that keeps a project from getting off the ground is easily pushed aside — there’ll be time for editing later. And there’s an ease of putting myself out there because I’m not afraid of criticism. I’m a good enough critic of the critics that I can decide for myself if their points are on target.

  12. I don’t mind criticism that will help me improve, but I hate the nit-picky types of criticisms about things that are not important. Those drive me nuts.

    I was also told I was too sensitive as a younger person, Cancer/Cancer Asc, but I think my shell got a little thicker and I don’t let everyone know how I feel.

    Giving criticism is very hard for me to do, as I let my Mars/Uranus conjuction in Cancer just let my anger pop out without thinking. So, instead of being constructive criticism for the other person I am just a nut case.🙂

    Just this week I let my anger fly at a Dr because his staff was just not on the ball. I didn’t realize that he had no idea what was going on, but he’s the one I got angry at. Now I feel bad that I directed my anger at the Dr, but also glad that he knows his staff dropped the ball. This is what I mean about not knowing how to deliver criticism. I go right to angry.

    I am a Bear when it comes to health issues and wonder if that is my Moon in the 6th trining my Jupiter and Mars. I think I have my best interest at heart when it comes to mine or my husbands health..and will challange anyone.

    • Correction! Make that My 6th house Moon trining my 10th house Jupiter and My 2nd house Mercury…not Mars

  13. With Virgo on the ascendant in my natal chart, I actually like constructive criticism. I like it when my yoga teacher comes up to me and tweaks my alignment in a pose, or when a teacher or editor corrects some overly- effusive use of commas in my writing. It helps me feel like I am “improving” my skills when I’m guided in the “correct” direction. Usually this criticism is presented objectively: “Not that way; try this way instead.” I have a strong Chiron presence in my chart (conjunct the Descendant) and I really love a good mentor, who may wound my self-esteem for a moment, but will directly apply the balm of empowering knowledge.
    But I just ignore criticism that comes without that corrective information. And I don’t give or take any criticism to about subjective or personal matters. I make mistakes; I am not a mistake. In the face of that kind of criticism, I just imagine myself holding up a big mirror to the critic. And I reply “I’ll keep that in mind” without disclosing that what I’m really remembering is the glimpse they’ve given me into their own issues.

  14. Fabulous article. I used to get a lot of negative criticism when I was young, but don’t seem to get much these days at all. Why? Partly I think simply because I am older and partly because I am a LOT more confident these days (or at least know how to project confidence) so I am not such an easy target. I do give myself a lot of negative criticism though, I need to look at that!

    A funny thing happened last week. I was thinking about an old school ‘friend’, one who used to put me down a lot. Then the very next day, I get a Facebook friend request from her…it’s been over 25 years. In her message she said that she was jealous of me at school. Spooky, but I think there’s a fascinating insight to be had there


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