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  • Writer's pictureElfreda Manahan-Vaughan

How to Pause


Lately I have been working with clients who are trying to change some of their old patterns in real-time. It's not for the faint-hearted, believe me I know. I have had to work hard to spot when I'm triggered and to take a moment to pause before reacting. One of the biggest challenges most of us face is dealing with criticism. I instantly feel the flush to may face, the feelings of shame or embarrassment and the instant need to defend myself. Even after years of practice this still happens, but I have learned to pause and take a breath before I respond and most importantly, to not take it personally.

When you are criticised the first thing you need to do is look at the context. To be able to do that you need to get good at pausing. Mindfulness can help you to take a breath, to wait before responding and to be objective about what is going on. Some criticism is good, it's feedback that tell us how to do better. Other times it is just another person's need to be seen or heard and using you as an opportunity to do that. Sometimes the criticism is valid but irrelevant. An example for me is when people criticise me on social media. If they tell me I talk to fast or that something doesn't make sense, they might be right, but I know if they don't resonate with how I talk or express myself, then they are not my audience and the people who do are the ones who are going to benefit from what I have to say. I am too old at this stage to change my whole way of being for one comment on social media. When that happens I politely thank them for their comment and move on.

How do you pause and take stock? The first thing is to notice. Notice your somatic response. Warmth in your body, tension, agitation or anything else. Notice your thoughts. Mine are always shame, lucky me! That's because I was criticsed as a child. The part of me that fears other's opinion, says 'what will people think?' I listen to what it says and then I pay attention to my knee-jerk response. It' usually to defend, or apologise, that's my avoidant attachment strategy. Once I noticed this, I wait, take a breath and then consider how to respond.

Thanks for your feedback is good stop-gap. It gives you time to reflect later, if you wish, or can allow you to acknowledge the other person without having to change anything right there and then. If you trust the person and value their opinion you can ask a question for greater clarity. Again, only do this if you feel the feedback is valid and worth it. Lastly, remind yourself that the criticism says more about them than it does you. It's a reflection of where they are at, how they are trying to get their needs met and whether they need to blame (coercive attachment) or take responsibility for the fact they found something you did a challenge.

To get good at this you need to practice. One of the best ways to do this is mental rehearsal. Use past experiences as opportunities to plan for future ones. Good Luck!

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