Why Criticism Hurts And What You Can Do About it
We’ve all been there. You’ve made some plans to do something big. At least, it’s big to you. Maybe you have some big ideas on starting a business or to create the physique of your dreams. Or maybe you want to learn the piano or write a novel. Whatever it is, you’re excited and feel some confidence you can do it, provided you stick with it.
It’s exciting to visualize a goal, to see yourself achieving success at something that’s meaningful and fulfilling to you.
But, after the initial excitement clears, a little doubt and discomfort begin to drift in. You start looking for, and noticing, the numerous obstacles that are likely to block your path. Rejection and criticism become a concern.
Rejection and criticism can’t truly harm you. They can’t cause you physical harm or throw you into a dungeon.
However, anticipating the emotional pain that rejection and criticism can bring can be enough to cause you to abandon your original plans. Returning to your day-to-day life can seem like the more prudent choice.
But, a little bit of you dies each time you turn back from the big adventure you planned for yourself.
Discover how to face rejection and criticism and free yourself from their influence. Understand that rejection and criticism are very closely related. Rejection of your ideas, work, or requests is just a harsh form of criticism.
Why Criticism and Rejection Bother Us So Much
Any time that you’ve felt the sting of criticism or rejection, you’ve probably had someone tell you something like:
● “It’s not the end of the world.”
● “Words can’t hurt you if you don’t let them.”
● “There’s no reason to take it personally.”
It’s hard to argue with these sentiments, but when you’ve been on the receiving end of strong rejection or criticism, these common sayings do little to make you feel better. It doesn’t even seem possible not to take criticism personally. It might not be a matter of life and death, but it can feel pretty close.
When you put your intention and effort into something, it becomes quite personal. This is especially true in creative endeavors, such as writing, art, or acting. But, even trying to lose weight is a personal matter. It’s your own body, effort, plan, and success or failure.
Judgement of your effort or results feels like a direct judgement of you. If you’re passionate about what you’re doing, this is normal. It might seem silly, but it’s completely normal.
There’s also an evolutionary perspective to consider. Back in the day, say several thousands of years ago, rejection could mean death. If you were rejected by your tribe and had to take on the world alone, you were in serious trouble.
Fortunately, most of us aren’t facing rejection that would cost us food, water, and shelter. Most of us are concerned with rejection and criticism as they relate to higher-order goals. Most of us only face rejection and criticism that create emotional distress, not risk of life and limb.
However, criticism and rejection do have their advantages, even if they are emotionally uncomfortable.
See how criticism can be a blessing in disguise:
1. Criticism teaches humility. There’s nothing like rejection or criticism to bring your ego back down to reality. When we’re consistently successful or receiving praise, it can be easy to be a little too pleased with ourselves. Criticism can bring a healthy dose of humility when it’s needed.
2. Criticism exposes you to new ideas. Critics can offer suggestions you’ve never considered. Every person on the planet knows a fact that you don’t. Not all of these facts are necessarily useful, but many of them are.
● Consider the new ideas critics are presenting to you. They might just be the breakthrough that you need.
3. Criticism can be used to improve. Criticism can be incredibly helpful if you want to improve something. Criticism from the right person can definitely take your results to the next level. Consider that a basketball coach telling a player that he’s standing on the wrong spot on the court is a form of criticism.
● Any helpful friend or mentor will provide useful criticism.
● When you decide that you’ve not doing well enough at anything, from learning a scale on the piano to making scrambled eggs, you’re criticizing yourself. It’s can be the impetus to improve.
4. You can practice forgiveness, controlling your anger, or staying calm. Criticism can be hard to take. You might become angry with the other person as a result. When you learn to deal with criticism, you also learn how to forgive and how to manage your emotions.
5. Learning to deal with criticism can help in other areas of your life. When you can handle criticism well, it can help your career, relationships, and personal development.
It can benefit you greatly to welcome criticism, instead of avoiding it. This is especially true when you’re dealing with constructive criticism. But even the most ill-intentioned criticism can be helpful. Criticism can take your performance to the next level. It can also help you to learn how to deal with negative emotions.
