How Do I Toughen Up At Work? Part 1

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    Crying when criticized at work isn't considered professional behavior. But what do you do when you feel like an emotional house of cards. So many really good nurses think poorly of themselves or don't know how to stand up to others in a healthy way. Getting rid of negative inner voices is a good place to start.

    How Do I Toughen Up At Work? Part 1

    How do I grow a thicker skin? How do I toughen up at work? How do I keep from crying when someone says mean things to me?

    These are questions that new--and sometimes not-so-new--nurses ask when they feel overwhelmed and vulnerable. What are the common denominators in these situations? Hurt, anger, and insecurity.

    Co-workers can smell emotional weakness a block away. That's just a fact of life. The good news is that you can adapt, the waterworks can dry up, and you can go to work feeling a little more confident and a little less worried that you're going to turn into a blubbering fool.

    If you grew up in an overly critical or unstable atmosphere, you probably hear a negative inner message that mocks and attacks everything you say or do. When a real person comes along and gives voice to those thoughts, they tap into a reservoir of "old business" and knock you off your pins.

    Even if your background was more supportive, if you've learned to compare yourself to others and frequently believe you come up short, it's easy to become needy and far too dependent on external validation. Harsh words can wound you to the core, and even constructive criticism can feel like a slap.

    The remedy for this negativity and neediness starts with becoming aware of those dastardly internal messages. Take a small notebook and jot down those inner rebukes, gibes and scoldings, all the thoughts that dog you and tell you that you messed up or said the wrong thing or somehow failed, yet again. Once you have them down on paper, you can go over them and tell yourself the truth about each one.

    "Yes, I forgot to thaw something for supper, but so what? That doesn't make me a bad mother. The kids like pizza and I added a salad and fruit. No harm, no foul."

    "Michelle yelled at me about the way I give report. She constantly interrupts me and then I forget things. Most of the stuff she asks would be answered if she just waited until I was done. I'll bet she thinks I'm a bad nurse, but I'm not. We have different styles of communication, and it seems like she wants to intimidate me, but I choose to believe that I'm a capable person and nurse."

    "My mother says I'm selfish because I don't come over as often as I used to. I feel bad saying no, but I have family and work [or school] responsibilities that have to come first. She's trying tot tell me that my only two choices are to be a bad daughter or a bad wife and mother. I'll call her tonight to tell her I love her, but I have to do what's right for my family."

    Every time you start feeling shaky, take inventory of the messages in your head. Become adept at ferreting out long-buried fears about how inadequate you are or how making mistakes proves you have a despicable character. Come against each one with a counter-message that focuses on your innate worth as a human being. You matter just because you are! Then address any real problems the nagging incorporates. Did you wrong someone, forget something, react badly, oversleep, drop the ball, or burn the birthday cake? Decide how to make amends and then do it. If the allegations are false, discard them. Either option takes away the power of self-defeat.

    You can't just stop thinking bad thoughts. They'll only fade when they're replaced by newly discovered truths. Start a list of things you like about yourself. Things you're proud of. Problems you've solved. Amends you've made. Difficult tasks and objectives you've accomplished. Whenever the black cloud threatens to darken your disposition, bask in the light of your guaranteed value as a human being and your list of good attributes and accomplishments.

    Keep short accounts with yourself. If you do something wrong, take care of it as soon as you find out. Making errors need not be a commentary on your character. It's what you do about them that shows what you're made of.

    Next, figure out who gets to decide things about your emotional well-being. You do, of course. God does if you believe in him. A significant other. Some close and trusted family members and friends. If any of these folks comes to you with a complaint or concern, you'd be wise to hear them out, evaluate what they have to say, discard things that have no validity, and take the rest to heart. Think of your emotional self as a complex and fragile treasure, like a jewel encrusted Faberge egg, and share it with only those who will treat it with great care and tenderness.

    As for the rest, they don't get a vote. They can comment on your words or actions, but not on who you are as a person. Will that stop them from trying? Of course not. Other people will offer uninvited comments, unsolicited opinions, and unsavory implications right and left. You can't stop them, but you can be the gatekeeper about what gets in and what is turned away at the door.

    Initially, you might have to consciously assess each allegation and rebut it with the truth. "I'm not lazy. Mr. Clark told me he wanted his pain med at 1100. If Nancy answered his call light and gave it to him at 1030 without telling me, that's her problem." But as you become more practiced at keeping false accusations and ill will and other claptrap from gaining admission to your mind, you'll find yourself more and more able to stand strong as a matter of principle.

    Your emotional house of cards will make way for a stone castle complete with a moat, one that is visited by invitation only.
    Last edit by Joe V on Apr 18, '16
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  3. by   rn/writer
    I'm working on Part 2 of this article and should have it up soon.

    Comments appreciated.
  4. by   VickyRN
    This is excellent and very much needed. Thank you.
  5. by   VivaLasViejas
    Count me as one who grew up with a mercilessly critical parent who destroyed any budding self-esteem I might have ever hoped to have in my youth. I've never been much for tears, but I did have a terrible time learning how to accept even constructive criticism without turning into mush or becoming defensive. What a blessing it was when, after having suffered from self-loathing for most of my life, I finally discovered that somebody's saying a thing is so, doesn't make it so. That little bit of wisdom has saved me more heartbreak than I can shake a stick at; indeed, it's probably saved my career, as nursing is definitely "not for sissies". It's far easier to allow things to roll off your back when you believe you are made of Teflon, as opposed to being flypaper for bullies.
  6. by   Shinnichi
    ^_^ Thank you so much. I may just be a pre-nursing student still, but any advice to strengthen my skin and any tools given for me to start my career are much appreciated.
  7. by   RxOnly
    I needed this! Thank you
    Last edit by rn/writer on Dec 2, '11
  8. by   VIMom
    "If you grew up in an overly critical or unstable atmosphere, you probably hear a negative inner message that mocks and attacks everything you say or do. When a real person comes along and gives voice to those thoughts, they tap into a reservoir of “old business” and knock you off your pins. "

    It stunned me to read this, and to realize that I had never analyzed that about myself. It was a true "DUH!" moment to see someone else have more insight into my issues than I do. Thank you for giving me a tool to help strengthen myself.
  9. by   rn/writer
    Thank you all for your comments. So many really good nurses battle inner voices from the past that told them they weren't good enough. If you don't identify this false accuser and get rid of the old tapes, you'll enter the job world expecting to hear the same old tunes. Until you know you have a choice, you don't really have one.

    Here is Part 2:
  10. by   Chixie
    Thank you
  11. by   Cindyrella
    I swear, this article was just what I needed! Have you been inside my head lately???
  12. by   nurseontheway
    Yeah, I used to be a basket case at work too. I was so stressed out about trying to catch on to dialysis that I just couldn't handle the extra criticism. There was one coworker in particular that just liked to nit pick every little thing that I did wrong.... It took me a long time to build confidence in myself and this caused her to back down a lot. It is very hard to be a new Nurse and you are really tested by your coworkers sometimes.
  13. by   Futterwacken
    Rn/writer, I'm really not exaggerating when I say that this is going to be a life changer for me. I wrote down a few thoughts last night and went through them with a rational mind, and I had a moment. I'll have to careful not to start making excuses for myself when I have areas that truly need improving though. THANK YOU.
  14. by   Nurse Houlihan
    Awesome post. Thank you.