How to deal with Toxic Criticism - 5 Quranic Ways to Identify & Manage it

Jan 14, 2020




We live in a world today where we are constantly judged and criticised about everything and anything. It's no wonder that many of us have come to hold ourselves back from sharing our real thoughts and feelings and hold ourselves back from taking certain decisions and actions- in order to avoid all the hurt.

But in doing so we must realise we are actually hurting ourselves. The reality is that the only way we can ever completely avoid criticism is by saying nothing, doing nothing and being no one..which just isn't an option when we only have one shot at this dunya!

But the good news is that we can protect our emotional wellbeing whilst still being open to constructive feedback when we learn to distinguish what's actually toxic and what isn't within the feedback we receive.

This is important and more difficult then we assume when much of the toxic criticism hurled our way these days are disguised as gifts of unsolicited 'naseeha'/'beneficial advice'.

So in this video you will learn 5 key indicators of toxic criticism learnt from the story of prophet Musa (AS) within the Quran, to help you gain more clarity on what’s actually potentially dangerous to your wellbeing, so that you can have more CONFIDENCE to share your true thoughts and feelings more freely and so that you can feel more at peace when making the decisions and taking the actions you want and need to move forward in life inshAllah. 



[The following is the full transcript of this episode of The QuranLifestyle Show by Halimah El-kurghali]

