Confession: I used to be the worst at handling criticism. One small comment would have me reeling for days, crying and being defensive. I’ve been blogging for over two years now and actually almost shut down my entire Instagram over the only negative comment I’ve ever received in that time, and it wasn’t even that bad.
Criticism – and an ever-growing fear of it – has ruined my work life in the past with little comments adding up to leave me feeling alone, worthless and unappreciated.
When Liam and I first got together, a single jokey comment could send me back to being an overemotional teenager.
You probably relate a lot to this – not being able to handle criticism can bring out the worst in all of us. As we grow up, we’re taught that criticism comes from jealous people, that we’re the bigger person and they’re just upset they can’t be like us. We can also be taught that underperformance makes us useless, worthless, need-to-do-betterers.
I talked about this briefly in my 10 Little Habits To Practice More Self Love post, but since I’s something we all seem to go through I wanted to expand on it here.
How many of us feel angry, abandoned, anxious, humiliated, or beaten down in the face of performance reviews at work, or small comments from friends or family?
Well, I’m here to tell you it doesn’t have to be this way, pals, because I think I might have cracked it.
I mean, I’m not quite there yet, but I’ve stopped tearing up when my boyfriend asks why I haven’t managed to do something I said I would, or when my manager tells me how to improve in my role.
You see, a lot of how we handle criticism is rooted in how we were raised. I’m not saying you had terrible parents (nor did I), but you do pick up cues on how to manage these things as you grow, and you learn from them.
Or, perhaps you just weren’t faced with any, coasting through your education with good grades, before getting to university or out into the real world only to be faced with the reality that you can’t be good at everything.
How To Handle Criticism Like A Boss
Learn to kerb your emotional reaction
Regardless of your upbringing, criticism tends to trigger a lot of negativity in us all. Whether you’re defensive, hurt, angry or frustrated, it’s an important first step to learn to stop yourself from reacting based on that. Reacting emotionally can lead to hurt feelings; perhaps your boyfriend doesn’t get why his basic comment has you in a full on meltdown while you do the dishes, or your boss who was simply trying to help you out is suddenly public enemy number one. Perhaps you’ve lost your rag and told everyone around you all about how terrible your critic is.
Reacting emotionally can lead to hurt feelings; perhaps your boyfriend doesn’t get why his basic comment has you in a full on meltdown while you do the dishes, or your boss who was simply trying to help you out is suddenly public enemy number one. Perhaps you’ve lost your rag and told everyone around you all about how terrible your critic is.
Although some people just suck at giving constructive criticism, a lot of your emotional reactions aren’t actually because of the criticism you’ve been dealt, rather than your previous emotions being triggered. Perhaps their comments have re-affirmed all that negative self-talk you do. It’s not fair to yourself or to the person on the receiving end to keep putting yourself through these things. Learn to poker face until you can tackle things from a more neutral perspective. Revisit them later. Which brings me to…
Learn what causes your response
This has been a tough one for me, and it will be for you too.
I’ve recently been doing a lot of inner-child healing work recently and really clawing over some painful memories, and it hasn’t been easy. It doesn’t even need to be an especially traumatic memory, I’m learning. Little comments in some situations become internalised and before you know it, you’re locked in a fear of doing anything.
I remember being in nursery and voicing my opinion on a song we were made to sing while we tidied, and being made to stand in the corner until home time. I remember all the times I placed second of third in dressage competitions and feeling absolutely awful in the face of our judge’s criticism. I remember being reasonably good in high school, but when I arrived at college I was suddenly only average at best and had to process that I’d only improve by following the advice of my lecturers.
Instead, I’d bitch them out to all my friends and tell everyone how terrible the lecturers were. In university when this happened, I just stopped going. I was the queen of aggressive defensiveness.
My point here is, there’s probably a lot of very little things or even some big ones that you need to let go of. Don’t be afraid to seek proper help here, you never have to do this work alone. Knowing how and why you respond to things can really help you to process them in the now.
A book that has really helped me with this has been Life Tonic, by Jodie Shield.
How can being able to handle criticism help you?
Learning to handle criticism is particularly helpful to me in working situations where my boss doesn’t really care that my Textiles teacher said my pillow was ugly and triggered a fear of criticism for the rest of my life.
How can what the other person is saying help you? Is it going to help you towards a specific goal, or further your career? Will it help you improve at something?
It’s true that not all criticism comes from a good place, but it’s also true that we dismiss a lot without really processing it either. Learn to redirect your thoughts to analyse how you can learn something, instead of being defensive.
Try not to argue
It is so, so easy to offload when you feel like you’re being wrongly critiqued, but for real, don’t start an argument.
If you’re in a professional position it can make you look extremely confrontational, and not in a good way. And if you’re in a personal situation, arguments will usually only lead to raised tempers and someone coming away with hurt feelings. Arguments in these situations only really serve to clash egos and escalate otherwise innocent situations, so try not to start nit picking.
It can be very easy to fall into the trap of trying to shift blame, make excuses or land yourself in the comparison trap at this time. Why does one person get away with doing this and not another? Maybe you were working as a team and felt held back.
Rather than arguing, learn to also hand out constructive criticism, and know the time and place to do so.
Learn to admit when you were wrong
Genuinely, if you made a mistake, learn to admit it and apologise sooner, rather than later. It doesn’t really matter how it happened, why it happened, or what else you have going on that maybe made you mess up in some way. Be gracious, apologise, and if needed maybe discuss how you can avoid it in future.
Try not to shift blame or excuse yourself. Learning to do this helps to create open and honest development conversations in the work place and usually also avoids a tonne of frustration from both parties.
Follow up later
If you’re lucky enough to have some time to have gone away and thought on it or even acted on it, it’s a good idea to follow up. Maybe it’s your boss who has asked you to set something up differently, or you walked away from a potential argument with your partner.
When you’re done processing how it can help you, go back and discuss from a level headed perspective. Be clear about what they’re asking of you, and make sure you both are certain of what the next move is.
Of course, you can always reject it too
Maybe someone is just being straight up nasty, personal or unnecessarily mean. It happens, and it’s important not to let this derail you either.
If someone is being straight up mean, and you’re comfortable and confident you can confront this person and not have it turn into a slanging match, then you can learn from this too. Sometimes people are more likely to open up more and reveal something constructive. Maybe they’re also lashing out!
If the criticism at hand really isn’t helpful or constructive, you really don’t have to accept it, or indeed act on it.
So how does this tie in with self-care?
I’m pretty vocal the fact that self-care isn’t always bubble baths, face masks and clutching your crystals. Sometimes it’s paying bills, scheduling appointments, cleaning the house and going to therapy. Sometimes you have to face some pretty horrible stuff, and it can still be an act of self-care.
Improving your relationships is part of that. Imagine if you taught yourself not to lash out every time you felt vulnerable? Imagine how confident you’d be in work if you learned to have real, constructive conversations with your colleagues and boss? Imagine if the small shit stopped getting you down?
Addressing your emotional baggage is absolutely self-care. There’s no question that getting on top of your emotional clutter is absolutely an act of self-love. To me, learning how to deal with stuff that we all have to go through has left me feeling so much more confident, supported and on top of my shit than I ever did before.
How do you handle criticism? Is there anything you can add?