Be Fearless: Overcome the Sting of Criticism

By Jonathan Alpert

Jonathan Alpert author of BE FEARLESS Change Your Life in 28 Days“Go to hell.”  “The article is dangerous.”  “You’re going to ruin our business model.”  “Managed care won’t reimburse us anymore.”  “Alpert is a fraud.”  And of course, my favorite written by a blogger for Forbes who used the pathetically salacious and baseless headline: “Jonathan Alpert’s Misstatements and Possible Misconduct.”   In that same post the blogger even went so far as to imply that I am something I am not and was practicing outside of the scope of my profession.  The comments above, and countless others, stemmed from my April 22, 2012 New York Times Op-Ed piece, “In Therapy Forever? Enough Already.”  In the piece my aim was to educate readers on the profession and shed some light on alternatives to long-term treatment and psychoanalysis where people might feel stuck. I encouraged those who might feel mired in therapy to move on and find an approach that is more goal-oriented.  The criticisms came primarily from colleagues who disagreed with my opinion and expressed it by attacking and criticizing me, rather than having a spirited debate about different approaches to therapy. The piece proved to be highly polarizing and one can surmise that these therapists felt threatened by my views and felt the need not only to attack, but spread the message.  Their criticisms even went so far to include lies and rumors.  For example, they accused me of not having the degree that I say I have when in fact I hold a Master’s degree in psychology, and not being licensed when in fact I hold a license to practice in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C. These comments weren’t too surprising given the level of panic and desperation my article seemed to incite in other therapists.

I also received hundreds of e-mails from people who identified with what I wrote in the article and felt great relief to hear a therapist say what I said.  They had been stuck in therapy for years and finally saw that things can be done differently.  My office phone has been ringing incessantly for weeks from people who want to make an appointment to see me.  I received dozens of e-mails from professors and students who were discussing my views in their classes.  I received several invitations from groups asking me to speak, and even from people saying they were so rattled by the piece that they were going to discuss it with their therapist in their next session.  Imagine that, people discussing my article about therapy with their own therapist!

My experience with the aftermath of this article reminded me so much of what a lot of my patients deal with: fear of criticism.  I see it in many aspects of peoples’ lives.  At work people fear criticism from their bosses or colleagues so they keep quiet and don’t express their opinion. They play it safe.  At home people fear that they will be criticized by their spouse so they don’t speak their mind. They back down when they sense conflict.  In friendships people often don’t have boundaries because they fear doing so will lead to criticism.  It’s this fear that keeps people stuck.  For example, at work by not speaking up and not sharing your ideas, you’ll never advance.  People won’t know your thoughts and will have no reason to promote you.  It’s safe to remain quiet.  But being safe doesn’t necessarily make you stand out or get recognized.  Had Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg been afraid of criticism, they never would have expressed their gutsy technologically advanced ideas and we wouldn’t have Facebook or all the innovations that Apple has brought us.  At home people fear they’ll be judged or criticized.  It creates an unhealthy dynamic in the relationship where fear of criticism holds one person back.  In friendships, people are often afraid of being criticized and ultimately rejected by a friend if their views are different so rather than express them, they just agree with their friend in order to keep the peace.  This fear of being criticized leads to resentment and will ultimately make the friendship intolerable for both.

Here’s how to deal with your fear of criticism:

  • Focus on what you believe in and what you did right.  Had I taken to heart the criticism that I received from my NY Times piece then it would have brought me down.  Instead I focused and continue to focus on the praise I received for the article.  By doing this it helps to diminish the negative comments and keeps one focused on what’s most important: your views and beliefs.
  • Speak your mind.  Don’t be deterred by opposing view or criticism. Doing so is avoidance and that will make you weaker, not stronger.  Don’t let others define you.  Know what you believe in and stand firm.
  • Accept the notion that there will be some people who love you and others who do not.
  • Change your self-talk.  Instead of thinking, “I can’t deal with this” or “Maybe they are right about me” Think, “I am strong and can roll with the punches” and “others don’t define me, I define me”.

BE FEARLESS Change Your Life in 28 Days by Jonathan AlpertJONATHAN ALPERT, a licensed psychotherapist and advice columnist, is one of the media’s favorite sources of no-nonsense lifestyle advice, quotes, and commentary. The New York Observer has called him “Manhattan’s most media-friendly psychotherapist” and “the media’s go-to guy for psychoanalyzing the City.”

His insight is regularly tapped by major national and international media outlets, including television, print, radio, and online. He has appeared on such nationally televised shows as TODAY, Good Morning America, CNN, FOX News, and NBC Nightly News.  He is often quoted by Ladies’ Home Journal, Details, Elle, Men’s Health, the Associated Press, BBC, Time and countless other print outlets. His book BE FEARLESS: Change Your Life in 28 Days was released in 2012 by Center Street. Visit www.jonathanalpert.com. Twitter: www.twitter.com/jonathanalpert. Facebook: www.fb.me/jonathanalpert.

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