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4 Ways to Deal With Criticism So It Doesn’t Get You Down

Sad Man

“The final proof of greatness lies in being able to endure criticism without resentment.” ~Elbert Hubbard

Are you afraid of receiving criticism?

Even if it’s minor or well-meaning, criticism can feel like a punch in the gut.

And if you let it, criticism can leave you feeling down and resentful for days or weeks after.

As the music director at my church, I occasionally receive negative feedback from members of the community.

After services one Sunday, a congregant came up to offer some critique of my music selections. At first it felt like a full-on attack. I didn’t even have a chance to get up from the organ bench before she began.

I wish I could say that I responded perfectly, but I didn’t. I immediately became defensive. My breath shortened. I interrupted her before she could complete her thoughts. But at some point in the midst of the barrage, I regained my composure and listened.

It was hard and painful to just listen without being defensive. On reflection, I realized that my pain had little to do with her criticism. It came from my own fear of being judged. Once I became aware of this, it was much easier for me to recover emotionally and move on.

If you struggle with the fear of being criticized, here are some things to keep in mind:

1. Criticism will not kill you.

The mere possibility of being criticized can fill you with dread.

When I was being criticized, my fight or flight response was automatically triggered. Though I was in no real physical danger, my mind started to immediately generate thoughts such as: “What if she starts a campaign to get me fired?” and “How will I find work to support my family?”

In hindsight, it’s easy to see that the leap from criticism to catastrophe was a gross distortion of reality. But in the moment, the thoughts can feel very real.

Over time I’ve learned to regain control of my thoughts by asking questions, such as: “Are my disastrous scenarios likely to happen?” or “Will this kill me?” I’ve found the answer is often no.

Criticism can hurt, but it cannot maim or kill. If you struggle with the fear of criticism, know that you too have the resources to get through it and move on.

2. Giving criticism can be as hard as receiving it.

It’s hard for people to say what’s truly on their minds. Most would prefer speak ill of you behind your back or let resentment build rather than risk conflict.

As I struggled to hear the woman’s criticism, I noticed that she was visibly shaking. It dawned on me that this person, rather than simply grumbling to other parishioners or the pastor, had summoned the courage to speak directly to me.

In that moment, I was able to empathize with her. This profoundly changed my experience of being criticized. My attitude shifted from that of fear to compassion, even gratitude. I no longer perceived her as a threat and my own fears were calmed.

If you’re facing criticism, try to see the situation from the other person’s point of view.

3. Not all criticism is created equal.

Think of the last time you were criticized. Did you find yourself overanalyzing everything the person said?

In the struggle to articulate their feelings, people often say useless or hurtful things. Somewhere in there is the main concern they are trying to communicate. It’s tempting to let negative comments, often arising out of frustration, get the best of us.

In my own situation, I chose to address the genuine concern and discard the rest.

You too can challenge your own tendency to focus on the negative by asking yourself: “What’s is the focus of their complaint?” If the purpose of the criticism is simply to antagonize, give yourself permission to discard it all.

4. Criticism can fuel your personal growth.

When we’re in defensive mode, it’s practically impossible to be self-reflective. But once the defenses drop, allow this question to come to the surface:

Is there any truth to the criticism?

Entertaining this question will be the starting point of your personal growth.

Once I’d processed the valid concerns of the criticism, I began taking practical steps to incorporate the feedback into my work and attitude. I also began to process my own fears and general defensiveness. Finally, I worked to drop my resentment toward the person who criticized me.

How can you effectively incorporate useful criticism into your life? Focus on using the criticism to improve yourself rather than please or appease the person. This will help you let go any lingering resentment toward them.

Kick Your Fear of Criticism to the Curb

As long as you are breathing, leading, or doing something that matters, you will be criticized.

Don’t let your deep, dark fears of being criticized hold you back.

Instead of trying to avoid it at all costs, expect it—even welcome it.

You’ll learn to conquer your fears and increase your confidence.

So next time you’re staring criticism in the face, take a deep breath, smile, and say to yourself, “Let’s do this.”

Sad man image via Shutterstock

About Cylon George

Cylon is a spiritual chaplain, musician, devoted husband, busy dad of six, and author of Self-Love: How to Love Yourself Unconditionally. He blogs about practical spiritual tips for living well at Spiritual Living For Busy People. Sign up and get his free guide 20 Little Tricks To Instantly Improve Your Mood Even If You Feel Like Punching Something (or Someone).

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  • Iliana Brightwolf

    This is fantastic! Thank you.

