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Don’t Let Anyone’s Criticism or Judgment Define Who You Are

Hiding in the Shadows

“There is a huge amount of freedom that comes to you when you take nothing personally.” ~Don Miguel Ruiz

I was a chunky, shy little girl who was attached to my mom’s leg. She was my protector and served as a source of unconditional love.

As I left my mom’s side and went off to school, I encountered many new faces that introduced me to criticism and judgment.

Being judged by your physical attributes as an adult, in a society that constantly strives for physical perfection, is hard enough, but understanding those judgments as a little girl can be quite the challenge.

At such a young age, I had no way to process the mean words tossed my way, so I built a shell around myself and often wished I could become invisible to avoid hurting. I tried to carry on as if others’ words could not impact me.

What I quickly learned as I went through life is that we all encounter many people along the way who will attempt to tear us down and break our spirit. What I couldn’t realize then is that it’s truly up to us to decide how we allow others to make us feel and whether or not we allow them to shape us into a person we are not.

That little girl in a shell grew older, moving on through middle school, high school, college, and the career world post graduation.

I encountered each day, each year, and each new opportunity with the same feeling of insecurity that formed in that little girl so many years ago.

Even with all of the growth I’d experienced as I went through relationships, graduated college, lived on my own, and accomplished many goals, I somehow still felt like that vulnerable little girl who wished to remain unnoticed and wanted to crawl into a shell to avoid judgment.

What makes the feeling worse is that those judgments don’t end when we leave childhood. They are simply just beginning. We will always encounter critics along our journey through life.

When I began college, I joined practically every activity related to my major. In my personal life, I went on dates and tried to play the confident girl with a smile.

After I graduated from college, I had to go on job interviews and pretend I was self-assured. Once I got the job, I had to give presentations, speak at meetings, and continue to fulfill my role with confidence.

I pushed myself to achieve and continue moving forward, but I never felt truly fulfilled. I still remained insecure and began to question why I felt that way, why I was always stuck in my own head, and why I seemed to carry that shell on my back.

Ultimately, I realized that I felt insecure because I was carrying around the words and judgments I’d heard at different points in my life as if they were written into the code of my DNA.

I allowed people who held no significance in my life to take from who I am and hinder the person I have come to be.

We have all had someone say something that does not reflect who we truly are, but sometimes we give it so much power that we allow it to define us.

Because we are human, it is not always easy to instantly deflect how certain words make us feel, but we can search within ourselves to recognize when they become detrimental to who we are and how we live our lives.

Have you ever let judgments or criticism from your past hinder who you are in the present? Have you allowed those words to impact what you are truly capable of? Now is the time to take back that power.

Bring Those Feelings to the Surface

It wasn’t until I was 25 years old that I could dig deep enough to peel away the layers I had built over the years and be honest with myself. Those layers masked the pain that had followed me wherever I seemed to go.

If we are not honest with ourselves, it’s easier to remain in that shell and continue on as if those feelings don’t exist. We then relinquish our control and convince ourselves that maybe we are that person as we continue on the same path.

Share Your Feelings With Someone Close to You

Oftentimes, we find shame in the criticisms and judgments we’ve faced, so, we keep them to ourselves. After all, they’ve already hindered us enough. Why expose such raw feelings?

Saying it out loud to someone who genuinely cares and supports you can minimize some of the vulnerability you feel from those who have been so quick to judge you.

It can be therapeutic in not only bringing it to the surface, but in sharing it with another person who can be there for you and serve as a support system.

Surround Yourself With the Right People/Eliminate the Wrong Ones

While I did not have a choice to be surrounded by those kids in school, I have discovered the power in surrounding myself with positive people who have my best interests at heart.

It’s not always easy to let go of people we form relationships with, but if those relationships enforce the negative feelings we are trying to release ourselves from, they only become counterproductive.

People who truly care about us and deserve to be in our lives will not attempt to bring us down or carry the same judgments the people of our past have carried.

Remind Yourself Who You Are

It’s easy to get so caught up in what others say that we begin to see ourselves in that light. Don’t lose sight of who you truly are and the unique qualities you’ve built within yourself.

As I go about my days, form new relationships, take on new challenges in my career, encounter obstacles, and celebrate accomplishments in life, I take the time to remind myself of who I’ve come to be on my own terms, not who other people have deemed me to be.

I find that the more I change my old habits of thinking as that little girl with the shell, the easier it is for me to truly be the person I’ve chosen to be.

