My Help On Monday: Criticism- How To Give It, How To Take It (And Two Times I Was Harshly Criticised)

Last week, Matt and I visited The Inn On The Green, and then reviewed our experience following our visit. As is standard procedure, I write two reviews- one for my blog, and a shorter summary that I post on TripAdvisor, no biggie.

Now, experiences at The Inn On The Green weren’t exactly stellar. As a reviewer, I can only be honest and say what I did and didn’t enjoy, and that’s all I set out to do.

So when I saw the response from the manager to my original review, I was quite surprised.

Most managers that I have reviewed have taken any criticism on the chin, taken my pointers on board and gone back to work unscathed. Not this guy.

According to him, I fabricated dishes and I was hard to please. He pretty much chewed me out for being among the 5% of people who weren’t satisfied with how his pub operates.

Yeesh, now it’s personal.

For a moment, it took my husband and a few deep breaths to stop me bouncing onto my laptop and bashing out exactly what I thought of him. It wouldn’t have resolved the issue, but I would have definitely felt more relieved.

But then it struck me, his excessive use of (sometimes multiple) exclamation marks struck a chord.

This wasn’t about me, this was about him.

Him, and the way he handled criticism.

Badly.

Let me be honest, there are two British celebrities that really resonate with me. Heck, I’d even go as far as to say that they inspire me.

Simon Cowell, and Gordon Ramsay.

Not exactly ‘nice’ guys. Agreed?

But you see, once you get past that tough cookie exterior, they are among some of the nicest, most thoughtful, most genuine people you could ever meet.

And I’m pretty much the same.

I can be a bitch, and I can be a complete asshole. But I’m a bitch and an asshole because I want to see you win and I want to see you succeed. I’m not going to sugar-coat things.

Just like Simon Cowell and Chef Ramsay.

Two Times That I Was Criticised

Make no mistake, I am human, and as a human, it means I am fair game to critique. If you want to criticise what I do and you have a good reason to, feel free! In fact, I welcome your criticism because it allows mo to shape the way I do things and make my blog better for you. Go ahead and criticise me!

Story 1: My Writing Club Story

When I joined my local writing club, I was really hopeful to make lots of fellow writer friends. There were 5 of us, three elderly ladies, one younger girl and me. One of the older ladies was the group leader, and she sort of decided what we were going to do, or what we would write about.

Very early in, I realised that we all had very different writing styles. The young girl liked to write about growing up in Africa, two of the ladies wrote poetry, the leader lady wrote prose and then there was me – who wrote pieces aim to assist, guide and inspire. Leadership stuff.

For whatever reason, the leader lady gave us all ‘homework’ to do at the end of the first week, we all had to write a piece of prose about someone we knew, without saying who that person was.

So, I wrote a piece about my neighbour.

It wasn’t a particularly nice piece, sure, but I wanted to convey the emotion that I felt. I wanted to convey the disgust and detest I felt for him for the way he would stand in front of me and lie so frequently and so prolifically. I had some strong emotions about him, and I took that chance to get them out.

She hated it.

It wasn’t prose at all, she said. But the emotion was there. My detest for my neighbour was apparent.

So, then, even if it wasn’t prose, it was still something.

Emotional, powerful. Hey, that was okay.

Each person in the group was told how bad their work was, they were each, in turn, criticised for the work that they produced. Even the poets who struggled the least with the challenge were told how they could improve. At that point I realised that nothing short of perfect prose would be good enough and I decided to disregard her feedback. I don’t write in poetic styles anyway, so that was fine for me.

Although I’ve never been back, my reaction to her criticism was to calmly and quietly leave the group at the end of the session, and vow never to return. I didn’t attack her, I didn’t berate her and I didn’t shut down to everyone else. I just decided it wasn’t the right place for me, and left.

The last that I heard, the leader lady has now left and the group is now led by someone else. Of what I’ve heard, they’re also doing quite well producing articles for our monthly local newspaper, so kudos to them.

Story 2: A Bad Joke

Sat on the seafront in Northern Cornwall, my brother pointed out the sun and said that the sun was in the sky. Amused by his pointing out the obvious, I made a bad attempt at trying to be funny.

