Being Pinched: The Power of Taking Criticism

by Jennifer Paros

Illustration by Jennifer Paros - Copyright 2008

Illustration by Jennifer Paros - Copyright 2008

When I was a child, my sister and I rarely fought.  We might disagree, certainly, but rarely would these arguments turn physical.  Still, every once in a while they would.  I have no memory of the subject or even the intensity that would spark one of these occasions, but I do remember that at least one time our interaction turned to physical aggression in the form of pinching. 

I have no memory of pinching my sister, but because she is a gentle soul by nature, I am going to assume that I (somewhat less gentle) was the instigator.  And then I remember her coming, in full force anger, to pinch me back.  I have an image of myself, perhaps now exaggerated by time and fantasy, willingly offering the arm.  I remember making a decision at that moment, to just take it-- to allow it to happen, to not fuss over it, to feel the pain but not let it upset me.  And so, because the arm was flesh, I certainly registered the damage she was inflicting, but because of my decision, I was not, strangely, hurt by it–neither emotionally nor physically. 

My sister’s exasperation and frustration over her lack of impact was so strong, she ran off to my mother to report the whole thing and seek restitution.  But the truth was, we had performed the same aggressive act against each other. The difference was that I had stumbled upon a mental stance that allowed me to be unaffected by the experience and she had stumbled upon a mental stance that had left her at the mercy of the experience.  What she was really protesting was the imbalance in how much power each of us appeared to have, with her seeming to have ended up with less and me with more. 

As I stood and received the pinch, I learned that the less I reacted the more powerful I felt.  The sense of command and control I knew at that moment was far better than any feeling I could have gotten from continuing the violence.  For what is it that all warring parties want?  Power.  It is only mistaken thinking that leads us to believe that what we must control in order to feel that power is something or someone outside of ourselves. 

Receiving feedback and criticism on our writing can sometimes feel the same as receiving a pinch.  It can be experienced as an act of aggression and something uncomfortable or even hurtful-- regardless of the intentions.   

Several years ago, while in the last stages of putting my book together for publication, my editor sent me line edits for the piece.  In what I considered to be an uncharacteristic expression on my part, I found myself pounding my fist on the desk, cursing and complaining vehemently out loud to no one.   Although unhappy with my wounded, raging reactions to the suggestions, I was still quite gripped by the emotion I had summoned.  I was experiencing the edits as a pinch, and one I was not in good mental stance to take. 

By the next day, determining I did not want to be the person who pounds her fist in babyish retort, I decided to sit with it.  So, I allowed myself to read and re-read the edits without having to do anything about them.  My only job, I said to myself, was to listen, to take them in, to observe what they were.  Over the next two days, this is what I did, and what I found was there was no pain or distress (as there had been at first, when I reacted), and soon clarity arose and I was able to see where I truly agreed or disagreed or where compromise was easily found. 

So, whether I am a child engaged in physical attack with my sister, or an adult receiving comment on my work, perceived war ceases without defensive reaction. All warring parties ever want is a sense of power. And that sense can be experienced through the mental stance I stumbled upon so many years ago.  By not fighting against, the internal war ceases and with it any emotional distress or discomfort. And, in this choice, power returns, and when power returns, so then does resolution and clarity as to the next steps to take. The less I react, the more powerful I feel.  Now, all I have to do is remember.

Jennifer Paros is a writer, illustrator, and author of Violet Bing and the Grand House (Viking, 2007). She lives in Seattle.

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