Self Improvement — 08 August 2004
How to deal with what is said about you

How to deal with what is said about you

Entertainers and other famous people have to deal with the way they are perceived and portrayed to others. They have to contend with idealization, gossip, false depictions and sometimes even malicious representations. This is part of their fame, and they learn to cope with it. Occasionally, some of these celebrities have to resort to the legal system to exonerate themselves from false allegations that may be harmful to their reputation or esteem. But what about ordinary people?

How others perceive us contributes to our well being.
Having the positive regard of others improves our self-esteem and helps maximize our happiness and success. The converse is also true. Being regarded as unreliable, untrustworthy or unfriendly may reduce our chances for success and love.
Because being appreciated and liked has such a major survival value, we become very susceptible to the opinions of others about us.

Feeling appreciated brings an aura of comfort and ease.
With friends, we often feel happy and free. These emotions stem from the belief that we are liked and respected and that our faults will be handled with understanding and love. In new relationships where unconditional support is yet untested, our conduct may be more reserved and guarded. It takes time to earn the privilege of being at ease with people we love.

It follows then that when we hear an unkind comment, a sarcastic statement, gossip, or any idea that may put us in a bad light, we become hurt, angry or defensive. The threat is that a bad reputation may jeopardize the quality of our lives. We may lose work and friends, and may end up being isolated and alone. Being friendless is a very sad and terrifying state. So we work hard to please others and be well liked.

So what can we do when we receive negative feedback from someone about ourselves? I recommend the “mail sorting method”. In sorting your daily mail you probably make certain determinations about the value of each correspondence even prior to opening the envelope or email.

All mail can be classified into three categories: “Important mail”, “Junk mail” and “Yet to be determined mail”. Some mail is obviously important such as checks, bills or personal letters. The value of the content can be determined by identifying the sender. Junk mail (or spam) can also be easily noted by the highlights on the envelope such as “0% financing”, or the title of the email “get a free diploma”. The third category of Yet to be determined mail can not be easily deciphered from the outside and requires opening the message to classify it as important or junk.

Using the same mail sorting method to statements made to you or about you is very helpful. Your sounding board needs to be your own sense of yourself.

If you receive a compliment, an appreciation, or even criticism that rings true to you, that’s the important mail. You may allow this message to enter your mind and heart.

If the message feels foreign to you in terms of your self- knowledge, you need to relegate this comment to the trash pile and refuse to allow it to enter your mind or heart. For example, being told that you are slow to react when you have a reputation for swiftness, does not deserve close scrutiny.

But, if the message appears neither correct nor incorrect at first, it may belong in the “Yet to be determined pile”. For example, if you are told that the recent bad luck that befell you is in part your own doing, you may want to allow your mind to think about it, consider it for a while, before tossing it away. You may later decide that this is “junk mail” and needs to be discarded, or that it has some merit (“important mail”) and is worth exploring further.

This system provides emotional protection from allowing our hearts to be vulnerable to all the input we get. It honors us in owning the problem only when we concur that it exists. It protects our hearts from being broken by false, unkind and untrue accusations. It allows us to learn more about ourselves in a constructive way.

If you tend to be gravely impacted by what is said about you consider the following:

  • You can be helped by both positive and negative input from others.
  • You do not control how other people deliver their messages.
  • Emotional pain occurs when you allow negative input to be absorbed without screening.
  • Consider the “mail sorting formula” whenever you listen to other people. (It is helpful, even when it is not about you)
  • Remember that anything anyone says is about him or her more than about you.
  • Allow the positive input to reaffirm your self-worth and the negative one to be an invitation for self-improvement. Both are gifts to you.
  • Always count on your own sense of self-worth. If in doubt, check with a loving trusted person.
  • Honest self-scrutiny often leads to changes that enrich your life.

August 1, 2004

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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