I used to find criticism difficult to swallow. I was proud and defensive when I was younger. As I grew up and told myself I really didn't want to be the girl who'd fly into a screaming rage if I didn't get 100% approval ratings from all people at all times, I came to realise that criticism should be absorbed, processed and learned from and that it's gracious to accept it and open your ears to it. However, I still wasn't great at dealing with constructive criticism from my boyfriend at the time. My problem was that I felt he was pretty much perfect and I didn't have much criticism to throw his way, so when he tried to level with me and say something he felt I needed to hear, he found he was constantly risking my emotions, which were liable to go into hyperdrive if I felt vulnerable or as though I wasn't good enough. What's good about these realisations is that I'm not the only one! Criticism, no matter how constructive, can sometimes be a bit sandpapery on the old ego. If there's one thing Tarot can help pretty much anyone do it's re-examine direction and improve the self. I'd say that should pretty much be its primary function. So, what messages do the cards offer when it comes to processing criticism in a productive way and keeping a fair distance between the desire to hear the truth and the desire to interpret what we hear as an insult?
I think some of the key Major Arcana cards to help those of us with difficulty in this department include The Empress, The High Priestess, The Hanged Man and The Chariot. I'm going to examine some useful messages that could be gleaned from these cards.
For those among us who boast a creative flare and inject our passion into a tangible finished product, like music, writing, making things etc, criticism is truly a double-edged sword. We desire feedback. I mean, everyone does, but the artistic types particularly are also in possession of delicate egos and many conflicting emotions regarding the work we produce, making criticism into a complicated offering which we're never quite sure whether to treasure or trash. The Empress offers us a message of well-rounded, balanced desire to be successful and creatively fertile. You think she managed to achieve the lush bounty of her garden without advice and feedback along the way? She was not born ready - no one is. Everyone can take something from the benefit of experience and outside perspective. The Empress is a fabulous hostess. She values all viewpoints equally and has plenty of time to give to each of them. She wants people's honest ideas and thoughts - she'll know straight away if someone is merely paying lip service. She has a wealth of self-belief and so she knows that she can accept critique without taking it to heart. Believing in what you've achieved and in the direction you've chosen for yourself is essential to being able to graciously accept other people's perceptions. If you find that you shut down or become angry when someone suggests a different way of doing things or tries to tactfully point out a flaw, you're probably suffering more from self-doubt than from a bad crowd.
But this is where the High Priestess's message of intuition becomes very important. She reminds us to look within for the answers and to trust our gut instincts a little more. Before you decide that someone is just trying to cut you down by making a suggestion or pointing out room for improvement, first ask yourself if they are consciously doing it to hurt you. Lashing out at a close friend/partner/family member and then later realising that their words were said purely out of love doesn't feel too great and you have to eat a lot of humble pie (believe me). If you have a fundamental lack of trust for someone in your life or you can't shake the feeling that they are putting you down, you need to reassess the value of the connection and consider communicating your negative feelings to them openly. I mean, ask yourself why their opinion matters so much in the first place. If you desire their approval then the chances are that you care about their point of view and, by extension, about them. Who wants to have a friendship in which you feel you can't speak your mind?
The Hanged Man reminds us rather delicately that sometimes we live our lives inside our own heads too much. Our perspective can become the only one we pay any attention to and this becomes unhealthy quite quickly! What if our idea is skewed unfairly by our circumstances? What if we're driving ourselves crazy with learned behaviours that are just muddying the waters? Listening to those close to us telling us that we should change something or that we're dealing with a situation badly can feel uncomfortable when we feel we're doing the best we can to cope with something, but it is also liberating. It allows us to transport our minds to a more objective place and instigate positive change. Let go of your desire to be right all the time. You may find that you've actually been looking at things upside down.
The Chariot is a team work card. It is telling you to accept other people's help and to acknowledge that it takes the input and energy of many different people to make something lasting and worthwhile sometimes. Reacting negatively to criticism sometimes denotes a simple trust issue. Letting people in is the key to realising that no one is perfect, not even you, and that you can take ideas and perspectives from others to strengthen your own position and step out of your comfort zone. We should desire constant evolution. It's scary but it propels us forward. Hanging on too tightly to the reins of your chariot will mean that when it goes off course you have no one to help you get back on track. Know your friends. It's just as useful as knowing your enemies.
Here are some great exercises to try with the cards:
Draw some cards in order to allow them to tell you things about your nature and current circumstances. Resist the urge to analyse the messages in your head. Don't argue with them, don't plan your retort and don't dismiss anything that goes against your own perception of things. Just allow the messages to absorb and become useful. When people offer us criticism it is all too easy to fall into the trap of constructing your argument to respond with rather than actively, openly listening to the words they're saying.
Ask the cards to give you some pointers on what you're doing wrong in a situation or where you could improve in life. Which messages are particularly hurtful or difficult to accept? Why do you think that is? Which past events can you identify as key reasons why you now find it difficult to address those negative aspects of your character?
Better Luck Next Time
Think of a specific situation in which you feel you really could have behaved differently or dealt with a problem in a more productive way. Use the cards to look into that situation and ask yourself, using the messages and themes that come up, how you could deal with such an issue differently in the future. Instigating self criticism is a good step towards being able to handle criticism from others. No one is perfect and that's the beauty of it.