It took me a long time, but I was finally able to recognize that the little girl with the shell is not who I am today. She will always be a part of me, but I cannot allow her to dominate my days or I will not be living up to my full potential.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned on my journey so far, it’s that people can only take from you what you allow. If you allow others to define who you are, you are giving them the power to dictate where your path will lead.

Photo by craigCloutier

Avatar of Jamie Hufnagle

About Jamie Hufnagle

Jamie Hufnagle is a Philadelphia native and writer with a passion for love, life, and her little dog, Webster. With an ultimate goal to write a book in the near future, her career includes technical writing, greeting card verse, magazines, poetry, short stories, and original blog posts on a variety of life topics. Connect with Jamie on Facebook or LinkedIn.

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  • http://selfstairway.com/ Vincent Nguyen

    Figuring out who to surround myself with was a huge part in my development. I used to always let others criticisms bring me down, but then I realized it is the people of quality’s who feedback I value. It’s difficult to fight criticism without being a little discouraged, but you gave wonderful advice on how to counter it.

    Being honest with yourself is just as important as your surroundings. I often wonder if I’m self-delusional, but I look back to the people who surround me to be honest and help me grow.

  • http://www.facebook.com/keemanxp Chuah Kee Man

    Thanks for sharing Jamie. Although it’s not easy to totally ignore the judgments from others, it’s really good not to take them too seriously. It may serve as notes for self-improvements, but too many negative vibes tend to do more “harm”.

  • Joan Harrison

    Isn’t it odd when we realize we have made decisions in childhood that later form who we become as adults? That is a realization that usually changes your life, as it has yours. The sooner we correct the messages we formed in our heads from a child’s standpoint, the sooner we are able to grow into the person we really want to become as you have shown.

  • Shermin Ee

    Hi, this is a great and wonderfully-written post. Not only do your words and sentences touch the soul, they sound beautiful as well. Enjoyed reading your life-changing experiences greatly.
    Thank you very much :)

  • Jessica

    This post cou

  • Jessica

    This post could not have been any more appropriately timed for me as I have just ended a friendship that basically had me burntout and the “friend” describing me as all these things I am certain I’m not. Reading your words reaffirmed what I’ve been teling myself and this piece was just overall very helpful. Thank you!

  • Em

    You are about a decade ahead of me in terms of thinking, but thank you, your writing really touched me today. I am ready to shed that scared little girl now too x

  • chrissy bauer

    I got hung up right away on the statement, “we are a society that strives for physical perfection.” Our obesity rate- as a nation- is through the roof. Most American citizens aren’t striving for physical perfection- they are striving for as large a portion size as they can force down and for their next processed, fast food meal. And I don’t think that this can all be chalked up to emotional eating.

  • http://twitter.com/J2theDW Jackie

    This rang so true for me. Growing up with a physical disability I was teased for a plethora of things and I eventually let that wear me down and define who I was for a long time, to the point I was paralyzed with depression and had no self esteem. After college I gradually started to grow out of it and with the help of Tiny Buddha have really come a long way but this is such a great reminder not to lose sight of who we really are. Thanks for sharing your story!

  • http://www.facebook.com/jamielynn.hufnagle Jamie-Lynn Hufnagle

    Couldn’t agree more, Joan! It’s unfortunate that we get certain thoughts in our head that hinder us without even realizing it. I am thankful that I was able to dig deep and turn those thoughts around.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jamielynn.hufnagle Jamie-Lynn Hufnagle

    It’s so great that you have surrounded yourself with the right people! I think that is definitely key in being able to get rid of the negativity that may bring you down or make you feel a way that you shouldn’t. Best of luck to you, Vincent!

  • http://www.facebook.com/jamielynn.hufnagle Jamie-Lynn Hufnagle

    I can totally relate, Jackie! That is no way to live and I am so glad that college brought a new life your way. I’m even happier that I was able to remind you not to lose sight of who you are. :) Thanks for your comment!

  • http://www.facebook.com/jamielynn.hufnagle Jamie-Lynn Hufnagle

    Your comment made my day, Em! I am so glad I could inspire you to do the same thing. It truly makes such a difference as you go about your days and encounter different experiences. I wish you all the luck and know you can do it!

  • http://www.facebook.com/jamielynn.hufnagle Jamie-Lynn Hufnagle

    Thanks for your comment, Jessica! I’m so glad this article resonated with you. I think we often let other’s words make us feel a way we know we are not. I hope you can take the power back and always remember who you are. :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/jamielynn.hufnagle Jamie-Lynn Hufnagle

    Thank you for your kind words, Shermin! I am so glad you enjoyed the article!