Without feedback, your rate of improvement will suffer.
“You just never give up, no matter how hard the challenges are, and observe this world with a healthy dose of criticism and don’t just follow the herd like somebody else might do.”
– Renny Harlin
Criticism isn’t always easy to handle, but there are many ways to make it even more painful. Of course, you should avoid doing this to yourself whenever possible. Isn’t life challenging enough already?
Avoid these actions which will just make you feel worse:
1. Comparing yourself to others. If you’re trying to make a lot of money, there will always be someone who has more. If you own 50 restaurants, there’s someone else who owns 55.
● Instead, use the success of others as way to show yourself that more is possible. Use others as inspiration.
● Or, compare your present to your past. Decide to create a future that compares favorably with your present.
● If you have to be better than everyone else in the world, you’re going to be disappointed. Studies have shown that there’s some luck involved in being the very best at anything. The right parents, right place, right time, etc., can all play a huge role in extremely high levels of success.
2. Reliving the experience. Being criticized is uncomfortable. So is the experience of rejection. What’s even worse is reliving the experience in your mind over and over. But, that’s exactly what many of us do.
● We aren’t criticized once, which might be bearable, but reliving the experience criticizes us hundreds of times. And it’s all our fault.
3. Predict rejection and criticism. Do you expect to be criticized in the future because you were criticized in the past? Do you assume you’ll fail again because of your past experience?
● You can’t predict the future. However, you can enhance your skills and knowledge to influence your future results.
● Watch how you speak to yourself. The words you use matter. There’s a big difference between, “I’m not a person that can ever be successful,” and, “Last time doesn’t matter. I’m going to reach my goals this time.”
4. Taking rejection and criticism personally. If you want to maximize your success, it’s important to put your heart and soul into your efforts. That can make your results feel very personal. But criticism or rejection of your work doesn’t have to be personal.
● We’ve all heard the stories of famous authors being turned down hundreds of times before someone was willing to publish their work. Imagine if they had taken their rejection personally and given up.
5. Expecting the world to be fair. The world is full of examples of life not being fair. Expecting your situation to be fair is unreasonable. Sometimes the world doesn’t just hand over everything you think you deserve. Use your disappointment to fuel your future efforts. Vow to do better next time.
Rejection and criticism aren’t easy pills to swallow, but sometimes the cure to what ails you isn’t enjoyable. Be open to receiving criticism and avoid making it harder than it has to be. It’s natural to find criticism painful, but it’s a part of life that must be mastered.
“Criticism, like rain, should be gentle enough to nourish a man’s growth without destroying his roots.”
– Frank A. Clark
Building resilience is one of the best ways to make yourself more immune to the negative effects of rejection and criticism. Resilience can allow you to continue rather than quit. Resilience can be like your own personal suit of armor to criticism and rejection.
All things become more possible with resilience.
Use these strategies to become so resilient that nothing can stop you:
1. Build a strong social network. The world can be rough. It’s a lot easier if you don’t have to take it on alone. Begin today to work on enhancing your current social network.
● This will likely mean adding some people to your life. It will also likely mean subtracting a few. Think about the people around you that are most supportive. Spend more time with those folks.
● Do your best to disengage from those that have a tendency to drag you down. You should be incredibly choosy about who you allow into your life.
2. Enjoy change. Enjoy might be a strong word. However, it helps if you can appreciate the opportunities that change provides. Every change you’ve had in your life has brought opportunities you either didn’t have or didn’t recognize prior to the change occurring.
3. Expect positive outcomes. Optimism builds resilience. Negativity drains it very quickly. How can you be resilient if you expect the worst to happen? You would eventually buckle under negative expectations.
● Remember the times you’ve been successful in the past. Remind yourself that you can be successful again.
4. Take care of yourself. It’s hard to be resilient if you’re sleep-deprived, eating junk food, and sitting at a desk for 12 hours each day without getting any exercise. Rest, eat well, and exercise and you’ll shore up your resilience naturally.
