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How to deal with criticism

Criticism doesn't have to endanger your self-worth every time you receive it. Learn how to build resilience and survive harsh comments intact.

How to deal with criticism

Criticism doesn't have to endanger your self-worth every time you receive it. Learn how to build resilience and survive harsh comments intact.

Do you feel hurt or ashamed when you hear any critique directed at you? Do you want to hide under covers and never get out? You're not alone. Accepting criticism can be challenging, even if it's meaningful, and facing negative comments can sometimes seem impossible.

Unfortunately, while we can't directly influence the type of criticism we receive, we can choose how to respond.

The reason for criticism

Criticism is a natural part of our society and a valuable tool for improvement. But when people use it wrong, it can turn an opportunity to grow into emotional hell. To understand why this happens, it's necessary to know where the need to criticize comes from in the first place.

We all have different values and life views, formed from our youngest age through our parents, peers, and experiences. And these values have a fundamental purpose. They serve as rules for navigating the chaos of the outside world, which help us decide what matters to us and what's worth fighting for.

So when we criticize someone, it's our, sometimes selfish, attempt to explain that our view or value is different.

But why do we do it?

Well, we either want to help, or we want to protect the ego. In other words, we want to help someone get better or ensure that we always stay better.

The latter creates the problematic criticism that we all hate. If the person fears deeply he's not good enough, he'll try to protect himself by creating an image that he is better than others. And sustaining this protective barrier means relentlessly criticizing everything and everyone.

Why you're resistant to criticism

Being resistant to criticism makes it really hard to thrive. Especially now, it's even more complicated when we're exposed to a bombardment of opinions from so many new sources that didn't even exist a few times ago. So that's extra pressure we have to deal with.

Whether you develop resistance or not depends a lot on your childhood. Because we learn from our closest sources, your parents or any person frequently appearing in your life could influence your future reactions. For example, maybe your mother or father wasn't the best role model for accepting critique, or they displayed behavior that taught you that mistake is always in you.

So, you learned very early that criticism means wounds. Mental wounds which were hurting days after anything happened.

When most of your experiences with criticism look like this, it'll become tough to distinguish when someone is merely trying to help you improve your work or when it's unhelpful negative comments. In your mind, these two melt into one.

The result is you get hurt much more often than others.

The difference between destructive and constructive criticism

Understanding the difference between destructive and constructive criticism works as a compass telling you which action to take.

Destructive is the one that attempts to tear you down. It hurts and humiliates.
You can spot it by the emotions the criticizing person emanates. They often talk with anger, irony, frustration or disgust.

But you can also recognize it by the word formulations.

Destructive critique often means using negative adjectives to tell what's wrong without telling why or offering meaningful suggestions. In these cases, there's even no intelligent why. Instead, it's just an empty rant.

On the other hand, constructive critique makes us better people if we let it. It provides input to improve your skills in every area of your life.

Good criticism gives you insights without being shameful. The delivering person tries to help you genuinely and usually acts calm or assertive. They explain their point of view so you can understand what you can do differently and even offer suggestions.

However, also well-intended critique can be a little uncomfortable. Nothing that even slightly threatens the perfection of ego feels awesome. But ultimately, you should feel motivated and inspired to take action and get better.

Don't take it personally

Critique is directly tied to self-worth. The less value we see in ourselves, the more likely we will take every criticism very personally, eventually lowering our self-worth even further. On the contrary, people with healthy self-worth usually don't tie criticism to their character.

Any external comments reveal more about the commenting person than about you. It means they prefer different things, and their outlook on quality can be different than yours.

That's normal and healthy. Society needs to have various preferences.

But what's not healthy is automatically assuming every external opinion is true or better than yours. This thinking causes you to separate from other people. To lock yourself in a bubble to avoid constant feeling you're less than everybody else.

If you stop strengthening this habit, it will help you tremendously to process not just good critique but also destructive criticism. You realize you don't have to fall for it or react to it. You can just walk away. Yes, you can be a little upset, but you definitely won't be hurt for the rest of your life.

Learn and move on

Now it's time to finally start using criticism to your advantage.

When you begin to accept comments on your performance with confidence, you can use them to grow and improve. Critique won't endanger your self-worth anymore, so it'll become easy to decide whether to implement any external ideas or discard them and move on. You'll also begin to notice what people regularly provide you with quality opinions and value them.

Sadly, we cannot avoid people whose hurtful, angry comments will try to poison our minds. And that's why building resilience is essential to stay balanced and being able to move on.