When an editor wants a rewrite on an article I’ve written, or even just notes a few things I could have done better; when my husband asks me to give the dogs water more reliably; when a friend tells me I haven’t been there for her in quite the way she was hoping … I freak out. My stomach gets upset, my adrenaline level rises, I hear my heartbeat, and I generally lost it.
This is normal, of course, and probably sounds pretty familiar to a lot of people. The mechanism at work is an evolutionarily useful tool that in many emotional situations, such as receiving criticism from coworkers or loved ones, is no longer really applicable. As explained well by Dr. Margaret Paul on Inner Bonding in her article “Fight, Flight or Loving Action,” responding to real danger with a fight or flight response (i.e. “Do I GTFO or do I pick up my spear??!”) makes a lot of sense.
Walking into a dark alley containing a large dinosaur, for example, would be a good situation for fight or flight to kick in. Responding to a request for better sources in my article, however, is super unhelpful. Yet we all do this; we all respond to emotions as though they’re about to tear our throats out.
Thanks for that, lizard brain.
But I am trying hard to get better. Accepting criticism, after all, moves us toward our goals and furthers our dreams. So whenever I get feedback, I remind myself of a few things:
1. This will not kill you, though it feels like it.
2. The voice in your head that claims you are perfect is wrong. Mostly.
3. Shut up and listen.
Though simplistic, and though I have to repeat them many times in order for them to attain even partial effect, these reminders do help me. And lo and behold, once I actually manage to ditch the fight-or-flight, I can actually see the benefits of what someone is telling me. My work gets better, my marriage gets better, my friendships get better. I get better.