5. Be a problem solver. Resilient people focus on solutions rather than problems. When you focus on your challenges, it drains your hope and energy. Focusing on solutions gives you hope and a sense of control.
● Spend time each day looking for the best solutions to all of the challenges in your life.
6. Set goals. Goals are a great way to create an exciting future. They also encourage a problem-solving focus. Goals help to set your purpose, and when you have clear purpose, you’re more resilient.
Resilience is positively correlated with life satisfaction and lower levels of stress. Resilience allows you to continue in spite of obstacles and setbacks. Resilience makes it possible to overcome the critics. Become impervious to the critics in your life.
“In order to excel, you must be completely dedicated to your chosen sport. You must also be prepared to work hard and be willing to accept constructive criticism. Without one-hundred percent dedication, you won’t be able to do this.”
– Willie Mays
It’s seems like mindfulness is a cure-all for everything these days. Perhaps not surprisingly, research is showing that mindfulness is one of the best ways to increase resilience.
Researchers have found that mindfulness limits the tendency for people to obsess about their problems and failures. This increases the likelihood of trying again.
Those with higher levels of mindfulness also have greater life satisfaction. Difficult thoughts and emotions are more easily dealt with without becoming overwhelmed.
Clearly, learning to be more mindful can be a big help in dealing with criticism and rejection!
One dictionary defines mindfulness as:
“a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.”
What is your particular present moment? It’s your surroundings and whatever you happen to be doing at that moment.
Imagine that you’re washing the dishes. If you’re being mindful, your awareness is on washing the dishes, what you can see, hear, smell, and feel. You’d also be aware of any thoughts you might be having, without judging them.
A common occurrence which is not mindful would be washing the dishes, thinking about your bills, and getting upset. There’s a difference between noticing your thoughts and becoming emotionally involved in them.
When your mind wanders from your task or awareness of your surroundings, bring it back to one of those two things.
These techniques will help you to use mindfulness to build resilience and emotional stamina:
1. Use everyday activities as opportunities to practice. Be mindful while doing household chores. Driving is a good opportunity to be mindful, and you’ll be a safer driver, too! Showering and grooming are other good opportunities. These types of activities are excellent practice grounds for mindfulness.
2. Eat mindfully. Pay attention to your food and the eating process. Avoid eating while watching TV or playing with your phone. Chew slowly and sufficiently. Notice the taste and feel of the food in your mouth.
● You’ll almost certainly eat less and enjoy healthier foods more. Many processed and higher-calorie foods aren’t very enjoyable if you eat them slowly.
3. Be mindful while you’re waiting. We spend a lot of time waiting. We wait in line. Wait in traffic. Wait for a friend to meet us at a restaurant. Wait at the doctor’s office. This is a great time to focus on your breath. Feel the air moving in and out of your nose or mouth.
4. Meditate. Meditation is the best form of mindfulness training. Find a local meditation instructor or use one of the many other sources of meditation training: books, videos, CDs, and websites.
● Meditation will also enhance your focus and lessen the amount of stress you feel in your life.
5. Take a walk. Taking a walk, preferably in a peaceful environment, is an excellent time to be mindful and discover creative solutions to the challenges in your life.
6. Avoid multitasking. It’s hard to be mindful when you’re working on more than one thing at a time. Learn to focus on just a single task for a period of time. Avoid switching back and forth between multiple tasks if possible.
How resilient are you? How quickly do you give up in the face of adversity? How easy is it for criticism to derail your emotions? Resilience is something we could all use a little more of. Use mindfulness to build up your resilience. It’s free and simple. It is, however, challenging!
“I’m not everybody’s cup of tea. But sometimes criticism can be hurtful. Be respectful. I’m a good piano player, I can sing well, I write good songs. If you don’t like it, fair enough. But give me a break.”
– Elton John
How Good are Your Critical Thinking Skills?
If you’re going to deal effectively with criticism, it helps to have excellent critical thinking skills. For example, consider how hard it is to defend yourself in a boxing match or to develop a fight plan if you don’t know anything about boxing.