“Is that what it is? I thought it was a giant ball of fire.”

I know, I know, it was painful.

“Well yeah, that’s exactly what it is” he said bluntly.

Yeah, that’s exactly what it is. Awkward.

“I’m sorry sis, but if that was what you call humour then.. wow”

Wow yourself!

I was deeply aggrieved and possibly rightly offended. He just didn’t criticise my joke. He criticised me.

Criticism: How To Take It, How To Give It

In life, anything we can do can be criticised. For as long as we can form opinions, and the opinion isn’t favourable, then we’re likely to dish out some criticism. That’s just what we humans do.

The difference, though, is in how you do it.

If, like the writing group leader lady, you just criticise something that someone did, then that’s fine and fair. You aren’t judging them, you are judging something they said or did. That’s good. If you criticise someone for something about who they are (like my brother did), then you’re likely to lose friends, and your criticism will probably be ignored completely. Throw in a compliment or two with your criticism (who can say no to the “compliment sandwich”?) and you’re good and ready.

The difference between helpful criticism an unhelpful criticism, is how you give it, and the intent.

When I criticised the pub, I was not criticising the pub nor the manager. I was criticising my experience. The pub itself was nice and I’m sure the manager is decent, too. It wasn’t about hurting him, it was about allowing potential paying customers to make a decision based on collective reviews. One bad review on TripAdvisor wouldn’t put me off of visiting an establishment, personally, but ten bad reviews on the first page might change my mind. Places like TripAdvisor require a huge level of honesty.

Most people do not set out to belittle you, nor do they set out to offend or upset you, and so it is important to try and see it that way. Criticism is not, generally, meant as a personal attack against you, but as negative feedback against the thing you did.

When we get criticised, it’s easy to overreact and lash out. Try not to let that be the case. Overreacting to criticism does nothing to preserve your credibility and is likely to make people refuse to give you an opinion again. Instead, smile and say thankyou, then decide exactly what you’re going to do with it.

When Empaths Shut Down

Four pints of milk,

That was all it for took me to explode into a rage – 4 pints of semi-skimmed milk.

“That was the milk I asked you to put in the fridge,” he said softly.

You asked me to put in the fridge? Why don’t you put your own damn milk in the fridge?!

On the surface, it all seems so trivial. I mean.. it’s milk, and a fridge, right? It shouldn’t have made me so explosive, and yet it did.

Because that’s what happens when empaths are overwhelmed – we become explosive.

What triggered this recent change hasn’t really been one thing, but rather an accumulation of lots of little things. It’s been a neighbour who whines on and on and on about the recent ugly demise of a relationship, friends who have hurt me (and I’ve let get away with hurting me, so I’m angry at myself), a husband who, sorry to say, gets away with a lot more than he perhaps should around the home (I’m lenient because he works), the stress of getting the home up together for Christmas, being the master organiser of the household and buying Christmas presents for 5 people (4 of which are men with very different tastes!) and supporting my father-in-law with various odds and ends.

All of that still is layered on top of what is, at it’s core, already making me already feel rather sore and vulnerable – the fact that this is my first winter and Christmas without my Dad.

He was more than just an inspiration to me, He was my lifeline in my fight against Seasonal Affective Disorder. During the cold, dark days when my husband and mother were at work, just hearing a familiar, friendly voice was enough to pull me out of my head and bring me back home, and now he’s gone. Now, I feel cold, frightened and alone until my husband gets home.

So it’s no wonder I feel a little frazzled.

As an empath, one of the biggest curses traits of my nature is that I seem to naturally draw the world’s wounded, vulnerable and sad. I first came to this realisation when I realised that the last person I’d met offline for a friendship was yet another person with autism, now at least the fourth. Although I have no problem with people with any form of autism, I realised in many cases that these people were looking for someone who was ‘normal’, and who wouldn’t judge them. They didn’t want to be my friend because we had anything in common, they wanted to be my friend because I seemed like an okay person. It’s both touching and damning in equal measure.

