how to take criticism

How to Overcome Taking Criticism Personally

For many years of my life, I had this problem of taking what people say to me personally. It didn’t matter if their intentions were good or not, for some reason my ego would take control my thoughts and I’d take offense to it. This negative thought pattern I had was on auto-pilot. I’d get offended even if what that person said to me was true. Which actually made it hurt even worse.

Most of the time I wouldn’t say anything. I would just feel the negative emotions inside and bottle it up. Which made it worse because the rest of my day would be affected by it, for no rational reason what-so-ever.

I’m not a person who likes confrontation, which is why I wouldn’t really say anything. But when the person who says something which you take personally knows you, and knows you well, you can’t hide it. This person is my wife, and I can’t hide anything from her.

My wife has nothing but good intentions and would never say anything to intentionally upset me. However, I would get upset when she would do things to try and help because for some reason I thought I didn’t need any help.

Reversing The Habit

Like everything else, taking what people say personally is a habit. It took me a long time to realize this. I would never had even considered this problem had my wife not mentioned it too me. One day she said “You really shouldn’t take everything so personal.” And it struck me deep.

I knew she was right.

I didn’t want to accept it at first, but she was, and I couldn’t deny it. From then on I decided to take responsibility for myself and dismantle my ego, who doesn’t like its territory stepped on. And it does a very good job at letting me know that.

I decided the best way to reverse this habit was to start asking for my friends, families, and wife’s opinion on everything I do. It didn’t mean I had to agree with them, but the goal was to get their honest opinion and instead of letting it affect me personally, to thank them and actually consider it.

I decided to start getting their opinion on my blog posts prior to publishing them. I chose this way because my blog is my baby, it’s where I can channel all my best ideas and feelings creatively and share it with the world. If anything would trigger my ego, it would be them criticizing my writing.

Which is what I wanted.

And it stung at first. Here I was doing my absolute best, putting in hours of work, only to have every little thing picked out by my wife. She’s a very good reader and editor, so she can spot things which I cannot. And she’s ruthless about it, in a good way of course; she has no problem at all with voicing her opinion.

She would point things out, and for the first few weeks I would get that angry feeling inside. I had to keep telling myself that she means no harm, she’s only trying to help, and if I actually let her help me, it would teach me a lot.

After about a month of consistently doing this, the feelings of anger and frustration started to reside. I started to thank her for her opinion and actually took action on the things she’d suggest I do.

It carried over into what other people would say to me that I’d generally take personally. Instead of getting angry. I’d smile and honestly thank them for their opinion.

How it Made a Difference

The positive changes in my life after reversing this habit have been huge.

First, I eliminated a irrational source of negativity in my life. Something that would put negative emotions inside me for no reason at all. Which allowed for more positive emotions to take its place. It’s like the positive can’t come in until the negative has been eliminated.

Second, I learned that actually listening to what people are saying to me, when they clearly aren’t trying to offend me, gives me a whole new perspective. I would get new ideas, see better ways to explain something, see things from a different point of view. I would find new ways in which I could improve the things I wanted to be successful at. I started to see new area’s in my life which I could improve on, which I was previously blinded too by my closed mind.

I started to realize that I don’t know everything, and that what others have to say is valuable if I’m just open to it.

The rate of my personal growth skyrocketed.

My fear of being criticized faded.

My fear of what other people thought about me faded.

Because I found out that most of what I was in fear of, was all in my head.

Final Thoughts

This was a tough challenge for me. I sometimes still find those feelings coming on inside when someone’s giving me their honest opinion about my work. However, I’ve learned to control, and reverse it. It’s no longer something that I just give in to anymore, it doesn’t consume me.

I find much more joy out of listening and learning from others then I ever have. Even if someone really is trying to offend me, which doesn’t happen very often, I still listen and consider if they’re actually correct in their assumption. If they’re not, I just move on.

Like when someone sends me an email criticizing my latest blog post. Instead of getting angry and offended, I try seeing it from their perspective and learn from it. When a guest post gets rejected, I try and find out why and how I can improve it, instead of just getting mad at the world.

Have you ever had moments where you took what someone was saying personally? How has it affected you? Looking back, could you have learned from what they were saying? Can you still learn from it?

I’d love to hear your story in the comments section!

Sean Burrows loves to learn and discover new ways to improve the quality of peoples lives. He studies personal development and health rigorously, and shares his life’s lessons, creative ideas, and healthy recipes through his blog What is Personal Growth – You can also follow Sean on his Twitter page!

* Photo credit: Ciosuconstantin

  • Karthik Kumar

    Doesn’t asking for opinion on EVERYTHING from EVERYTHING tend to make things a lot more confusing? Shouldn’t you also say that sorting and discarding of opinions is also an important skill to develop considering you might get senseless feedback on many stuff where you think you’re right in the first place and end up getting confused.

  • http://www.facebook.com/gardenofteezy Michael Walker

    Well, in response to Karthik, I believe that the point wasn’t to get EVERYONE’S opinion but just to take into consideration the opinions of people close to you in a more positive light.

    I don’t think the author is encouraging you to talk to strangers.

    I can relate to this. My mother is very sharp in her critiques and they often seem like personal attacks. However, if I just realize that this is the only way that she can express herself then I realize that she isn’t telling me things to just attack me. She just wants to see me do better and reach for higher plateaus.

  • http://www.what-is-personal-growth.com Sean

    Hi Karthik,

    You’re totally right, that’s why I said to just ask the opinion from people you’re pretty close too.

