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If you’re struggling to deal with criticism, I’m so glad you’ve landed here. I’m hoping to show you how you can handle criticism calmly and effectively.
We’re going to look at fair and unfair criticism, whether at home or at work, and how best to deal with it regardless of the way it’s delivered.
Criticism and rejection – though part of life – can often be upsetting and may even leave a lasting bitter taste.
Constant criticism be a form of bullying on one hand. On the other hand, if it’s delivered by someone who genuinely has your best interests at heart, it can be a gift. Comments from someone with expertise in the appropriate field could be really valuable.
Stick with me as we explore in more detail how you can deal with criticism – of you personally, your behaviour or your work, at home, in your social circle or in the workplace.
Let’s first look at how not to respond…
How not to respond to criticism
Neither revenge nor denial is appropriate or helpful reactions.
Endless rumination (repetitive negative thinking) is not going to help you feel better either. It will only serve to undermine your self-esteem and waste your precious energy.
Acting defensively won’t help and neither will…
… automatically taking it personally,
… reacting aggressively,
… immediately trying to prove the other person wrong,
… concentrating on finding fault in the other person.
So, what is the best way to handle criticism then? Well, let’s get this out of the way first…
How to deal with destructive criticism
Are you dealing with unrelenting and unfair criticism? Are you putting up with constant judging, put-downs, attacks, trivialising, blaming, sarcasm and sneering?
I am a qualified couples counsellor with 24 years’ relationship advice experience in a variety of settings. I have helped couples deal with a multitude of relationship problems. Therefore, I’m particularly interested in your partner, husband or wife is treating you in this manner.
Constant criticism and name-calling is emotional abuse and bullying. It’s about power and control and it’s totally unacceptable. No one deserves such an onslaught.
If you’re stuck in that kind of a relationship, whether at home or at work, then please do seek help. It’s fair enough to have to deal with being criticised at times, but there’s a huge difference between someone who’s critical on occasions and someone who’s a bully.
Regardless of who the abuser is, though, I want you to have the right information because you need to know that you’re being abused! In this instance, this particular article on how to deal with criticism is not right for you. Instead, I’d like you to hop straight over to my article on the emotional abuse signs in a relationship.
Are you and your partner or spouse constantly criticising each other?
Are you both always arguing? If so, you’ve probably fallen into the habit of constantly criticising each other. Arguments about money, physical intimacy, extended family and how to discipline your children are common.
If that sounds like you, then here a few articles you may be interested in: money issues in relationships, your partner is lying to you about money, your non-existent physical relationship and how to deal with constant arguing in a relationship.
Handling criticism – how to stay in control of your emotions
You may well feel somewhat emotional when you’re being criticised. You could feel hurt, angry, frustrated and disappointed. You may also be feeling rejected, particularly if you’ve been on the receiving end of criticism from your partner or spouse.
It’s important, then, to know that the more emotional we are as human beings, the more limited our thinking becomes – we become blindsided. Our black and white, all or nothing thinking at that moment may lead us to react in a way that we come to regret!
But, you can’t learn anything new without making mistakes and other people are likely to comment on those mistakes. Therefore, knowing how to deal with their comments can help you to stay in control of the way you react to the things they say.
1. The first step is to learn to accept that criticism
– fair and unfair, constructive and destructive – is part of life. And not everybody possesses good communication skills! (I don’t mean, of course, that you have to accept destructive criticism.)
Whenever you’re learning or trying something new, your brain has to develop new neural pathways for the messages about that particular skill or action to flow through. Compare it with trying to find your way around a new town – you take wrong turns until you become familiar with the place. Then suddenly you barely notice how you get from A to B because your actions have become automatic.
If you allow yourself to get upset by other people’s feedback during any learning process, your emotions will get in the way of your learning. Whether or not they deliver their feedback well is another story, but all you need to focus on is how you allow yourself to react.
2. Distract and calm yourself
for a minimum of 20 minutes if possible if you know you’re too emotional to say anything useful. Spend a little time engaging in a favourite activity, hobby or interest, or investigate the intricate details of a tree, plant or flower.
Only then, when you’re calmer, should you consider all your options for dealing with the criticism.
How to handle criticism and not let it get the better of you
10 tips for handling criticism calmly and effectively
- Determine if the critic has all the information – don’t be afraid to assert yourself.
- Ensure the information is accurate and unbiased (as far as possible).
- Ask calmly for further explanation.
- Find out how the information was gathered.
- Consider if there’s a misunderstanding.
- Consider whether the intent may have been to deliberately hurt you.
- Ask for a break to think things through (and to calm down!).
- Come back to the conversation and start by calmly stating that you’ve thought carefully about the comments.
- Give the critic some credit for starters, if only for offering you an opportunity to reflect on the situation or to discuss it.
- State your view of the situation calmly, but assertively (even if you have to fake it!).
Criticism, like rain, should be gentle enough to nourish a man’s growth without destroying his roots.”
Frank A. Clark
Dealing with unfair criticism
Questionable criticism can feel even harsher. Here are some tips to handle it.
5 Questions you should ask yourself
Whose problem is it really?
Are you rating the critical person’s opinion of you higher than your own?
Are you setting yourself up to be criticised? I know this is a really tricky one because bullying can be so subtle that you barely notice it starting.
Is it really a power struggle? This is linked with the previous point. Be honest with yourself – are you possibly playing for power too? If not, then ask yourself if you could be playing a victim role. Tough questions, I know.