  • http://www.facebook.com/jamielynn.hufnagle Jamie-Lynn Hufnagle

    Totally agree!

  • susan.penn

    I don’t think it can all be attributed to that either, there are other factors, such as poverty, illness, genetics. That being said, research shows that self judgement and self criticism (and the loathsome judgements of others towards overweight people) add to the problem, not help it. Compassion is key.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jamielynn.hufnagle Jamie-Lynn Hufnagle

    Couldn’t have said it better myself, Susan. Compassion is definitely key.

  • Wan Rong

    Hi Jamie, I just want to say thank you for saying something that feels so much like my story. I’m 29 this year and i’ve just decided to take the first step of shedding my own little girl and move on. Thanks for making me feel that i’m not alone and is never going to be the only one feeling this way. All the best to everyone out there who are looking to shed their own little girl and find their true self! =)

  • Kyah

    Thank you, Jamie. I needed these words today.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jamielynn.hufnagle Jamie-Lynn Hufnagle

    So glad they could help you, Kyah!

  • Mary

    Thank you for this. I not only got teased at school, but also heavily critisized at home. I literally grew up with the idea that I was no good. Now days I get it from my sister and brother-in-law. They think I am crazy, but I finally told them that if they could not treat me with respect that I do not want to be in contact with them. This is not a knee-jerk reaction, this has been a long time coming.

    The hardest part is for me to disentangle all the negative messages I have gotten over the years. I am certainly not perfect but when all I ever hear from them is that I am a horrible person with no redeeming qualities then there has to be something wrong with their thinking, not mine. I have done nice things for them, they just don’t want to admit it. My sister is acting the martyr by saying that she will always love me. I challenged her to find one nice thing to say about me to prove that. I got no response from her.

    Some people just like to use others as a way to feel better about themselves. That is not love.

    Anyway thanks for a good article. It has given me a lot to think about.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jamielynn.hufnagle Jamie-Lynn Hufnagle

    Thank you for sharing your story, Mary. I’m glad you were able to connect with the article and hope it can help ease what you’ve been feeling in some way. I know it’s not easy to be criticized and it sounds like you have experienced way too much of that. Those that love us should be the last people criticizing us, but unfortunately, sometimes that is not the case. Remember who you are and don’t hesitate to reach out if you ever need encouragement along the way!

  • Maggie

    You said everything I have been struggling with my whole life. Growing up as a very chubby little girl, my classmates teased me endlessly to the point that I no longer wanted to go to school, and somedays I didn’t.
    Now at 54, I am finally coming to terms with the self defeating talk in my head from those painful years.
    Thank you for writing this article and expressing everything I’ve been feeling but couldn’t find the words for.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jamielynn.hufnagle Jamie-Lynn Hufnagle

    So sorry to hear what you had to go through, Maggie. I hope this helps you in the tiniest way to be able to overcome those feelings and not let those painful years take hold of your life. I know you can do it! :)

  • Alexus

    I struggled with insecurities about all things since 6th grade all the way up to my Junior Year in high school. Now I’m an 18 year old senior and getting a strong realization of what the meaning and importance of energy is behind society and the allusions we all face everyday even in past generations. I sometimes think of myself as a ball made up of Albert Einstein/Gandhi/Thomas Jefferson’s opinions and interests. I’ve come to terms with my beliefs in all things and to sum it up, i’d say (what every intelligent speaker has basically said): Love. Now I am applying it to my life, but then it becomes a little bit difficult since love and hate have such a fine line in between. I love people, but then I hate what they do to others as they do unto themselves. Were all from the same entity so I guess it would make sense that if they had a hard time accepting themselves that they’d attack someone else (which is basically themselves since were all the same). I am just scared because there are too many of us & I want to help us in time before we spoil most of the planet.

  • Jester2012

    Great article! I can relate to nearly this entire thing (except that I am a male). I’ve been working on this part of myself on and off for the past two years (21 now) but I think the two most important things to do is to be honest with yourself and cut off those who are toxic in your life. Those are the top two for myself anyway.
    Reading articles like this give me the boost I need to keep moving forward to a more positive life

  • Ashley

    Loved this article ! Great words of wisdom ! Made my day

  • E.J.

    What do you do when or if those people are your family or friends? Because even parents or family members can judge you, pick on you, and criticize you.

  • Micha

    What a wonderful article! Thank you so much!!