One core principle of Gestalt psychology is that a shared experience isn’t necessarily an identical experience; my perceptions are fashioned by my own thoughts, themselves the offspring of important others who have shaped my life, as are yours. Most of us have encountered formative others who live on in our heads as highly critical internal voices.

One key characteristic of an effective leader or manager is the ability to receive negative feedback and do something positive with it. However, if your inner critic pounces on every criticism raised by colleagues and magnifies them into crushing personal humiliations, you are in trouble. Freud’s umbrella term for the most coruscating inner voices in the psyche was “superego” (literally “over-I”, the part of us that attempts to be in charge of our perceptions and actions).

Freud discovered that it was a far more malicious agency than a mere voice of conscience. It bombards us with impossible ideals and grows stronger every time we try to live by its impossible diktats. It revels in our inevitable failures; pouring scorn on us and making us feel terrible.

When you are governed by a harsh superego, it will drown out the kinder and more supportive voices you have also encountered during your personal development, and which may be crucial in shaping your responses to the legitimate aspects of a colleague’s criticism.

Clearly, being able to receive criticism, external and internal, can help us grow and learn.

The key to facilitating that growth and learning is to cultivate multiplicity. In place of the dictatorship of the superego, it is crucial to defend your internal democracy by tuning into all the other more balanced voices you have acquired. You may have made mistakes or have some faults (who doesn’t?) but not because your superego says so. Seeing them as problems in need of practical solutions by listening to your supportive inner resources can release you from superego tyranny and help you become a creative pragmatist.

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