When you have critical thinking skills and understand how to make reasoned judgements, you’ll be in a better position to deal with criticism and use it to your advantage.
Practice and strengthen your critical thinking skills with these strategies:
1. Become an expert in your field. You can’t know if you’re getting useful or worthless criticism if you’re not an expert on the topic. Who do you consider to be the experts in your field? Study them.
● Create a study plan for yourself and follow it.
● Set some boundaries for yourself. You don’t want a field that’s too big or too small. For example, being an expert on everything in the movie business is too much to handle. However, you could become an expert on marketing movies.
2. Read reviews. Read reviews of movies you’ve seen and books you’ve read. Have you gone to see a play lately? Read the reviews. Read amateur reviews, such as on Amazon.com. Read professional reviews.
● Notice what you agree and disagree with. Why do you agree or disagree? Does the reviewer seem biased? What did the critic forget?
● Practice writing your own review. You’ll learn a lot about how others think and create criticism if you practice doing it yourself.
3. Debate online or with friends. Practice debating with others. Challenge each other. Learn all the tricks, and you’ll be able to notice when they’re being used against you.
4. Start a blog. Put your ideas out there for the world to read and comment on. You’ll develop thicker skin. You’ll also receive a lot of encouragement and support, too.
5. Question your basic assumptions. You have tons of assumptions. You might assume that you have zero musical talent, or you might assume that a certain person would refuse your request for date.
● Ask yourself why you believe a particular assumption. What is it based upon? Where did you learn that assumption?
● If the basic premise you’re using to make your decisions is false, you’re in a tough spot if you don’t realize it.
6. Notice what is true versus what feels good to you. It’s easy to convince yourself that starting a website is a better way to find customers than making cold calls if you’re terrified of making cold calls.
● Try to take emotion out of the equation and be logical. Use what you know to decide, rather than what you feel.
7. Think for yourself. It’s easy to just fall back on the opinions of others, but this is exactly what you want to avoid if you want to deal effectively with criticism and rejection. Form your own opinions.
● Criticism can give you something to think about, but you should avoid just believing it.
Do you think critically, or do you believe everything you hear? Are you driven by your emotions, or do you use logic and reasoning to make intelligent decisions? You’re not a robot, but it’s a mistake to allow your emotions to rule your judgement. Use the brain that nature provided to the best of your ability. Every part of your life will benefit.
“The freedom to criticize judges and other public officials is necessary to a vibrant democracy. The problem comes when healthy criticism is replaced with more destructive intimidation and sanctions.”
– Sandra Day O’Connor
Dealing With Different Types of Critics
There’s more than one type of critic, just as there’s more than one type of nut. Understanding which type of critic you’re dealing with will affect how you decide to deal with them and their critique. Different critics require different strategies.
Each type of critic has their own motivation for offering criticism in the first place.
Some critics are worth paying attention to, others are not.
You know this type of critic quite well. It’s the critic that doesn’t have your best interests at heart. They have a variety of motivations, but the ultimate purpose of their criticism is frequently selfish. It’s about doing something for themselves, not for you. Others have good intentions, but don’t know what they’re talking about.
Unfortunately, these critics can be found everywhere. They can even be your best friend or parent. Sad, but true!
See how irrelevant critics are like cancer to your progress:
1. Irrelevant critics are often trying to hold you back. They may start discouraging you from ever getting started in the first place. You might mention that you want to learn to dance, and they’ll respond that you’re too awkward to ever dance well.
● This type of critic wants to hold you in place. They don’t want you to develop yourself. They don’t want you to outshine them in anyway. They clearly don’t have your best interests at heart.
● Obviously, there’s nothing to be gained by listening to the criticism of someone with this intention.
2. Irrelevant critics are often just mean people. It could be a friend or a stranger. Some people are hurting and want you to hurt, too. They might generally like you, or they could be your mortal enemy. There’s no reason to listen to the criticism that’s only provided to hurt you.
3. There are irrelevant critics that want to help but can’t. You probably have a friend, relative, or neighbor that seems to think they know it all. They have an opinion about everything, but don’t know much about anything.
