Just before my book was published on Amazon last year, my husband very carefully said to me, “You know that you’re going to get some bad reviews, right? I mean, no matter what, every book gets some bad reviews. I just want you to be ready for that.”
I couldn’t help but laugh because I could see he was trying to be gentle about it. That was sweet. “Of course I know I’ll get bad reviews! It’s f fine.” I assured him.
I wonder if you can see where this is going.
When that first critical review appeared, my heart was pounding. I was afraid to read it. It wouldn’t have been so bad if the reviewer sounded like an incoherent crackpot with a screw loose. What hurt the most was that they sounded intelligent and made some valid points.
Even though I knew there would be negative reviews–and I thought I was mentally prepared–it still felt weird to read this public criticism toward my work. After reading it, I got a nervous feeling inside my chest that didn’t go away for hours.
[Listen to the podcast version of this post here.]
Why does criticism affect sensitive people so strongly?
HSPs put their heart and soul into everything they do. They pay attention to details and want to do things right. When they are criticized, it’s like someone is taking their careful actions and words and tearing them apart.
As Dr. Elaine Aron perfectly puts it: “We have a strategy of ‘do it once and do it right,’ and we do that by reflecting more on everything, but especially information on our past performance so that we can mentally adjust our strategy before trying again. That means we are naturally more influenced by feedback, and it may even be why we are more emotional generally.”
Because we analyze everything with care before we make decisions, that makes criticism of our decisions hurt even more.
“Stop taking it personally”
We’ve all heard the phrase, “don’t take it personally”. First of all, a person shouldn’t tell another person how to feel. We are allowed to feel emotionally hurt, of course. A feeling might be caused by incorrect thinking, but that doesn’t mean we are wrong for feeling it. However, it’s up to us to decide what to do with that feeling.
Don’t beat yourself up for “taking things too personally.” You can still acknowledge your feelings, but then decide if you want to act (or not act) on them.
So here are my top 3 tips for handling criticism
First, let’s establish a baseline. I’m basing these tips on two scenarios: receiving critical words from your boss at work and being criticized by a friend or loved one.
1. Try to see it from the other person’s point of view.
Put yourself in the shoes of the criticizer.
What information did the other party receive that made them unhappy with you? For example, why was your boss unhappy with your performance? Maybe what they perceived was not what you intended. Perhaps you can explain yourself and set them straight. Or perhaps you sense that their criticism isn’t really about you. Maybe they are having a bad day. We HSPs are great at putting ourselves in other people’s shoes–try to see where they are coming from.
2. Realize that the criticism might be helpful.
Try to hold back on feeling offended or hurt for a moment and make room to consider what they are saying. It’s not easy to take an honest look at yourself and your weaknesses, but take it as an opportunity to make change, perhaps to improve yourself.
3. Give it some time.
My motto is Acknowledge, Accept, and Adjust.
If you know, historically, that you have been extra-sensitive to criticism in the past, then acknowledge this. Realize that this is how you are. Don’t beat yourself up about it; accept it.
But then you must adjust accordingly.
For me, I acknowledge, accept, and adjust by realizing that I need to give a situation TIME. For all my strong emotions—fear, worry, embarrassment, anger—if I distract myself after the incident takes place, wait a while, then revisit what upset me, I am able to see it much clearer.
It’s like the intensity of my emotions are a fog that clears after time passes.
So, just to re-state this: when I acknowledge that I’m feeling upset, and acknowledge that—when criticized—I get often get “overly” hurt, then I can remind myself that in the past, when I’ve been in situations like this, I need to give it some time in order to think clearly. (I realize this is a long, not-super-clear sentence.)
By acknowledging my sensitivity to criticism, I can adjust and better handle it. And I do this by giving the situation time before reacting.
There’s always going to be criticism and difficult things to deal with in life. It’s ok to be sensitive, but it’s essential to develop tools to handle criticism.
Let’s try a scenario with the tips we just learned.
Say you have your annual review at work and your boss criticizes your performance.
Your first reaction might be strong and visceral. You feel hurt, angry, embarrassed, and worried. Remind yourself that you know you have a hard time with criticism, and you know that you should give yourself time to think clearly before freaking out. Acknowledge that time will help you examine what your boss just said to you more clearly.
Then, after some time passes–maybe several hours–think about what your boss said and whether or not it may be true. If it is, how can you improve? If the criticism doesn’t seem true, examine why your boss said it. Did he or she misunderstand something you did? Is it simply a difference in your personalities? Is there something you could discuss to clarify any misunderstanding?
Share your tips on dealing with criticism in the comments below.
Helpful motto, Kelly. I avoid sharing on subjects guaranteed to receive “well intentioned” zingers from family. Aron’s quote is spot on!
Those are all wonderful considerations, Kelly especially coming from someone who just launched a book. 😉 Thank you!
Thanks Shira! 🙂
I just read your book after a week long vacation with my big family and all of our kids. 27 people in one house. I already know about being highly sensitive, but for some dumb reason I thought I could handle it better this time….with a 4 year old and 10 month old.
Wrong. Day 4 my mind was reeling. I absorb all the energy and pick up on all the vibes between everyone. I get anxiety and can’t think straight. I always end up reading about being highly sensitive to validate and deal with my feelings.
