Take it to heart?

“Take it to heart.” Usually, we hear this phrase applied to feedback, aka criticism, offered by others. We feel like a bigger person if we can listen openly to negative words from someone. Seems to me to be another of those casual phrases that do us more harm than good and deserve a hearty “who says?” challenge.

Way back in grad school, 30 plus years ago, I learned that feedback is effective only when solicited. It’s pretty hard to take in and process effectively something that we didn’t ask for and probably don’t want to hear. We all do better when we seek information to help us improve, rather than have it foisted upon us, in any of the typical forms: fights with loved ones, criticism disguised as ‘help,’ yearly job evaluations. It seems to me that this phrase, “take it to heart”, runs counter to human nature. The phrase implies that a grown-up wants to listen to feedback. Truthfully, I don’t think many of us really yearn to hear that we need to do something differently–even when we know on some level that we do. And challenging ourselves to “take it to heart” implies that we just need to suck it into our inner most being. We impose an expectation that criticism is always true and valid and valuable.

(That always sounds like an absolute. And if you’re a regular reader, you know my ideas on absolutes.)

My challenge is aimed at that last phrase about criticism. Criticism/feedback may be necessary to growth. But is it always true, valid, valuable? Many of us believe that it is. Rather than “take it to heart,” I suggest “take it to mind.” Don’t just expect that, because you are an adult striving to do your best in life, that you have to accept negative words right into your core. Think on feedback. Evaluate it. Test it out, dwell on the accusations or challenges for awhile. See if the words fit your perception. Write about it. Check it out with a friend or therapist. Where is the truth–the helpful portion of the words? And where is the anger or defensiveness or misperception on the part of the giver? What might have more to do with them, who offer the criticism, and less to do with YOU? Incorporate what is valuable, and let go of the rest.

It’s okay–even extremely healthy–to take some time to sort out what comes your way. You don’t have to “take it to heart” to be a functional person.