Is what’s happening about one-upmanship, competition, retaliation or control? This may point to you being bullied, depending on the length of time you’ve been subjected to it.
Oh… by the way… you’re not alone
Here’s Sandra Bullock talking about what she learned when she Googled herself…
Feedback which includes a focus on your strengths can increase your self-awareness, knowledge and personal growth.
As partners in a love relationship or marriage, you can each hugely benefit from kind, but honest feedback too. Apart from learning to deal with each other’s critical comment, you’d benefit too from learning about how to fix your relationship if you know there are other issues at play.
There is so much more to you!
Whatever the reason was for the criticism, just remember that there’s so much more to you than whatever it was that got criticised.
- You are not your thoughts.
- You are not your feelings.
- You are not your behaviour.
In addition, just in case any of these apply to you:
- You are not your work.
- You are not your art.
- You are not your performance.
- You are not your scores.
- You are not your sport.
- You are not your last photo-shoot or selfie.
- You are not your music.
- You are not that major mistake you made.
Whether or not you’re involved in the performing arts, music, sport, fashion, TV or you’re a minor or a major celebrity – there is much more to you than any of these aspects.
Your action before you go to sleep
Remind yourself of:
- at least three things you achieved today – no matter how small;
- three things you like about yourself;
- three great times you’ve had when you had real fun, laughed a lot, were ecstatic or in total awe of something.
What about that critical person?
Have you been unfairly criticised? Have you received some questionable criticism?
Then here are your action points…
Your action plan
- Calm yourself
by taking three deep breaths in and out. Then keep focusing on your breathing: count your in-breath and double that count for your out-breath (fewer is okay). Carry on until you’re calmer. Then…
- Ask yourself the following questions:
Is your critic…
… irrational due to physical or emotional strain?
… unskilled in communicating?
… lacking in emotional intelligence?
… acting on behalf of someone else?
… making assumptions based on their perspective of the world?
… feeling insure because they perceive you as a threat?
(None of the above points is offered as an excuse for their behaviour, but they may explain and help put things in context.)
- Challenge the critic
Before you do, remind yourself first of a time you felt invincible. It matters not what it was about – tying your shoelace would do. Close your eyes and see what you saw then, hear what you heard then and feel what you felt then. After you’ve ramped all of that up you’re ready to face your critic.
Describe their behaviour and their comments calmly, say how you felt and ask how the two of you can have a more constructive conversation second time around.
You’ll find more on responding to the critic further down.
Are you your own worst critic?
Are you beating yourself up by any chance? Are you constantly critical of yourself? Is there a gremlin sitting on your shoulder forever undermining you? Do you tell yourself that…
… you look ridiculous?
… you’re no good?
… you’re showing yourself up?
… you’ll never make it?
… your work is rubbish?
… you’re a failure?
… you’re unlovable?
Constant self-criticism makes it harder for you to deal appropriately with comments from others.
In a sense, you’re bullying yourself. It’s unlikely (I hope) that you would undermine your best friend in such a manner. Yet you’re happy to undermine yourself?
It’s time for a change!
9 ways to cut yourself a little slack
- Start by just noticing – without condemning – when you’re being critical of yourself. Just be curious about the kinds of situations that cause you to become particularly self-critical.
- Ask yourself if you’d be happy to undermine a loved one in the same way.
- Simply notice things that you can do better – there’s an advantage to being self-observant without being overly critical.
- Simply commit to doing better next time.
- Learn to laugh at yourself.
- Remind yourself whenever necessary that today’s drama is tomorrow’s bin-liner!
- Stop avoiding, start acting – that builds self-esteem. If you’re having any relationship problems, for example, take action by availing yourself of some good relationship advice.
- Use self-hypnosis – it is both effective and user-friendly. Get the Tame Your Inner Critic or Stop Self-Criticism downloads. For further information, see my article: Self-Hypnosis FAQ and downloads.
- Talk your particular problem over with an online, professional, licensed therapist. See my page on online counselling.
How to accept constructive criticism
You’re probably going to get both at some point! It is what it is.
Here are 6 steps to help you on your way…
(I do know they’re easier said than done, but I’d love you to dig deep and start somewhere.)
How to accept constructive criticism
Accept the criticism as a gift – we all make mistakes and making mistakes is the quickest way to learn.
Agree briefly with your critic, depending on what happened.
Avoid endless explanations and excuses.
Thank the critic for their honest feedback.
Ask him or her for any advice – if appropriate.
Learn from your mistake, make amends and ask for another feedback session.
Dealing with criticism offers a potential opportunity to learn if indeed you can accept it as a gift. It can stimulate you to do heaps better, change your ways, adjust your communication – or whatever else is required.
Is there a need to apologise for a mistake you’ve made? Then don’t hesitate – but do it genuinely. Learn how to sincerely apologise here.
Criticism is something we can avoid easily by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.
You may just need to accept that you’re going to be criticised – regardless of what you do.
There will always be people who will be critical of you or for whom you’re never going to get it right, whatever you do.
However, you can bolster yourself – you have control over how you react! And the good news is that you’re born with all the resources you need.
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How to get immediate help from a licensed counsellor
Your problem is never too small or too big, too silly, too embarrassing or too complicated to get personal advice (anonymous if you want) from a licensed therapist. They’ll be happy to help.
- Click the image below and answer a few questions about yourself and your situation (it takes just a few minutes).
- Choose how you want to pay (it’s safe and secure).
- Write down what’s troubling you to start (chat, text, email, video-chat)…