Since then, I’ve found my neighbour has also bonded with me because I’m the kind of person who listens and cares without judgement. I also recalled the time I was invited to eat turkey dinosaurs and baked beans and play with Barbie dolls with a 34-year-old woman with severe learning difficulties because I was the only girl she knew who didn’t judge her.

In all of these cases it can be exceptionally hard to say no and close the door. You feel like the worst person alive, and yet doing so can be an important act of self-preservation.

But I digress.

All of that caring for others takes it’s toll on an empath, and sooner or later, we become predisposed to another emotion, or rather, a lack of emotion.

We develop apathy.

Empaths and apathy is not new to me. My mother particularly is an empath, but she is not weak and limitless in her empathy. She is strong, fierce, crazy, passionate and deeply caring, but if the extent of her empathy is exceeded, she’ll be the first to let you know the true extent of her feelings. When my mother is done caring, she stops caring about anything. Her priority is getting herself rested and feeling better.

A bit like me, really.

“How Are You?”

Many moons ago, I had a friend called Mark. Now, things were a bit wierd between Mark and I, because what I thought was just simply an open, honest and sincere friendship was really an emotional affair, I just didn’t know that they existed. As far as I knew at the time, unless part A magically ends up in part B (or one of its acquaintances), no crime had been committed. Neither party saw anything of each other’s anatomy (besides our faces), so I was innocent of any wrondgoing, I believed. Of course, now I know very differently, and Mark and I haven’t spoken since.

During this little spell, I remember one occasion where I felt overworked and underappreciated. I told Mark that I felt nobody cared about how I was feeling.

“Okay, so let me ask you something..”

“How are you, Helen?”

How are you?

Not how is your Mum, your brother, your husband… me.

That’s all an empath really wants, to be heard, to feel understood, to feel recognised.

Five minutes of your time, to do some offloading of their own.

Five minutes of your time, to do two or three tasks they know need doing, for them.

Five minutes of your time can go a long way to save an empath from apathy.

After my volatile explosion, I found a few things happened.

First of all, I closed down completely. I didn’t care about anyone, or anything, even the housework. I hit apathy, I’d frozen up, and I needed unfreezing.

Secondly, I leaned against the draining board, and I ugly cried. That was what life, stress and being overwhelmed had reduced an otherwise strong woman to, full-on ugly tears. Strong women who usually have their shit together don’t ugly cry too easy. At least, not where they could be so easily seen.

That was where Matt found me.

At the moment, the only people I’m really letting close to me is Matt and my Mum. Matt, because bless him, having realised that I was overwhelmed, he did redo the laundry and organised under the stairs. Even if he did manage to pull the shoe rack off of the back of the door and create yet another job that needed resolving, he at least tried. I’ll never be mad at anyone who makes a genuine effort, with anything. My Mum on the other hand has been video calling me regularly, just to check in. We chat on video and drink tea and there is something so wonderfully housewifey about our “tea & 10 minutes”, ten blissful minutes with my Mummy.

The people closest to my heart know how I’m really feeling. In some ways, we’re all feeling the same with our loss, but we’re also all feeling stress in different ways. The people closest to me are enabling me to thaw out and warm up again, they are allowing me to feel and care again. That probably explains why I also told the Jehovah’s Witnesses that they overstepped the mark when they gave me a “death & afterlife” booklet and humiliated me on my doorstep by asking me to read aloud a passage following the loss of my Dad. I also told them that they were a bunch of brainwashed, self-regulated fools and that I was no longer interested in anything they had to say, owing to their lack of genuine empathy in my hour of need.

A classic case of why not to come back to me if you cross me, I think!

5 Tips For Caring For Empaths

Look, empaths aren’t hard people to know, but we are hard people to deal with sometimes. We care about the things that other people might overlook and our feelings do get hurt seemingly easily. With that in mind, here are 5 tips for handling the empath(s) in your life.

