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How to Deal With Criticism and Negativity

Updated: Jul 29, 2019

Most of the posts on this blog were written from a place of confidence. I can tell you how to get a 4.0 because I’ve done it. I can tell you how to get up early because I do it. I can tell you how to schedule your calendar flawlessly because I’ve been doing that for myself for years.

This post is different. I’m not great at accepting criticism. I’m still working on this one. Learning to accept criticism is something that I started consciously working on a few months ago and I’m still not great at it, but I have made progress, so I’m here to tell you what I know so far.

I’m okay at accepting criticism in some areas of my life. I don’t mind criticism in about things that I’m fairly confident about. For instance, I know that my pottery is decent, and I feel confident in my ability to create ceramic pieces, so I’m open to constructive criticism. Obviously, there’s always room for improvement, but because I’m not insecure about my ceramics, I don’t mind accepting feedback.

In other areas, though, I’m much less comfortable receiving criticism. I’ve been told that I’m not good at standing up for myself, which is something I’m aware of, but it’s hard to hear when other people point it out. Something about being criticized in an area where you already feel vulnerable makes it all so much harder to deal with.

Being criticized in something that I’m still working on makes me feel self-conscious and defensive. Even if the comments are well-meaning and framed in a way that is meant to help me improve, it isn’t easy to accept others pointing out my faults.

Putting myself out here on this blog is hard. For the first couple of months, I only shared this with my closest friends because I was afraid of what people would say when they read it. I thought they wouldn’t like my writing or what I had to say. The whole experience made me feel vulnerable.

When I first started, I knew that my work wasn’t very good and that I had no idea what I was doing, but I also knew that the only way to get better was to do it. I couldn’t be good at blogging without first being bad at blogging. So I went out and I did it. I put myself out there on the internet where anyone can see, and I let myself be bad at blogging.

I’m a bit better now than I was when I started, but I’ve got miles and miles to go before I’m anywhere close to great at this. And the only way to learn and improve is to keep writing, keep posting, and keep receiving feedback, so that’s what I do.

This whole experience is one big learning process. I had close to forty posts up on the blog before I shared with my friends and family on my personal Instagram that I even had this blog. Based on the rough average length of my blog posts, that means I’d published nearly 70,000 words before I felt like I was good enough to share with the people who care about me most.

I was afraid that I’d be told I was terrible at this, that it was a stupid idea, that I should stop and give up—and guess what—none of that happened. All of the responses I got were positive, or at least supportive, and have helped me improve the blog.

Through this experience so far, I’ve realized that being vulnerable is important. If I, a real person, am to truly connect with you, a real person, I have to open up. That’s how people connect with each other.

In order for me to create the impact that I’m aiming to create, you have to feel that you can connect with me. That requires that I let myself be vulnerable, no matter how intimidating it is. And I suspect that many of the things that you want to do also require you to be vulnerable and put yourself out there.

Putting yourself out there is scary, especially in the beginning when you’re just starting and know that you aren’t very good yet, because there’s always the possibility that someone might say something negative.

It’s one thing to think you aren’t very good at something, but actually being told of your shortcomings is a whole different beast. We’re worried that someone might think we’re right about our flaws.

But there’s no way to skip that scary beginning stage. You can’t publish your fiftieth post without publishing your first. You can’t graduate from college if you’re too scared to even apply. You can’t make progress without starting. You’ve got to just get moving and put yourself out there.

Since you can’t escape criticism, and you have to let yourself be vulnerable, this means that you have to learn to accept and deal with criticism.

So how do you deal with criticism?

Consider Intent

Know that the vast majority of the time, other people genuinely want the best for you. Other people want you to succeed. People share their comments because they think they will help you improve, and they want you to improve.

Constructive criticism, especially from friends and family, is intended to be helpful. What you can achieve based on your own criticism of yourself is limited. To grow and achieve your potential, feedback from other people is required.

Most people didn’t set out to hurt you by making a comment. In fact, they likely are trying to avoid hurting you. Don’t automatically assume the worst. Their input does not mean that your work is terrible, it means they see potential and want to help you reach it.

Granted, there are people out there who are malicious and say things intending to cause pain. This is where we go to the classic “ignore the haters” advice. Anyone who says things intending to hurt, rather than help, should be dismissed immediately, though I’m aware that this is much easier said than done.

Don’t Get Defensive

I struggle with this one. As soon as someone says something negative, my immediate reaction is to start building walls around myself and explaining all of my excuses and reasons why the thing they said is wrong. But this is counterproductive.

Rather than defending myself, the reaction that I’m consciously working to implement is to take a deep breath and thoughtfully consider the feedback I’m getting. Rather than trying to explain why what they said isn’t true, I listen and take the advice into consideration.

Use It!

Before you shut down criticism, it’s important to evaluate it. If it really isn’t true or that person is just trying to bring you down, it’s fine to dismiss it and move on. Mindfulness helps a lot with letting go of negativity. It’s not easy to let go of rude comments, but there’s nothing else that you can do with them. Arguing and getting defensive rarely help and aren’t worth your energy.

