How to Deal with Criticism from Haters

September 01, 2014  •  2 Comments

It is a truth universally acknowledged that when you put yourself out there on the internet, you are opening yourself up to criticism of all kinds.

Whether it's well-meaning comments from respectful peers, or un-constructive garbage from forum trolls, putting your work in the public eye can be an emotional roller coaster.

And while it certainly takes maturity and skill to process constructive criticism with grace, an all-out attack on us or our work can be difficult to deal with.

I got the attack recently after publishing my Huffington Post article, and despite all of the positive engagement it was that one nasty note that stuck with me.

I was told that my work was worthless and self-indulgent.

Ouch, right?

In the past I would always try to reflect in order to understand what I had done to play a part in the situation. 

But you know what? Sometimes people are just cruel and mete out destructive criticism for the fun of it.

And so I've decided that they're not worth giving my thoughts and energy to.

If you're poured your heart and soul into your work, only to find people tearing it down out of cruelty, it can break your heart.

Here's the thing: they're always going to be there.

Once you're out there enough you become a potential target, as many friends reminded me recently. (Hugs to all of them!)

And if you're trying to offer something outside of the status-quo with your work, you're going to start pushing some buttons.

There's a lot of advice out there on how to deal with haters:

Ignore them.

Fight them.

Get a thicker skin.

You can do all of those things.

But here's the best advice that I was given recently:

Keep on shining.

Keep on doing what they hate. Do it because you love it and it lights you up.

The nasty hate mail from last week actually ended up making me see how much wonderful support I have in the world, and it inspired me to keep writing and making art and pouring my love into both.

It also made me think about how valuable that love and support is. Focus on those who believe in your work and who are connected with your purpose.

Thinking about that inspired me to create a new image:

"Unravel Me" Surreal Fine Art Photograph of a woman wrapped in red fabric by Jen Kiaba in the Hudson Valley, NY. Click to purchase a Limited Edition Print."Unravel Me" Fine Art Photography by Jen Kiaba in the Hudson Valley, NY.Click to purchase a Limited Edition Print.

"Unravel Me" Surreal Fine Art Photograph by Jen Kiaba. Click to purchase a limited edition print.

For me this work is about the vulnerability that comes with sharing of yourself. Whether it's in a relationship or through your creative works, anytime you are vulnerable it can be a scary act.

As painter Anne Rae says so eloquently: "Your most painful life experiences [...] stand in stark contrast to your deepest held values. Your suffering, great or small, has meaning and informs who you are."

As luck would have it, I've chosen to make work that's all about that.

But here's the thing:

The other choice is hiding and going back into creative slumber.

And so I choose to be open, and vulnerable and to share these stories and tidbits of experience in hopes that someone else's truth will be sparked and they can find their own power within. 

The emotional work of taking off the bandages to be truly vulnerable is a raw, but beautiful process.

Holding space for another as they are real and vulnerable with you might be the greatest gift you can give; being seen may be the greatest gift you can receive.

If you're in that process right now, be loving to yourself and respect your process.

If you have to insulate yourself from criticism for a while as your build strength to share, that's ok. Been there, done that. 

Just don't let fear hold you back from what you most want.

And remember, your work is a gift to yourself first and foremost.

The more you put yourself out there, the more fear will flare up - and there will be people who won't want to experience the amazing things that you bring out into the world.

But don't let them take away that amazing gift that you are giving yourself, and potentially others, by creating.

Keep shining your light, sharing your voice, and making work around your truth.

I'll leave you with a something I found from poet Tapiwa Mugabe:


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Jen Kiaba Photography
Huge hugs LK. You're strong enough and you will overcome and make great work, in spite of (or maybe even because of) criticism!
Hi Jen, I loved reading this post! I'm a new photographer starting out with portraits (babies and families) and got my first random hate mail... I'm sure the first of many. Thank you for such beautifully written words of encouragement. I need it right now!
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