3 healthier ways to cope with criticism, disappointment and defeat. One of the most fundamental human needs is to feel like things are basically OK — that we're not failures, that the world isn't a horrible place, and that whatever life throws at us, we'll be able to handle it.
In a life-or-death situation, of course, this need is especially hard to satisfy. That's why most people in an emergency resort to various forms of motivated reasoning, like denial, wishful thinking and rationalizing. Thankfully, the stakes we face in everyday life are seldom that high. But even though we rarely have to deal with threats to our lives, we very often have to deal with threats to our mood and self-esteem. Someone criticizes us or we face an unpleasant choice or we fail at something. In response, we reach for a thought that will keep negative emotions at bay — a coping strategy. People generally take for granted that coping requires self-deception. But is it really true? Surely we can find a way to bounce back from our setbacks that don't require us to stew in regret or blame them on other people. Just ask Charles Darwin. He suffered from bouts of crippling anxiety, especially when his book was being attacked by critics. ("I am very poorly today & very stupid & hate everybody & everything," he moaned to a friend in one especially relatable letter.)
But it was important to Darwin to avoid self-deception and not to shut his eyes to legitimate criticism or to his own mistakes. He drew strength from this comforting and true thought — that he was doing his best. He once wrote, "Whenever I have found out that I have blundered, or that my work has been imperfect, and when I have been contemptuously criticized, and even when I have been overpraised, so that I have felt mortified, it has been my greatest comfort to say hundreds of times to myself that 'I have worked as hard and as well as I could, and no man can do more than this.'"