Asalamu alakyum everyone, Halimah here your quran lifestyle coach. 
Today lets talk about how to deal with toxiccriticism. And Its a really important discussion because unfortunately we live in a world today were were constantly judged and criticised aren’t we? Whether its Our intentions, our beliefs, our physical appearances, our choices, our dreams- you name it! 
 And we all know the list of negative consequnces toxic criticism can have on us too right?- the low self esteem and self doubt, the stagnation, the sadness from having unfulfilled dreams etc. And because of all those things many of us have come to fear criticism. So We stop ourselves from sharing our feelings and thoughts sometimes, from making certain decisions and taking certain action in attempt to protect ourselves from all the hurt. But sadly as I coach I’ve seen just how much this fear holds a lot of people back from fulfilling their full potential and experiencing the success and happiness they deserve.
 And I find it particularly sad because the true reality is that the only way criticism can ever truly be completely avoided would be if we say nothing, do nothing, and be nothing—and that’s just not an option is it? when there are not rehersals in life- when we only have one attempt at this dunya. To say nothing, do nothing and be nothing violates our very sense of purpose and fulfillment doesn’t it? 
Well alhamdullah the good news is that is that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing- you dont need to hide away from the world, go against your fitrs to do and achieve in order to protect yourself from toxic critism- you can protect your mental and emotional wellbeing whilst still be open to feedback so that you dont miss out on that which can potentially help you grow and develop too inshallah- because of course there are parts of our selves that we could and sometimes need to improve for the better inshllaah that’s a given.ok so how do we achieve this? 
Its when we first learn how to effectively monitor and control the floodgates of opinion. This starts with fundamentally being able to first distinguish what’s toxic from what isn’t from the feedback we receive. Sounds simple I know but the truth is that in this day & age alot of the toxic criticism we receive is actually disguised and packaged as gifts of unsolicited ‘feedback’ or ‘advice’ as ‘ naseeha’ when it really isn’t. And many of us have dangerously come to believe that advice offered to us by a fellow muslim or even from those who tell us they care and love us like family for example always classifies as naseeha/ beneficial advice and and that our faith obligates we listen to and internalise it- that to ignore is an act of arrogance and pride. But this isn’t the truth- not all feedback classifies as nasiha and neither are we obligated to always accept all the feedback we receive-dismissing feedback isn’t a sin, or an act of weak faith or a sign of arrogance. And that’s simply because we humans are flawed and make mistakes- we have realise that sometimes some of that feedback and ‘ dvice' you are going to get in life is going to come from a heart that’s full of jealousy and envy, or from a heart that has the desire to control, sometimes its going to come from a place of selfishness or that suffers from from other spiritual diseases and sometimes it can simply come from a heart too that’s just misinformed and innocently ignorant to what’s truly best.  It’s for that reason that we as muslims accept wholeheartedly and unquestionably only what essentially comes from the creator- and so we should also make sure that the the principles and actions that we live by are therefore defined by him alone and not the creation- so for example we can assume we know what arrogance is and that applies here but actually if we look, in the eyes of allah its defined as rejecting the truth of islam and to look down on others subhanallah. So I hope you can see that it can be hard for us to make that clear distinuction between what’s toxic and what isn’t  in order for us to productively manage the feedback we receive. But once you do develop this skill you will find the clarity it brings will give you such peace of heart and mind, you will start building this refreshing inner confidence within you and these things will help develop this drive and momentum that keeps you pushing forward in life- where you can freely share your words, freely take action and become the person allah gave you the potential to be inshallah. 
Ok so how then do we practically go about learning to control the floodgate of opinion, how do we learn to really distinguish between feedback that is toxic and what isn’t? Well the Quran as Allah tells us himself it with it, explains all things alhamdullah. Being the most complete guide, the most relevant book to our lives- it provides with its explanation on all things (Surat Al-Nahl, 16:89)  it offers us some profound insight and lessons on this subject for us to practically benefit from. 
Now the first thing we learn from the quran in this regard is that we are never alone in our struggles with criticism because we find within the Quran, within the stories of our amazing role models; the prophets and righteous souls, we find mentioned a lot of the criticism that they dealt with in all its different forms and extremes. And if you were to look in particular at the story of Musa (as) we find that he had to  dealt with some one whose words were significantly laced with toxic crtism-  and that was firown. and interestingly if you look at one particular conversation between the two thats documented in the Quran in surah ashuura you will actually find demonstrated for you the full spectrum of toxic criticism- in this surah allah lays out for us  all the different types and levels through which critism can escalate. So if we examine this conversation we can see showcased for us 5 key indicators of toxic feedback that can help us better identify and distinguish what’s toxic it from the feedback we receive. So if we find any of the following indicators weaved into our  feedback conversations we have, it should raise a red flag in our mind- whether you are listening to 'loving advice' from a spouse, ‘constructive feedback’ from a co worker or even when receiving ‘shared thoughts’ from an unknown member of the public who might follow your work or social media for example- the fact this man musa was talking to was a father figure some one who adopted him as a son and who he grew up under the care of- it shows us we should be wary of these indicators when speaking to anyone inshallah. And from this conversation between firown and musa not only did allah tell us what to watch out for but when we analyse how musa reacts  to each type/level of toxic critism we learn how we, when we replicate such a response, can protect  our own mental and emotional wellbeing and move forward productively in life inshallah. Ok so lets now get started:     
when musa comes to firown to share his mission and goal to establis tauwhid and free bani Israel and firown begins sharing his feedback, what’s the first toxic tactic he deploys to try to sway and essentially hurt him
1) Recalling Favors: And go, both of you (Musa and Harun) to Pharaoh and say, ‘Behold, we bear a message from the Sustainer of all the worlds: Let the children of Israel go with us!’ [Pharaoh said]: ‘Did we not bring you up among us when you were a child? And did you not spend amongst us years of your life?” [Surat Al-Shu‘ara’, 26:16-18]


So here Pharaoh basically attempted to make Musa feel a sense of obligation  towards him by reminding him of the ‘good’ he had previously done towards him. And this is powerful because we humans are naturally inclined to reciprocate good done towards us, well tend to listen to those who have helped us in the past as they are suposidely meant to have our best interests at heart right? But what we see in response is that iMusa frees himself of Pharaoh’s attempt to subdue him into guilty obedience, by reminding Pharaoh that the so-called favors he did would have never actually taken place if he had not enslaved the children of Israel to begin with. So the favour Musa received of being taken in, adopted by the royal family- by firown, was actually a favour by allah swt in response to the atrocious actions of firown, because as we know from the quran allah inspired the mother of musa to place musa in a basket when frowns men were slaughtering all the sons of the children of Israel and allah guided that basket to the home of firown where frowns wife assay discovered him and asked to adopt him. So for us when personally dealing with this, we should always keep in mind that all favours are ultimately from allah- so as much as we do appreciate a persons good actions towards us if they are used to manipulate and emotionally bully us that’s not ok. Because you know favors by their very nature are suppose to be gestures of goodwill done without any expectation of something in return, they are supposed to be done for the sake of allah-  so by using favours against us when trying to influence when giving us advice or feedback it negates the purpose of a true favour- again its a subtle form of toxic bullying we should be aware of inshallah. ultimately we should remember that the value of a person’s feedback should in and of itself be enough to compel us into action without the need for emotional manipulation.
The second indicator of toxic critism- the second more aggressive level firown then went to is
 2) Recalling Flaws & Mistakes:
"[Pharaoh continued,] And yet you did commit that [heinous] deed of yours…” [Surat Al-Shu‘ara’, 26:19]