If you objectively consider what’s being said, and it turns out it is or might be true and comes from a trustworthy source, use it! That’s what constructive criticism is there for. It helps you to become better. There’s a reason artists have critiques and developers have code reviews.

Taking feedback from others is one of the best ways to improve your work. Other people will see your blind spots and help you improve in ways that you never would have considered.

Ignoring input from other people severely limits your growth and, in most cases, sets you up for a quick and painful failure. Accepting criticism and improving your work is much less painful than complete failure because you couldn’t deal with others’ input.

Exercise It Off

I realize that this is a little out of left field, but exercise, especially cardio, is one of the best ways for me to get my mind off of something. If someone says something negative to me, working out will take my mind off of it and leave me in a better mood.

It’s pretty difficult to feel bad about yourself after a workout. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m so focused on not dropping the weights on myself or falling off the treadmill, or because of endorphins, but exercise always helps. Even some stretching helps me feel relaxed and takes my mind off of whatever’s bothering me.

So if you got some negative comments and feel hurt because of them, go hit the gym or find some friends, a field, and a frisbee. You’ll feel better afterward.

Put It In Perspective

The chances that the criticism you got will still matter in a month are very, very small. Even bigger things that sting a little more likely won’t matter in a year, and the small things probably won’t matter in a week. In the grand scheme of things, that comment isn’t even a blip on the radar.

To illustrate this point: I know that I’ve gotten some really negative, nasty comments about things I’ve said. I remember that that’s a thing that’s happened, but I could not, for the life of me, tell you what a single one of those comments actually said.

If you’re not there yet—if negative things do tend to stick with you and you can recall them years later—meditate. Cultivating mindfulness has helped me so much in becoming aware of my thoughts and the things I choose to keep. You have the ability to shape your memories based on what you dwell on and what you let go of, and mindfulness is the tool that lets you do this.

It seems so silly to get upset over something that won’t matter in a few days. Tell yourself that if it won’t matter soon, it isn’t worth your energy right now either. When you realize how small and unimportant that comment is, it’s much easier to let it go, or at least remind yourself that it’s okay to let it go.

Talk It Out

Getting a second opinion—one that’s hopefully phrased in a constructive and considerate way—from someone you trust helps to put things into perspective. Input from someone who knows and cares about you can help you judge the comments objectively.

By talking through the criticism with someone else, you facilitate your ability to react appropriately without letting your immediate emotional reaction take over and drive the boat.

Having a conversation about the feedback helps you judge whether or not it’s valid and what you can do to improve as you move forward. Your friend can provide support, as well as more ideas for how to make your work better.

I often talk to my boyfriend about the negative comments that I get. Sometimes it’s just so he can reassure me that what they said is absolutely ridiculous and I can dismiss it completely.

Other times, I’ll ask his opinion on whether or not their criticism is true. If he denies that it’s true, I know that it’s safe to dismiss that comment. On the occasional instances that he agrees with what was said, I’ll run some solutions by him so that we can work together to improve my work.

Obviously, if you want to talk things through with a friend, you need to find a friend who will be honest with you. Don’t go to that friend who will always tell you that you’re right no matter what. You need someone who is willing to agree with the criticism if it’s true.

On a side note, if everyone in your life always tells you that you’re right, then you need to take a hard look at yourself and figure out why people are afraid to go against what you say and tell you that you’re wrong. No one is right all of the time, and if you get only positive comments from the people in your life, that’s a sign that you react very poorly to negative comments and constructive criticism, and you need to work on that.

Ignore The Haters

Like I said, this is much easier said than done. But no matter what you do and how well you do it, there will always be people out there who want to give you crap for it. No one has ever been universally liked. It isn’t possible because there are people in the world who have made negativity their mission.

When these people have made you their target, that is a reflection of them, not you. Take the high road and don’t satisfy them with a reaction. It’s what they want.

I am well aware that this isn’t easy, but it does become easier with practice. The more often you can reinforce the habit of flat out ignoring the negativity, the easier it will become. Mindfulness helps a lot, as does finding something else to distract you from the lingering thoughts. Aside from that, I don’t really have any other solutions. If I find any, I’ll be sure to let you know.

Don't let them waste your energy. It’s not worth it.

Ultimately, dealing with criticism largely comes down to developing a thick skin by putting yourself out there repeatedly and realizing that the negative comments are usually crap. Those comments don’t impact anything and typically aren’t true.

The more often you put yourself and your work into the world and come out the other end unscathed (or at least alive), the easier it gets. After writing here for a few months, it’s become so much less scary to tell you about myself and open up about my life.

It also helps that for every negative thing someone says, I get a hundred nice comments and messages, and those mean so much more to me than the negative ones.

Putting yourself out there is worth it. The pain of dealing with criticism is less than the pain of regret that comes from not doing what you love.

Recommended Reading:

5 Meditation Myths Busted and How to Get Past the Discomfort and Start Meditating

How to Beat Sunday Evening Dread

I'd Like to Introduce You to Your New Best Friend: Your Future Self

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