It can hard to hear the negative things people think about us. Whether it’s what we do, what we say, or what we look like, no one likes to hear the bad. I grew up with the expression, “If you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all,” and although this saying has a good fundamental meaning, for the longest time I thought it applied all the time and to every situation. I became too sensitive and hearing even constructive criticism was hard to accept.
It wasn’t until I realized that most criticism is the catalyst to growth that I made a conscious effort to really analyze what good and necessary criticism was and that I couldn’t let it effect my self-esteem and self-value. Sometimes, saying something “not nice” is necessary, and we need to be willing to embrace it without becoming offended.
When someone criticizes us, it is easy to retort with a critique back. Instead of being open to the harsh words we get offended and only hear “I’m not good enough.” This instinctual reaction usually just escalates the issue and makes us look willful, stubborn and defensive. To avoid this, it is crucial that we make the distinction between an attack and a request.
Through this self-analysis we might also recognize the tendency to project our established insecurities on to the apparent critic. For example, someone who is insecure about his or her social shyness and anxiety might overreact to a comment made about being quiet that wasn’t intended to be malicious at all.
To avoid overreacting and further escalation it is necessary we understand where the criticism stems from. When our boss informs us we need to be more productive, or our significant other tells us we don’t wash the dishes properly, instead of getting defensive, view it as an opportunity to improve upon skills that you might be lacking. It can be especially hard to hear criticism about sensitive topics such as fluctuating weight or an unhealthy lifestyle from friends and family. In these situations try to focus on where the criticism and concern originates, is it out of legitimate concern?
Criticism can be distressing, embarrassing and anxiety-provoking, but it is inescapable. We must practice willingness to accept and embrace our “lesser strengths” and avoid the instinct to retaliate and overreact when they are pointed out.