By reminded musa of a previous crime  firown attempted to spark feelings of self-doubt and guilt within Musa. So although musa killed an Egyptian man by accident when he attempted to help a needy Israelite, Pharaoh still attempted to sow doubt about the legitimacy of Musa’s leadership and his message, both within Musa himself and amongst the people. This is actually psychological abuse where some one tries to stop you moving forward by making you feel inadequate and unworthy. And in response to this we see Musa overcame Pharaoh’s attempt by reiterating the facts, the fact that it was a mistake he made many years ago before receiving guidance.  so if we find ourselves in a similar situation we need to remember the reality that all humans are flawed and no one is free from mistakes. And Islam teaches that if you make sincere instigfar/repentence, if you have tried to make amends and committed to not going back to that sin then he will surely forgive you, so why shouldn’t you be allowed to forgive yourself? Remember that if  you allow such forms of criticism to occupy our minds and prevent you from your journey to unleash your potential and positively contributing to the world, then you will forever be in a lingering state of procrastination that will prevent you from feeling happy and fulfilled.
Now if you follow this conversation in surah shush between firown and musa you will see that with frowns unsccess attempts at getting musa to internalise his toxic critism causes him to escalates things even further with indicator number 3 and that is mockery. 


3) Mockery:
So  Pharaoh then sarcastically says to musa: ‘And who is this ‘Sustainer of all the worlds?’ [Surat Al-Shu‘ara’, 26:23] and When Musa provides an answer, Pharaoh then responds with a rhetorical question he says "Said [Pharaoh] unto those around him: ‘Did you hear [what he said]?’ [Surat Al-Shu‘ara’, 26:25]
So Pharaoh’s tactic of using sarcasm and posing rhetorical questions is an attempt to mock muses message. And by the way you will also see in the quran how he directly insults musa too by mocking his speech impediment when he says 'Am I (Pharaoh) not better than this (Musa), who is a contemptible wretch and can scarcely express himself clearly?” [Surat Al-Zukhruf, 43:5]
And firown in his mockery of musa also directly challenges musa too when he said "[Said Pharaoh,] Produce proof then, if you are a man of truth!’ [Surat Al-Shu‘ara’, 26:31]
Now Mockery is dangerous because in its many forms is used as a weapon to weaken your confidence and make you appear inadequate in front of others. So such a person will highlight gaps in your knowledge, flaws in your character, shortcomings in your abilities etc for the purpose of weakening your credibility. Ok so how does musa respond to frowns mocking insults and challenge?- he simply ignores the words and takes positive action- he provides firown with miracles from allah. He doesn’t dwell on what isn’t perfect like his speech impediment for example, he simply moves forward focusing on what he can do.  And so when were mocked we should remember first and foremost that no human is perfect, nor were we intended to be either btw- Only Allah is perfect. We all have gaps  within our knowledge and abilities for the purpose of allowing other people to compliment us, just as your strengths compliment the gaps within others as we humans were essentially created to work in unison together because what’s required of us as a creation goes beyond the capabilities of one indivudal- so just like musa with fears about his speech impediment asked for the assistance of his brother haroon in his mission who also became a prophet. And as for shortcomings in our character and faith we should remember that we have been gifted with the journey of life for the purpose of positively growing inshallah and that is a lifelong commitment its a journey not a destination. And when we find ourselves dealing with this type of critism the second thing we should remember to do is to focus on what we are able to do- what action can we take right now to keep moving forward, to better things more, to contribute even more- because as they say where focus goes energy flows.       
Ok so When Pharaoh realizes that his attempts to crush Musa through his toxic critism is unsuccessful, he becomes even more extreme in his approach and this Is where we learn about indicator number 4:


4) Threats:
Said [Pharaoh]: ‘Indeed, if you choose to worship any deity other than me, I shall most certainly throw you into prison!’ [Surat Al-Shu ‘ara’, 26:29]


