Written by Karl Perera, MA, DipLC
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How you handle criticism can seriously affect your self esteem and mental health. There are, two types of criticism that can damage your confidence, criticism from others and self-criticism. On this page we will discuss how it can affect you and what you can do to cope with it.
According to statistics from a Psychtests.com study of 3600 people taking their Sensitivity to Criticism Test, between 34 and 39 percent of those in the study were demotivated or felt devalued by criticism from others, whilst almost double this said that they inflicted criticism on themselves and spent time thinking about this.
Criticism, both from others and from ourselves can hurt, if we take it seriously. We need to learn how to cope with criticism for the sake of our well-being and mental health. Self-criticism is a problem because it causes low self esteem and can lead to depression (Whelton and Greenberg, 2005).
My aim here is to use all my years of experience writing about self esteem, my teaching experience plus the coaching I have done helping clients learn how to cope with criticism.
Why is Coping with Criticism Important?
Criticism is a fact of life and we all face it at some point. At work, at school, at home, it seems like criticism is everywhere. Learning to cope with it is therefore very important.
How does criticism affect your self esteem?
If you can cope with criticism you can protect your self esteem from hits that otherwise might lower it. Self esteem can be a fragile thing and is not always stable. Criticism is one thing that can really affect you negatively if you allow it to.
The reason why self esteem is so closely linked to criticism is that if you are insecure or low on confidence at all you may believe the negative criticism you hear and feel like you’re a victim – that can really hurt. On the other hand, negative criticism can lower your self esteem by causing you to doubt yourself.
Those who criticise themselves often suffer from low self esteem, according to Dunkley and Grilo (2007). It is easy to understand that if someone is harshly critical of their own failure, then this will have a significant impact on self-esteem.
How does criticism affect your relationships?
Negative criticism can be particular destructive in relationships. A critical partner can cause stress, anger or resentment in a partnership. If the person receiving the negative criticism accepts it, they may suffer from reduced self esteem and confidence. If, on the other hand, the criticism is not seen as justified by the other partner, he or she will probably respond with equal criticism and this can cause arguments and disagreement. Such criticism can continue over a long time period, perhaps years and the relationship will worsen over time.
This study shows how negative criticism is related to unhappiness in a relationship, and how positive criticism can actually improve relationships. The authors of this study, Klein, Renshaw and Kirby, note that most criticism in relationships is more likely to be seen as negative. In fact, according to Gottman (1994), one likely result of this negative criticism in relationships is divorce.
It seems obvious, then, that negative criticism can be extremely damaging to any relationship, especially if this criticism continues for a long time.
Why do People Criticize You?
It is very helpful for you to understand why people may criticize you. Understanding this may give you a different perspective and help you to handle it more positively. Here are a few reasons why people might criticize you and some suggestions how to cope with the negativity:
- They may truly care about you and want you to do better. They have not made a positive choice here by using criticism, but understand that they mean well.
- They may be insecure themselves and criticizing others may help them to feel better. This tells you a lot about what kind of person they are and their motivation in criticizing you.
- It may be an attempt to cover up their own failings. Such a negative thing to do but all too common!
- They may be jealous of you and so exaggerate what they believe are your failings. In this case, they do not have your best interests at heart and you shouldn’t take what they say at face value.
- They may be trying to take the focus off themselves because they feel threatened by you. Make sure you develop the ability to put yourself first and refuse to let this kind of criticism stop you.
As you can see above most of the criticisms and their causes are negative and in that case, your reaction should be to pity that person rather than react. As we have said above, the fact they are criticizing you negatively should tell you that they have a problem, not you. Take comfort from this!
One thing that will help you to react positively is to believe in yourself more. Get this helpful audio download to build your self confidence which uses the amazing power of self hypnosis for guaranteed results!
One other important reason for critical behaviour is habit. If someone has grown up with criticism from parents or from other family members, then they may continue to do this throughout their lives believing that this is acceptable behaviour. They may not be aware they are doing this. Understanding this will not lessen the criticism but may allow you to begin to ignore it.
Tools to Help You Cope With Criticism
I would like to suggest you try these three amazingly helpful tools, which have helped many readers on this website, to stop struggling with criticism from others and also to reduce self-criticism. I have tried these tools before and have tested them out, and after hearing feedback from others who have tried them, I know they are exceptionally valuable tools that will help you.
Try them today! Click on the links above to learn more.
Criticism and Feedback
Having the right attitude towards criticism is important. You also need to understand when criticism is meant to be constructive or negative. What do you think the difference is between criticism and feedback?
