The Paradigm Shift that Transformed my Chronic Resistance to Feedbacks

I never handled feedback well. My friends and colleagues might think otherwise – that is because I faked it. But inside, I knew I wasn't able to.

I had in me a sincere desire to grow, marinated the importance of feedback. I’d read, received training and even delivered training on the topic. That’s why I felt like a hypocrite and a liar observing my subconscious reactions to feedback.

When I started Life Written in early August 2014, I chose to write in English to reach a larger audience. However, being a non-native makes me insecure. I thought of asking a native-English-speaking friend to help proofread. I thought about it, long and hard, for weeks. But I didn't move. One day I received a message from Scott, my Australian friend, saying that he’d be glad to offer his support. Scott was one of the nicest persons I knew, so this gave me a boost of encouragement, until I received the edited file.

I downloaded it, looked at the unopened Word file with great suspicion and hostility, as if it’d committed some sort of crime. After staring at the thing, which was still unopened, for ten seconds, I stood up and walked away from my desk. I needed a glass of water, all of a sudden dehydration was more lethal than Ebola. So I had my glass of water to increase my life expectancy. Then I walked back to my desk, sat down, and decided to do something else.

After two days and some breathing, I finally double-clicked the damn file, hoping to see a nice and peaceful scenery. It wasn’t. I saw a nuclear testing site instead: red comments and cross-outs and replaced words. Blood spilled every where. Someone killed my darling!

After the whole thing got through my brain, my first reaction was never a profound gratitude for having a true friend in my life who was so kind to bother helping me to improve. I felt humiliated and depleted. And I felt like the world’s biggest jerk to even attempt to write. Then I began to suspect this friend of mine to be jealous or evil, or both, regardless his considerate criticism. Maybe I’d better spare the world my horrific writing – okay, maybe write only once a year during Halloween – and spend the rest of my time selling insurance.

This drama happened for few minutes until I somehow got a grip and told myself to stop being such a wimp. Nevertheless, I tormented myself every single time someone proofread my article. I couldn't get rid of it no matter how hard I tried. A month ago, I realized that getting rid of it is not the right way.

In Peace Is Every Step, the Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh passes on a wisdom so subtle that it shifted my paradigm. Entitled “Non-Surgery”, his passage on dealing with negative emotions goes:

Therapists want to help us throw out what is unwanted and keep only what is wanted. But what is left may not be very much. If we try to throw away what we don’t want, we may throw away most of ourselves. Instead of acting as if we can dispose of parts of ourselves, we should learn the art of transformation. We can transform our anger, for example, into something more wholesome, like understanding. We do not need surgery to remove our anger. If we become angry at our anger, we will have two angers at the same time. We only have to observe it with love and attention. If we take care of our anger in this way, without trying to run away from it, it will transform itself. This is peacemaking. If we are peaceful in ourselves, we can make peace with our anger. We can deal with depression, anxiety, fear, or any unpleasant feeling in the same way

So I began to observe the storm of my emotions with more tenderness as it passed through me – so insecure, so fragile, like a baby bird. Two weeks ago as I was walking downstairs from my room to make dinner, a lightning bolt struck. I found the source of those feelings.

It is often believed that a person reacts badly to feedback because he fears the opinions of others.

For me, I reacted badly to feedback because I feared the revelation of my own limitations. Not to others, but to myself: I thought I was better. I thought I was there, but I wasn’t. And my peanut-sized creative confidence flushed itself down the toilet.

In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott writes a passage on how feedback perplexes writers, which I think resonate with all other aspects of life:

I heard Marianne Williamson say once that when you ask God into your life, you think he or she is going to come into your psychic house, look around, and see that you just need a new floor or better furniture and that everything needs just a little cleaning… Then you look out the window one day and see that there’s a wrecking ball outside. It turns out that God actually thinks your whole foundation is shot and you’re going to have to start over from scratch. This is exactly what it can be like to give, say, a novel to someone else to read.

Knowing that others also experience this feeling gave me a certain self-assurance that I wasn’t a psychopath. So resistance to feedback has little to do with how others see us. It has everything to do with how we face our own imperfections.

It is when we look out the window and see the wrecking ball. I think there are many of us who subconsciously avoid this encounter so badly that they never dare to look out the window. And this is dangerous because our house will never has the chance to become more beautiful.

So I began to tell myself a different story. That together with my strengths, my imperfections are a part of my identity too. That they are like the tiny caterpillar waiting to be discovered in order to be transformed.

I kept on writing; asking for feedback, with slight hesitation; and receiving them, with certain agony. My resistance is still beating, and it is okay. Change, real change, takes time. The caterpillar is growing its wings.

What about you?

Have you found the caterpillar?


More on embracing imperfections, read on Perfectionism and Striving for Excellence: A Thin Line, or Limits can be the Fertile Ground for Creativity, Here is Why.

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