Learning to manage criticism: How can you do it?

Criticism is part of life; that is why it is so important to learn how to manage it.

Human beings are eminently social beings. The vision we have of ourselves is, to a certain extent, a reflection of what the eyes of others reveal to us, and this is the main reason why criticism can affect us so much.

This can work against us if we do not have the tools to help us put others’ judgments in their proper place. In this article, we will review the techniques that help us to limit the power and influence of the criticism to which we are subjected. The objective is not that they do not affect us but do not disturb us. And why not become stronger in the face of them?

Why do criticisms affect us?

We are predetermined by nature to care about what others think. In fact, we establish part of our values based on the opinions of others. Our self-concept is shaped to some extent by what others see and express about us, which was extremely useful in the past when our survival depended on being accepted and valued by community members. Few individuals managed to live in isolation.

Today, however, we do not need the validation of others to ensure our survival, and in a society as globalized and hyperconnected as ours, having access to what others think can generate conflicts. It is useful to learn to gain perspective in order to deal with such criticism.

A somewhat hard truth is that the criticisms of others will affect us to the extent that we perceive some truth in them. If you feel the irrepressible impulse to react to criticism, it is because it has hit the target of a potential source of insecurity. For example, if you have your house extremely clean and tidy and someone comments that you are a disorganized slob, you will not give it the slightest relevance.

It is when you have doubts about something that you feel criticism the most. You may be triggered by negative emotions, something that happens to all of us. But if you want to stop being so reactive, ask yourself: If something stings me, why is it? It is essential that you work on this aspect of yourself to feel good about yourself because when you reach that point, criticism loses all its power. You cannot change the environment, and it does not depend on you that the criticisms cease to exist.

What you can change is your relationship with them, seeing them as opportunities for improvement. For this, you have to know that you are your own judge; what you think of yourself (without self-deception) is what will define your level of serenity. If a criticism feels particularly unpleasant, look at that aspect of yourself or your life that you had not stopped to look at until now.

What can we do in the face of criticism to learn how to manage it?

The options are to give in, that is, to lead a discreet existence based on what others expect and to renounce our own desires for fear of criticism (with the consequent decrease in our self-esteem), or to learn to take advantage of them, which is more desirable.

The first thing to do when faced with criticism is to stop and think: Who is the one who is criticizing you? It is not the same if the criticism comes from your mother or a teacher and paper writter who corrects you to teach you than from someone who wants to hurt you deliberately.

If it comes from a loved one who wants the best for you, but you are not attracted to the life this person has chosen to live, do not assume that correction without reflection since it will almost certainly lead you to that same life or similar.

This also goes for when you receive advice; think before you follow the recommendations of someone whose life you don’t want for yourself. If it comes from someone who lacks communication tools, simply consider that the criticism has no purpose other than to fill an empty space and is as baseless as the one who is offering it. Someone who has nothing of their own value to contribute to a group and spends their time talking about others is not a good guide to consider.

If it comes from someone who does so with the intent to harm or control, understand that they are a generally unhappy person and that the discomfort they feel needs to be drained, so rather than reflecting something about you, it brings out their convulsive internal state. Understanding this takes a lot of power away from the judgments of others. They may judge who they consider different, and this, for you, is even positive so that, using critical thinking, you discover that there is no need to get angry.

When a person improves in certain aspects, there are always people who will support them. Others will be inspired by trying to move forward alongside them. But sometimes, when, after starting from a base of equality, one of the two people grows, the distance between them increases. Suppose the one who has fallen behind does not want to do the work involved in reducing that distance, creating dissatisfaction. In that case, he may belittle the other’s achievements by trying to change his own perception of himself in a roundabout way.

It is a normal phenomenon; identify it for what it is: a desperate attempt on the part of the one who criticizes in order not to feel inferior. Seen in this light, it seems more like a cry for help than an attack. As a second step, it is reasonable to think about the content of the criticism. Determine if there is something real in it that causes us friction, and if so, remedy it.

We can accept the criticism and establish an action plan to improve that aspect that has caused us discomfort.

We can apologize and be grateful for the learning that comes from becoming aware of something we have been unable to see.

We can relocate it through a structured analysis that helps us to clarify our ideas.


In summary:

  • Identify the criticisms that generate discomfort.
  • Analyze the veracity of what was said.
  • Bring to light that part of the truth that bothers you and define how you are going to improve it. If the criticism is not true, logic dictates that we should not get angry since there is no relationship between what is said and us. On the other hand, if it is true, why get angry? It is more of a statement of fact than a criticism.
  • Look at who is criticizing you.
  • Don’t seek to embarrass the other person. It will only worsen the perception you have of yourself. Focus on your actions and how to improve.
  • If you care about the person, don’t engage them in public and opt for a quiet conversation in private. Misunderstandings are settled with respect and by talking.
  • Don’t apologize if you feel you have acted correctly. Faking a conciliatory behavior at the expense of what you really think is a dishonest attitude will not improve the way you relate to yourself. Opt for a calm and sincere dialogue in which you feel free to show your vulnerabilities. 
  • Don’t seek revenge; don’t waste energy. It is better invested in acts that produce improvements and make you feel more comfortable with your own life.
  • Ask for advice if you feel overwhelmed.

If we were to make an analogy and criticism were the shooter’s arrow, the disproportionate reaction would be proof that it has hit the bull’s eye. The goal would be to respond consciously and not be driven by irrational impulses.

Analyze your situation by using reason and, in order to release tension, use your sense of humor. It is a sign of emotional intelligence to be able to laugh at yourself. Finally, keep these basics in mind before reacting rashly to hurtful comments:

  • Not everyone can like you.
  • Envy is nothing more than mismanaged admiration.
  • The problem is not the criticism but your interpretation of it and the decisions you make about it.
  • It is not more important what others think of you than your sincere opinion about yourself.
  • Act according to your values.
  • Be consistent, and if you don’t like to be talked about, don’t pass judgment.
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