I liked the way the book was quick little chapters on all the traits. I identify with almost every one. So, thank you! Now that we’re back home in our own home and I have control and did nothing for 4 days to recalibrate, I’m back to feeling like myself. 😉
It took a move to Austria from Texas at 29 for me to realize why I dealt with depression and all the factors that caused me so much anxiety. It was a totally different culture and life was simpler. I’m s grateful for those 3 1/2 years because if I had never left my bubble and stimulating family and city (Houston), I’m not sure I ever would have figured out what I need. I probably would have found your book, but truly experiencing it is invaluable. I like to say we’re the ‘canaries in the coal mine’.
Excited to follow your blog. 😉
Hi Carolyn! Thank you so much for the comment and for reading the book! I’m glad you made it through that overwhelming weekend. Stay in touch!
Please put the name snd image of your book in several places. I looked, eent back, looked and found it only at the end.
This is NOT a criticism
Hi Jan! Thanks for the comment. I didn’t want to be too “salesy” so I didn’t put the link, but maybe I will. Thanks! 🙂
Hi: That is such a good point, that the , heart stab, impact comes the hardest when you have put so much work into an endeavor; then criticism comes. Another time that the impact is severe, is when criticism comes, at at time and from a source you couldn’t have expected. Protection from these hardest impact situations is important; because healing might not be easy; and the damage can be longterm, with bitterness results.
I know criticism is difficult, and it was helpful to have it broken down into realistic, useful ways of dealing with it. As a HSP, I have to deal with someone whose behavior can only be described as “bullying.” It’s way beyond criticism. I’m surprised how many adult women bullies there are. It impacts everyone. No one can change another person. I’m just struggling to learn how to change myself so it doesn’t feel like I’ve been hit by a truck every time it happens. There is the kind of criticism where apologies are not accepted, fixing something that was a mistake isn’t enough, and being human isn’t allowed. These people may be insecure and that’s their cover-up, but it doesn’t help those in their path of destruction. Any thoughts on bullying behaviors and how to deal with that?
I know exactly what you mean! Just recently I have started to research HSP and have started to realize that I am a highly sensitive person. Being highly sensitive at my work, I feel, is viewed as a weakness and I do not think that my bosses know how to communicate with that in mind. There is one boss in particular that will make judgments and place blame elsewhere without knowing the facts or what happened, and my reaction to this is looked at as a weakness without any regard to what I have said. I have worked at my job for several years now but do not plan to continue to work there for I feel it is a toxic environment for me. I cannot help but worry, however, if I will find other jobs and management to be similar to my current job.
You poor thing, I know what that is like, dreadful & if I hadn’t had an extremely kind guy to look after me & ring him @ home no relation either I would have left then, thankfully I left before he did
I appreciate the simple terms you recommend regarding criticism: Acknowledge, accept, adjust. I have found that my initial reaction is always intense and I can blow things out of proportion if I react right away.
It’s also helped me to remember that the other person probably isn’t as sensitive as I am and may not have intended to be hurtful.
The time factor is a biggie for me. If I allow myself time to think things over I can usually come to terms with what to accept and what to let go of as ‘their stuff ‘.
I am going to get one of my books published next month and sure to receive unpleasant critical analysis of the same. Though I think I am prepared for that, but this article gives new stand to deal with those. Thanks.
I’m glad it was helpful! 🙂
Thank you so much this will be very helpful ^^
Hello there, this is my first time on the block and I like it already. 🙂
I’m also HSP and could really need some help to handle it correctly.
I found myself thinking an awful lot, after someone criticised me.
I’m giving it time to work through my brain, but I don’t find an end to my thoughts.
It’s like a never ending story, I’m still bugged by something that happened in January.
Do you guys have a strategy to tell yourself to stop thinking about a topic?
Thanks for replies!
Recently, I heard a well-known author (I can’t remember who) say something like, “reading a review is like eating a sandwich that might contain some broken glass. It’s better to avoid that situation altogether.”
This is amazing I love the advice thank you ^^
I have recently started working with my partner. We do commercial fishing.
This is totally out of my comfort zone as I have been in childcare for over 20 years.
He has been fishing 25 years, so he knows his job inside out. I have just done my third trip with him, and the last two trips we fell out so much. I was always worried about working with my partner because he is now my boss, and I don’t want it to affect our relationship away from the boat. I’ve now found out that no two fishing trips are the same. The rules change each trip, due to the weather, frequency of the fish and moral. It’s very important to me that I make my partner proud.I’m a slow learner,but I learn. I get so upset when I think I’m doing a great job, and then he says I’ve done something wrong, yet I did it exactly the same on the last trip,and it was all good. I get so angry with myself. Frustrated and start shouting back, because all I want to do is make him proud. I’m constantly looking for reassurance as I don’t believe in myself. He totally believes in my ability,but why does he get so annoyed with me when I’ve done something wrong or I’ve forgotten some technical term for something that he’s told me a thousand times. This then makes me not believe in myself, and I become frustrated and confused.I try so hard because I want to learn, make him proud and myself proud.
Hi, very good post, thanks. For me it depends on what is said and by who. There is construtive criticism, which I find can be helpful and there is unsolicited projeted critiism, which I find unhelpful. When i wrote my first book my agent warned me I might get some bad reviews and I admit it stung a little, then came the seond book and I couldnt care less… my third book is out next year and I know it wont worry me in the slightest… I see all opinions as just that… opinions, not facts… and a lot of the time the people who enjoy making unkind remarks and are critical dont have what I want, so I shrug it off… they are not people I look up to or admire… The people I look up to and admire are the type who make constructive criticism having been asked whilst championing me and supporting me at the same time so I am never upset with their remarks as I know they have my best interests at heart… the other people, well I have learned to say #whatevs and really mean it…..