Accepting criticism can be a very difficult process for many people. Criticism can trigger insecurities, force us to doubt ourselves and our abilities, lead to negative feelings, and cause us to become fixed on any perceived personal inadequacies/shortcomings. For persons struggling with mental health concerns, criticism can be especially damaging. Criticism can trigger psychiatric symptoms for some individuals who interpret feedback in unhealthy ways. Criticism, even that which is well meaning can be viewed as personal attacks, demeaning, or even threatening. How you handle criticism can have an impact on your personal perception of yourself, how you view the world, your self-esteem, how you engage with others, behave in a relationship, view opportunities, etc.
People that are on the receiving end of criticism can respond to it in a healthy manner or an unhealthy manner. Persons that have a healthy response to criticism can accept criticism for what it is rather than ruminating over it. Constructive criticism can be used as a “teachable moment” or a learning experience, as it can be used to build upon areas of weakness, or build upon strengths. A healthy response to criticism can also include accepting each criticism as one person’s opinion about your behavior in a specific situation and not as a universal referendum on you as a person. By examining your behavior from the other person’s point of view, you may be able to understand why they are giving you that feedback. When considering the criticism in from the context of your actions you may be able to both identify and determine that you do not need to change your behaviors, but you can still respond to the other person in a respectful way.
Unhealthy responses to criticism can include automatically accepting the criticism as being accurate without self-reflection, failing to identify the reason/motivation for the criticism, using it to measure your personal self-worth. If you struggle with self-esteem or entrenched negative beliefs about yourself, you might receive the criticism as further evidence that you are a failure, incapable, or unworthy, regardless of whether the criticism is valid. On the flipside, another unhealthy response to criticism to automatically assume the criticism is inaccurate or wrong. Criticisms that are automatically assumed to be wrong are usually viewed as personal attacks, prompting the individual that is being criticized to react defensively. If you struggle with perfectionism or anxiety, criticism may often feel like an attack when it contradicts the image of the ideal person you feel like you are expected to be.
Appropriate Techniques Handle Criticism Include:
- Listen to what the person making the criticism has to say
- Conduct a self-reflection to determine if there is any validity to the criticism
- Don’t react defensively
- Do not make automatic assumptions the criticism is valid
- Do not make automatic assumptions the criticism is wrong
- Admit mistakes
- Acknowledge areas requiring improvement
- Examine your own vulnerabilities
- Negotiate an appropriate response to the criticism or make appropriate adjustments
- Use criticism as a teachable moment or learning experience
The overarching goal is to remember that not all criticism should be viewed negatively, but viewed constructively. Accepting or rejecting criticism is a personal choice, however, before accepting or rejecting it must be probed for validity. Try to see it as an opportunity to make choices more in line with your values and not as a measurement of your self-worth.