● These people are trying to help, but you should ignore their advice. It’s like the blind leading the blind.
The best way of managing the various iterations of irrelevant critics is up to you. You might choose to just thank them for their advice and move forward with your plans. You might choose a harsher response. Depending on the motivation of the criticism, your response could vary.
Avoid taking the advice of anyone that either doesn’t have your best interest at heart or lacks the necessary expertise to give sound criticism.
“I believe in myself, and that’s why I take criticism. You need to be very strong to survive in Bollywood. If someone calls me a bad actress, I won’t live with it but will work towards improving myself.”
– Esha Gupta
This is the critic that’s with us 24 hours a day. This critic also has an ulterior motive, and it’s not to help you be successful. Your inner critic can be as powerful or weak as you permit it to be. Learning to manage your inner critic will make every aspect of your life easier to deal with.
Your inner critic’s purpose is to keep you safe, not to help you succeed. This critic wants to help you avoid making a fool out of yourself, avoid ridicule, and protect your ego. Your inner critic isn’t concerned with:
● Your happiness
● Your personal development
● Your feeling of satisfaction
● Your desire for adventure
● Your wealth
Understanding this fact is one of the most powerful tools to defeat your inner critic.
Your inner critic is the most damaging critic you’ll face!
Use these strategies to stop your inner critic in its tracks:
1. Avoid ruminating. Rumination is the process of replaying the same negative thought over and over again. There’s little to be gained by replaying incidents and conversations you regret.
● The same goes for ruminating over criticism you received. Either let it go or do something positive with the information.
2. Be mindful of your thoughts. Notice your thoughts, rather than just emotionally engaging with them. There’s a difference between noticing that you’re thinking about your dad’s criticism of your career choice and getting upset about it and vowing to get your revenge someday.
3. Focus on positive self-talk. Avoid allowing negative self-talk to continue. Catch it early and say positive things to yourself instead. Avoid being too Pollyanna and over the top. Say positive, but realistic things. A few ideas include:
● “I’ve been successful before, and I can be successful at this.”
● “I can learn to do anything well with enough time and effort.”
● “I am capable of doing anything I put my mind, too.”
● “Everyone will be pleasantly surprised when I accomplish this.”
4. Question the criticism your inner critic is giving you. Instead of just allowing your inner critic to drone on and eventually succumbing to its negative comments, question what it’s telling you.
● “How do I know this is true?”
● “Is this realistic?”
● “What if it is true? Does it matter?”
● “How does this advice hurt me and my future?”
● “Would I ever say this to a good friend?”
5. Recognize that it’s just noise. Unless you sit down with a positive intention of thinking about something, your thoughts are nothing more than noise.
● View your brain as a random thought generator. Sometimes it spits out something you like, and other times it gives you something you don’t like. Neither is meaningful. One is just more enjoyable than the other.
● Really pay attention to the things your brain says to you over a 30-minute period. Notice how crazy these things would sound coming from an actual person in the room with you. You would never be friends with that person, much less base your life decisions on their advice.
Avoid falling victim to your inner critic. Your inner critic is just your ego in another guise. It wants to protect itself and keep you safe. It’s not interested in your happiness or success.
Managing your inner critic leads to a greater level of freedom. Be your own best friend.
“It is possible in medicine, even when you intend to do good, to do harm instead. That is why science thrives on actively encouraging criticism rather than stifling it.”
– Richard Dawkins
This is the type of criticism we all need and should want. It’s not always easy to hear, but it’s intended to be helpful and comes from a reliable source. The person providing constructive criticism knows what they’re talking about. We should all be thankful when someone takes the time to offer constructive criticism.
Discover how you can take advantage of constructive criticism:
1. Appreciate it. Someone knowledgeable is trying to help you. It doesn’t get much better than that. Most of us have to pay someone to get good advice. And that’s exactly what good criticism is, advice.
2. Get as many details as you can. Ask questions. The person giving you the criticism might be apprehensive about hurting your feelings. Assure them that you can handle it and that you appreciate their help. Get as much as you can from the interaction.