Here are the two definitions according to Oxford Dictionaries Online:
“The expression of disapproval of someone or something on the basis of perceived faults or mistakes”
“Information about reactions to a product, a person’s performance of a task, etc. which is used as a basis for improvement”
Criticism is mostly negative, whereas feedback is meant to be helpful and positive. From the above definitions you can understand why criticism can hurt you. It is based on the idea that there is a fault or mistake, and your natural reaction to that may be defensive as someone appears to be attacking you. In the worst cases, if you let criticism affect you, you may become self conscious and this can affect your self esteem, confidence and mental state. You can find help on this page if you want to stop being self-critical.
Feedback, on the other hand, is more positive because it is based on information (actual knowledge rather than guesswork or opinion). Feedback also encourages improvement. One way to handle criticism would be to see it as it really is – opinion and not necessarily true. Another way to handle it may be to see it as a kind of feedback and then you may use it as a positive to improve yourself. Regardless of the form, criticism is a result of actions or behaviour that is in the past. As harsh as it can get, there is no reason to believe that you cannot improve and do things better the next time.
This interesting study by Fiona and Ken Hyland explains how important teacher feedback can be to the student. They describe how negative criticism should be avoided, while positive criticism (feedback) should be used to motivate, encourage and build confidence in a student.
Don’t Take Criticism Personally – Learn to Cope with it!
What is the best way to respond to criticism? Should you answer back and defend yourself and if so, how?
Here are a number of suggestions how to cope with criticism:
- Become conscious of why the person is criticizing you – what does it say about them? Realize that it may not really be about you. This will help you decide how best to respond. Should you ignore or answer back? Sometimes it is best to ignore and rarely will it achieve anything to respond aggressively.
- Never attack the other person with your own criticism. This will only make that person believe even more strongly that they are right and will also make the person’s claims stronger in the eyes of others.
- Respond calmly and ask the other person to stop. Accept their point of view, tell them you believe they are wrong but respect what they think. Tell them that you have listened and that that is enough. This is assertiveness in action.
- Question the truth of any criticism – is it justified and if so, do something about it. If not, ignore it. Calmly tell the person you have considered what they have said and that you do not accept it.
- Work on your self confidence. There are many things you can do to help yourself and If you’d like to know what they are, I have included my very best strategies and tips on my CD Audio A More Confident You – get a copy now and listen to discover how to boost your confidence and raise your self-esteem.
You can actually learn something if you open yourself to what others tell you but you do not have to accept constant negativity, especially if it is not true. If there is any truth then thank that person and consider making improvements.
I hope that this article has helped you to cope a bit better with this problem which we all face. If, however, you find yourself unable to cope with negative criticism from someone in your life, and who never has anything positive to say to you, then you are faced with a choice. Maybe you would be better off without this person in your life?
You do not deserve continuous negativity from anyone! If you feel you need to take action, make the decision that will help you to build your self esteem and self-confidence. If that means ending a toxic relationship with a friend or close associate, then do it.
“Do what you feel in your heart to be right – for you’ll be criticized anyway. You’ll be damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
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- Dunkley, D.M. Grilo, C. Self-criticism, low self-esteem, depressive symptoms, and over-evaluation of shape and weight in binge eating disorder patients. Behaviour Research and Therapy. Volume 45, Issue 1, 2007, Pages 139-149, ISSN 0005-7967. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.brat.2006.01.017.
- Gottman, J. M. (2014). What predicts divorce?: The relationship between marital processes and marital outcomes. Psychology Press.
- Hyland, F., & Hyland, K. (2001). Sugaring the pill: Praise and criticism in written feedback. Journal of second language writing, 10(3), 185-212.
- Klein, S. R., Renshaw, K. D., & Curby, T. W. (2016). Emotion regulation and perceptions of hostile and constructive criticism in romantic relationships. Behavior Therapy, 47(2), 143-154.
- Greenberg, M. (Ph.D). (2014). The 30 Most Common Reasons People Might Criticize You. https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/the-mindful-self-express/201408/the-30-most-common-reasons-people-might-criticize-you
- Whelton, W. J. Greenberg, L. S. (2005). Emotion in self-criticism. Personality and Individual Differences. Volume 38, Issue 7, Pages 1583-1595, ISSN 0191-8869, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2004.09.024.
Website Author and Your Guide
Karl Perera is a fully qualified Life Coach (DipLC), Teacher (MA), and author of the book Self Esteem Secrets. He has taught at various universities including Durham, Leicester and Anglia Ruskin, Cambridge. He has run More-SelfEsteem.com since 1997 since suffering from low self esteem for more than 25 years overcoming it in his thirties.