Now if you experience such things although it can undeniably feel very unsettling, I want you to know that it indicates that the perpetrator senses a lack of control over you- that they feel you will not accept and be effected by their opinions. And the productive response to this is to simply continue doing whats best and continue to positively contribute to others because there will then be a growing need and support for your work or the good you do that will outweigh any criticism. Just like we see in musa’s case as stands firm on his mission despite all these levels of toxidity he experiences from firown you see that his opponents the magicians become believers right?-and support for Musa increases further thereafter. But of course if you feel that any threats made against your life for example are very real or imminent then of course dont ignore that- ask allah for his protection, reach out to your friends and family to share your concerns and contact the police or relevant authority inshallah because your life is sacred to allah swt)  


Another failed attempt by firown, once again showcases how firown takes his toxic critism even further and this is where indicator number 5 comes in. 
5) Labeling:
So firown says: Said [Pharaoh] to the great ones around him: ‘Verily, this is indeed a sorcerer of great knowledge, who wants to drive you out of your land by his sorcery.’ [Surat Al-Shu‘ara’, 26: 34-35]


One of the most harmful and extreme forms of criticism demonstrated by Pharaoh herewas when he viciously branded Musa and his intentions as evil and harmful to the people. When someone tries to wrongfully portray a person in a negative light, the attempt is really to turn people away from an individual  they feel they have no control and influence over. And if you find yourself in this situation its important you remember once again that actions speak louder than words. So the answer here is to simply persist in the good your  doing because those who benefit and receive true value from you will actually advocate on your behalf. And of course most importantly we can’t forget that Allah is aware of all things and he assists the believers and doers of good. People who may end up judging you based on the negative hearsay are not the type of supporters we need anyway. And its vital for us to recognize that the number of critics we have usually does not even closely equate to the numbers of supporters we have in our lives. So we need to ensure that critics do not disproportionately occupy a greater percentage of our thoughts and efforts.
Now before I end here inshallah I want to quickly highlight 2 important things: 
  1. Although its impossible like I said to completely avoid crisis as they say prevention is better than cure - so just be aware that there are ways you can try to actively avoid having to spend time listening or reading or just being absorbed around such criticism. So for example if your using online platforms you can switch off the option for people to comment on your content and can block any reoffending individuals. If your dealing with criticism in person from family, or work colleagues for example- although there isn’t a one fits all approach you, its important you sit and think of a strategy that you feel is appropriate to the situation for you in some circumstances; it might be to create a healthy distance, or maybe to have a open discussion with that person where you make your thoughts and feelings about their words and what you clarify what it is you would like them to stop doing or start doing instead or it might even be choosing to shift and refocus yourself mentally- so you renew your good intentions towards that person and choose to mentally distance yourself through journalling alot or some kind of counselling to manage your thoughts and protect your emotions inshallah, 
  2. Secondly its really important to understand why experiencing negative or toxic criticism actually hurts us and that is because  it questions the key things we seek as humans. This includes the desire to be understood and accepted. Fundamentally it questions the very thing we need and seek most as humans:  love. Thats why, when people constantly criticize us, we often exhibit the opposite emotion, a hatred towards them, and sometimes we even form a hatred of ourselves as a direct result of feeling unworthy and unable to attain such love.Many people, however, do not realize that regardless of who they have/havent got in their lives to love them- they will always have two sources of unconditional love from which we can forever be comforted and supported: Allah and ourselves. To fall in love with Allah is the epiphany of all love stories. The noble journey towards attaining Allah’s love is beautifully and concisely expressed in a saying by one great Companion, Khabab bin Al-Arat, who said: Do whatever you wish to get closer to Allah. Indeed you will never get closer to Allah with something more beloved to Him than His own words (i.e. the Quran).” As for the journey to truly loving ourselves, it begins with a single choice. We must choose, despite all the personal criticism we are faced with, to never becoming our own number one critic.
Ok so If you benefited from today's video then please hit the subscribe button and the bell icon so you can get notifications every time I post more free training videos like this inshallah and why not share this vid with friends and loved ones you know that may be with this issue or could benefit from such reminders inshallah.  And If you think you might be interested in transforming your personal relationship with the Quran so that you can transform your life and start living what I call a Quran lifestyle then why not visit to learn more. Salami alaykum warahmatullah wa barakatu

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