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.
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.