  • lv2terp

    I really appreciated the attention to the fact that it is easier to speak ill behind someone’s back, so someone giving feedback/criticism is a courageous and very respectful act. Good point and something to keep hold of to have that desire to listen and be grateful! 🙂 Thank you!! Great post!

  • You’re welcome lliana 🙂

  • Thank you – honestly, that realization changed everything for me!

  • LaTrice Dowe

    I’m open to constructive criticism, so it’ll give me the opportunity to do better. Although I understand that everyone is entitled to their opinion, belittling others, as well as being disrespectful isn’t something that no one should tolerate.

    Thank you, Cyclon, for sharing your experience.

  • Scott Ruecker

    But how do you enter into a conversation with someone who has nothing but critical opinions of you because they have none, and never will have any respect for you? And this person is your Father? The only person my father even kinda respects is himself. The only reason he opens his mouth is to make himself feel better..any other reason is a waste of time for him.

  • Mark Tong

    Hey Cylon such a great post. We all struggle now and then with criticism and I’ll remember your points in the future. Thanks

  • I totally agree LaTrice – we should always protect ourselves against personal attacks. I’m glad you found the post helpful.

  • Scott, thank you for sharing this. I think the third point in the post is very important for situations like this. It’s tragic that some people (esp. people we love) are so toxic in their attitudes that it’s virtually impossible to engage their criticism in any meaningful way. The best you can do in such extreme cases is to limit your exposure to the toxicity. I hope this helps you in some way.

  • Mark, that’s great to hear! You’re welcome 🙂

  • artemis

    A very inspirational and meaningful story Cylon. I was brought up in an ethnic family where criticism was used as a means of making you change. I always found it extremely hurtful because I could never understand how degrading someone’s self worth was the right way to get change. I constantly tried to find ways to discuss things but my family called this being outspoken. Another form of being criticized. I then married and again found I was among family and my husband, who believed in the same concept. So for years I did what I was told to prevent being criticized. It was at the age of 48 when I got my wake up call and realized this was not me and I did not wish to be among people or friends who believed the same way. So today I have detached from these like minded people because I know that I deserve better and to be with people who think like me. To always respect others feelings and learn to discuss issues. My adult children have a saying they learned from me, “If you don’t have something nice to say,don’t say it all”. You can’t take back what you say. I always believe there are better ways in achieving change than making a negative comment. Thank you for sharing.

  • rt

    A very inspirational and meaningful story Cylon. I was brought up in an ethnic family where criticism was used as a means of making you change. I always found it extremely hurtful because I could never understand how degrading someone’s self worth was the right way to get change. I constantly tried to find ways to discuss things but my family called this being outspoken. Another form of being criticized. I then married and again found I was among family and my husband, who believed in the same concept. So for years I did what I was told to prevent being criticized. It was at the age of 48 when I got my wake up call and realized this was not me and I did not wish to be among people or friends who believed the same way. So today I have detached from these like minded people because I know that I deserve better and to be with people who think like me. To always respect others feelings and learn to discuss issues. My adult children have a saying they learned from me, “If you don’t have something nice to say,don’t say it all”. You can’t take back what you say. I always believe there are better ways in achieving change than making a negative comment. Thank you for sharing.

  • rt, I am inspired by you. Your story proves that we can choose to change our circumstances in order to change our lives and any moment. What courage it must have taken to make this change after dealing with this negativity all your life. May your story inspire others facing a similar situation. Thank you!

  • rt

    Thank you so much Cylon for your inspirational words of support,they mean a lot to me during this major transition in my life.

  • wifeoftaxman

    It is so hard to limit exposure to someone like a father or mother. I find when they are the people who are very critical it is really important to process the anger I have and then find the real message. Most of the time a parent is being very critical because they are trying to help the child to be better in some way. Pointing out the real message to them and saying thank you in a non-confrontation way can point out how critical and hurtful their words really are and help them to hear how they can say things better.

  • I agree, I think it’s hard too but I do think it can be done. Actually, what you describe here is one way to limit your exposure to the negativity by searching for the real message and addressing that – instead of engaging the toxic behavior. Thank you for sharing your perspective.

  • Thanks for the article. It made me reflect. I invite constructive criticism as a vehicle for personal growth. You only touched on this and might have developed it more. Also what about the other end? Few people seem to have the skills to criticize so that they are really heard. Sandwiching the complaint between saying two good things about the person makes the criticism easier to digest.

  • You’re welcome 🙂

  • Really great point Don. I agree that many simply don’t have the skills to criticize well. It’s right up there with listening and personal finance. Thank you for your perspective.