  1. Listen with interest

If you’re not paying attention, an empath will notice and they will think you don’t care, or that they are boring you. If an empath needs to talk, be sure that you have time to listen, even if only for five or ten minutes. An empath does not want to depress you, they just need to feel heard and noticed, too. Ask questions and pay attention to what they are saying. If they are asking for your thoughts, be ready to give them. If an empath is asking you for advice, it’s because they trust you more than themselves at this moment, so make sure you’re up to the mark. Closing down their request could seriously impact your relationship with them.

2. Be ready to chip in

Empaths are notorious for trying to save the world, all by themselves and within 24 hours. Someone’s in need, there’s a parcel to drop off and dinner to cook, plus vacuuming to do and dishes in the sink? No problem! An empath can do everything (or at least, so they think!). The reality is, empaths, like anyone else, have time and energy limits. If you can drop off the parcel or order food in, let the empath know and then do it. They will be extremely grateful for your help and will be far more willing to be there for you next time you need them.

3. Don’t abuse an empath

Unfortunately, there are some people on this planet who would think nothing of asking an empath to do something for them because it suits them and they know that the empath, with their kind, helpful nature, is likely to stress out and try to fulfill their request. Don’t be that person. If you can make your own coffee or get your own information from the internet, do it. If you can see something that needs tidying or fixing that the empath may have seen but hasn’t resolved yet, do that, too. Empaths need to learn to prioritise tasks. Using my own examples here, for me, walking the dog was far more important than letting my father-in-law know how long he needed to microwave his Cornish pasty, but as an empath, I stressed about both and I inevitably ruined one while worrying about the other. Don’t put an empath in my shoes, unless you really have to.

4. Always be grateful

“You’re amazing!”, “you’re so smart!”, these really matter to an empath because you are validating them for their contribution. In return for their work, you give them a little temporary ego boost. Empaths often don’t do something for anything in return, so something they didn’t ask for and weren’t expecting (like a compliment) can leave them feeling good. Even a sincere and heartfelt “thankyou” will do. Say it, and really mean it.

5. Allow the empath time

Empaths can get overwhelmed with emotion, and so sometimes, we need some time to ourselves to unwind. Empaths usually aren’t shutting you out to punish you, they just need some time to process their thoughts and feelings for themselves. If an empath asks for some time, allow it, it usually won’t be long. After the bins didn’t get emptied last week (another, different argument), I realised that I could just book in a bulky waste collection, pay my £25 and put the excess rubbish outside for collection. Et voila! Problem solved. It took me all of five minutes to think of that, once I had some time to myself. Sometimes Wolfie needs time, too. It isn’t about punishing each other. Empaths can and do get deeply hurt during an argument and sometimes they need time to think up answers on their own.

A sidenote here, because I really believe that communication in a relationship is key. It’s hard to say exactly how much time an empath needs, because they may only need five minutes, or twenty, or longer. They may want to write, sing or listen to music to express their feelings, so they need to be allowed time for that. They may also feel exhausted after the argument and want to cry or sleep for a while, so it is important to allow them time to do that, too.

Personally, I don’t advise taking time outside of the home, unless you really have to. The exception to rule is if you want to run an errand, like taking the dog for a walk. In all cases, it’s important to communicate politely and respectfully, tell your partner where you are going or how long you might be. Try and avoid overwhelming an empath, and understand that their request for space is about them, not you. For empaths, be polite, open, and try not to throw things or slam doors. I know it’s difficult because I have been guilty of doing so myself, but it’s imperative that we try to keep a lid on things out of respect for others as well.

A final tip on self-care for empaths

As empaths, one of our biggest flaws is that we put everybody and everything else first, and ourselves last. To each of you, YOU are the most important person.

When I was fifteen, I had an on-off relationship with a young man. During a chat with him in the smoker’s room (he smoked, I didn’t), he told me that I was the most important person in my life.

I argued with him – No, he was, the silly goose!

But he was right.

I really am.

As empaths, as people who care for people, self-care is so, so SO important. Make sure you eat regularly and sensibly, drink plenty of water and get enough sleep. Make sure you make time for yourself and for the things that you enjoy doing. Above all else, pay attention to who adds to your life, who gives and takes and who only takes, and don’t be afraid to drop those pesky people who only take if it helps to avoid that oh so nasty sense of apathy.

