I like to think I’m decent at integrating difficult feedback from other people. (That comes easily when you’re your own harshest critic, and constantly assume you’re in the wrong.) What’s more challenging, I’ve found, is taking feedback from myself.
Signals from my body and my emotions are things I long tried to suppress, deny, and avoid. They were inconvenient and uncomfortable and I didn’t really know what to do with them.
Just like constructive feedback from another person, the signals from my own heart, mind, and body were just trying to help me.
Regardless of the source, repeatedly dismissing or ignoring feedback will eventually lead the giver to either give up or escalate. I realized that’s what was happening with my chronic, stress-induced physical and emotional health issues: I was ignoring the early warning signs, so my body had to resort to increasingly extreme ways to get me to pay attention.
So I decided to try a little experiment, to leverage something I did already know how to do well.
I wondered – what if I related to my own internal feedback signals the same way I related to feedback from external sources?
The most important thing about receiving feedback well from someone else, no matter how hard it is to hear, is to greet it with the following:
Without assuming agreement, guilt, or action, those two statements accomplish the most important thing when receiving feedback:
This makes it safe for the feedback giver to speak their important truth. (What you do with that information, and whether or not you totally agree with it, is irrelevant at this point.)
Every time a new ailment or big, difficult feeling came up inside me, my reflexive response was annoyance and beating myself up for being so difficult and overly sensitive. Not a great recipe for building internal rapport.
So instead I started trying to interrupt that cycle, to treat myself more like I would treat anyone else trying to give me information.
When the pain -> self blame pattern kicked in, I tried to disrupt the normal chain of mental events. After the pain, but before the self blame, I injected the magic words, directed towards myself:
That’s only the beginning of a longer internal inquiry, but now some inquiry could actually occur – instead of being immediately shut down.
The results of this shift have been nothing short of remarkable.
Closely observing my responses to the new thought pattern, I can often feel the original sensation/pain/concern release and move through quickly – because it accomplished its mission of informing me, so it didn’t need to stick around any longer.
Other times, it lingers but just by virtue of sitting with it for a moment, the feeling spontaneously reveals more information about what the underlying issue is.
In this way, I’ve uncovered many things I’d previously swept under the rug but really needed to address – stuff I’d compartmentalized that had been taking up way more space than I’d consciously realized before.
But the most important result of this shift has been in softening the way I relate to myself, and bringing that more in line with the gentleness and acceptance with which I aim to treat others.
The next time an inconvenient or difficult feeling (physical or emotional) comes up for you, try the magic words: I hear you. Thank you for telling me. Then wait and see what unfolds.