3. Realize that constructive criticism is much better than no feedback at all. In fact, it’s even better than praise. Praise feels good, but it doesn’t directly help you to improve.
4. Seek out constructive criticism. Avoid just waiting around for helpful advice and tips. Ask for it. Let the right people know that you’d love to get their feedback. Open yourself up to getting all the good advice you can get.
5. Avoid being defensive or taking the criticism personally. It’s for your benefit, so avoid the urge to take a defensive position. Remember, you’re not being criticized, the way you did something is being criticized. There’s a subtle, but real, difference.
It’s a blessing when an expert gives you advice, even if that advice is hard to hear. Be open-minded and grateful when someone with a relevant opinion is trying to help you. Constructive criticism can speed your progress is life. Seek it out as much as possible.
“If there is no criticism, you become lazy. But it should be constructive, and it should be the truth. If it’s biased and there’s no truth in it, then I don’t care about it. If it’s true, it helps me grow.”
– A. R. Rahman
A General Process for Dealing With Criticism and Critics
You’ve learned a lot about criticism, rejection, and the critics that provide both. Let’s put together a plan for dealing with the criticism you receive each day. Everything is easier with a plan.
When you’re faced with criticism, refer back to this general process:
1. Decide what kind of criticism you’re dealing with. Is it irrelevant, your inner-critic, or constructive criticism? Understanding this will allow you proceed appropriately. Ask yourself the following questions:
● What is the source of this criticism? Do they know what they’re talking about?
● What is their intention? Are they truly trying to help me or to hurt me? What do they get out of giving me this criticism?
● These simple questions tell you everything you need to know. If the source of the criticism is not someone knowledgeable about the topic, avoid giving it any of your attention. The same is true if the person has negative intentions. Just get back to work.
● If the criticism is intended to be helpful and comes from an expert, proceed with the next item on this list.
2. Listen intently. The criticism you’re receiving could be incredibly valuable. Put on your listening ears. Give the person the attention they deserve.
3. Clarify. Ask questions. Ensure you fully understand the criticism. You might feel a little uncomfortable but hang in there and get the most out of the experience.
4. Thank the other person. It probably wasn’t easy for them to tell you what you’re doing wrong. They stuck their neck out and made themselves uncomfortable for your sake. Be appreciative and let them know how thankful you are.
5. Process what you heard. Spend some time deciding if the information is useful and how to best utilize it. Make a plan to apply the information, and then apply it.
6. Return for more feedback. Take your new idea, product, or other result back to the critic and see what they have to say now. Get more advice on how to proceed further. Repeat the entire process.
Feel free to use your own knowledge and experience to modify this process. The main point is to have a plan for dealing with criticism. It’s going to happen, so have a plan for dealing with it. Remember that you can’t avoid criticism unless you do nothing, say nothing, or be nothing.
“Every human being is entitled to courtesy and consideration. Constructive criticism is not only to be expected but sought.”
– Margaret Chase Smith
Everyone’s a critic, but few are worth listening to. It seems that everyone has something to say about your diet plan, your clothes, your goals, your website, and everything else. Some people are genuinely trying to be helpful when they offer criticism. Fewer still are trying to be helpful and actually have the expertise to give good advice.
Unfortunately, many people are simply being unkind for one reason or another. Most of the people in your life don’t want you to do too well. We all want excuses for our mediocrity. When you better yourself, or even try to, you make others feel uncomfortable with their own shortcomings or lack of effort.
All criticism can feel like an attack on your ego. When we put our best effort into something, we feel like our results are a part of us. When someone suggests those results aren’t good, it’s natural to feel defensive. However, it’s important to relax and allow those emotions to fade away.
Ego can get in the way of making real progress. Your ego wants to protect you, above all else.
Resilience is the key to dealing with irrelevant criticism. It allows you to keep going in the face of naysayers.
Mindfulness is the key to building resilience. Use all the opportunities you have each day to increase your ability to be mindful.
Apply the good criticism you receive and be thankful to those that provide it. It really is a gift.