Over and out, until next time.

Stay well,

A slightly more warmed up Helen xx

12 Ideas For Coping With Anxiety & Depression

All of the ideas in this post are entirely from my own experiences and are 100% commission-free!



And not an antidepressant in sight.

1. Bach’s Rescue Remedy

I cannot advocate these enough. Legal and safe, Rescue Remedy gives me a sense of calm and clarity, rather than the groggy, half-awake state like something like benzodiazepines. If all you want and need is a touch of calm and reassurance, I strongly recommend Rescue Remedy. Also, the pastilles just look like little jelly candies, so nobody will know you’re calming your nerves.

2. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

I realise this here is going to be controversial, but I found Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT Therapy) to be a great help for me once I researched and practiced it away from a none-too-useful therapist. Analysing my thoughts rather than just talking about them helped me to understand my triggers and to treat myself with the same compassion and support that I would give a friend.

3. Being close to water

Be it the fountain in my garden, the ocean, the stream.. if I can hear water, bizarrely my anxiety eases. Close your eyes and just listen to the flowing water. Try to imagine your stresses washing away in the flow. With a little practice, its surprising how well this works.

4. ASMR

ASMR, or Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, can be a great tool with anxiety. An estimated one in 10 people experience ASMR, or “the tingles”, a pleasurable tingling sensation which is triggered by certain sounds including crinkling, tapping and hair brushing. Whilst not everyone experiences it, for those of us who do, it can be a great temporary relief from our negative, anxious thoughts.

5. The “HALT” technique

Used for mental health and addiction, HALT is an abbreviation of the 4 biggest causes of relapse – Hunger, Anger, Loneliness & Tiredness. When you can identify the trigger, you can do something about the problem. Hungry? Have a snack. Tired? Take a nap. Do not underestimate how well HALT works..

6. Exercise

I’m not even talking about a huge, pain-staking blow-out at the gym. A ten-minute walk, 20 minutes on a bike, whatever, it’s up to you. Exercise burns off that jittery feeling which is crucially what anxiety is. Your body is in “fight or flight” mode and you’re sat there doing nothing. Get up, move and burn it off. You don’t even need to do much. Jog on the spot or do 20 star jumps. Trust me, you’ll feel better for it and your body (and mind) will thank you, too.

7. Swimming

I’m adding this one to my list separately because it’s exercise, and then it us not. For me, swimming is as much a meditation as it exercise. When I swim, I like to imagine that I’m sweeping all of my worries behind me as I swim forward. Try this powerful visualisation and see.

8. Touch

Never, ever underestimate the power of touch. Cuddle therapy exists, massage therapy exists and for good reason. Touch releases oxytocin and serotonin that allow us to feel safe and allow our minds to relax. It is said that a 3-minute hug can reduce or even cure depression, so cuddle, cuddle, and cuddle some more!

9. Grounding

Not like your mother used to do! Grounding is one of my favourite techniques which works similarly to mindfulness to bring your focus back to the present moment. Instead of focusing on your thoughts, focus on 5 things that you can see, 4 things that you can hear, 3 things that you can feel, 2 things that you can smell and one thing that you can taste. Still anxious? Repeat the exercises with different answers for each of your five senses.

10. Distraction

Some therapists hate this because it’s more about running away than it is about tackling the problem, but sometimes it’s just not possible to start doing your therapy homework. Draw, write, listen to music, play with a pet, do whatever it takes to feel a bit calmer again.

11. Peppermint tea

A concoction suggested by my mother uses 2 drops of alcohol-based peppermint extract with a little sugar (or sweeteners) and warm water. Peppermint oil has a wonderful way of clearing the mind, calming the nerves and bringing about a sense of ease. Plus, it’s the perfect reason to have a mint humbug a day – sounds good to me!

12. Essential oils

Yep.. I know.. more hippy stuff, but they work! Like all others, lavender is my favourite to calm a racing mind, but peppermint helps to clear the head and lemon or orange do great to boost the mood.

Which ones are your favourite? Let me know in the comments!