    Also, the point is to just get used to getting positive and negative feedback, and not getting angry at the negative. Even if the feedback is senseless, it’s getting used to listening to how others critique you without getting upset. :)

  • http://www.what-is-personal-growth.com Sean

    Also, thanks Michael for clearing that up for me lol! :)

    That’s great you can relate, your situation with your mother is just like me and my wife, I’d glad you shared that. Thanks!

  • Radek

    Hi,

    I’ve just had a client yelling at me yesterday and I’ve had it on my mind for hours. I just kept thinking if he’s gonna call again what emotional speech I’m gonna give him. I knew the longer I’m gonna think about it, the worse I’m gonna feel. And then I just remembered a book The Four Agreements from Don Miguel Ruiz. There are four chapters in the book, four agreements, one of them is called Don’t Take Anything Personally, in short DM Ruiz explains there that nothing is personal, we all live in our own world, our own agreements and we behave based on that. Whatever other people say or think about us, is about them and their perception of us, its got nothing to do with us. So after reading the chapter I just told my self, that client was just mad at somebody else, or perhaps somebody else yelled at him just before he called me. His behaviour’s got nothing to do with me.

  • http://www.what-is-personal-growth.com Sean

    Great input Radek!

    I haven’t read that book, but I’m gonna for sure check it out as it sounds interesting. He’s totally correct though. I’m glad you’re you raised your thinking to a higher level by considering why he was yelling at you, and to take it upon yourself to not get offended.

    Its little things like this that if we master, makes the quality of our lives so much better! Thanks for commenting! :)

  • Ramadurai

    sean
    I cant agree to this.. there are other means and ways to bring down or eliminate your egos. When someone is criticial about you, on you and they do it face to face, it is personal.. it’s only strange when you dont get hurt by it.

    You really confuse me.. To me.. Blog posting symbolizes freedom of thoughts and views. what’s the point in taking someone’s opinion upfront or after each and every post. This is done for the sake of self assurance for someone who is low in confidence and socially conscious.

    Listening to others on their opinion is sometimes unavoidable or we do it intentionally. But, I would apply discretion on the matters that needs other’s opinion and the person as well. Sometimes, It is advisable to avoid opinions as it could deviate your own thought process and affect your focus..
    Cheers!
    Ram

  • http://www.fredtracy.com Fred Tracy

    Great article Sean! I’m guilty of taking criticism too personally. I find it easier to either be an emotional baby about it or wall off my emotions. Both of those options suck.

    I pretty much force myself to learn from criticism, even if I don’t want to. You should hear me when I do it, it’s hilarious. If I agree with what they’re saying, I MAKE myself say they’re right. My entire body and ego fights it, but I still say it. It’s almost like a child admitting they’re wrong, lol.

  • http://www.geoffreyschmidt.com Florida Business Coach

    I think constructive criticism is alway necessary. But pure bashing is just a way for someone to take away your pride and the joy of your own creation. Here is a tip: Be aware of who you listen to. Ask yourself, if this person a credible source? It all about who you listen to, so it’s best to listen to a person who has been there ,done that. Than a person who has just been there, but doesn’t do anything.

  • http://www.2knowmyself.com farouk

    that’s a very nice read
    i think everybody is in need to learn that skill

  • chetan

    Good Article Sean. I have done one course of Art Of Living for self development and in that course we have to go through different test and one of them is that they will form a group and will be working together for 2 days

    On 3rd day teacher will ask each group to tell their views about each member and when we hear some negative remark about us in front of many people is hard to take it but that is purpose of course(test) that take criticisum in positive way or learn to accept criticisum.

  • http://www.what-is-personal-growth.com Sean

    Thanks Everyone! :)

  • Jim

    I don’t take crap from anyone, my motto is to retaliate the same tenfold, both kindness and BS.

  • http://www.livingwords.net Douglas Cartwright

    Sean, great article, thanks for being so honest and vulnerable. I think your strategy is great although some may have misunderstood what you were trying to do – (maybe I have!). I found the way forward in this by learning to separate my value from my behaviour so that the core of me was unconditionally valuable and y behaviours were fallible and open to criticism. I still have some sensitive spots but it works most of the time.

    Doug

  • http://www.thoughtful-self-improvement.com/Change-Your-Thoughts.html Thoughtful Self Improvement

    Thanks for a great personal story Sean.
    This sounds a bit like aversion therapy. I think that’s what is called when you are repeatedly exposed to what you fear until you don’t fear it anymore.

    Most people do get defensive and upset when someone criticizes them. The key is realizing the other people are coming from a different perspective with their own interpretation. If you can understand that you can also understand how your own thought patterns are the result of your own interpretations. If you interpret an innocent suggestion as an attack, you will get angry. If you interpret the suggestion as just a different way of looking at something, it becomes an alternate idea instead of an attack. You don’t get angry at just an alternate idea.

    http://www.thoughtful-self-improvement.com/Change-Your-Thoughts.html

  • http://www.what-is-personal-growth.com Sean

    Jim,

    It’s not about taking “crap” from anybody, I think you may have misunderstood lol.

  • http://www.planetnaveen.com Winning Ideas

    Great article.
    It is one of the best quality that everybody should develop to take the negative opinion of others positively, which improves himself/herself better.
    Naveen.

  • http://ferragamoshoes.org/ ferragamo shoes

    this a wondeful idea and help me a lot in my research…

  • Anu

    Nice write up Sean, I have the same problem. feels like my mind is a different entity sometimes. been wondering what to do about it. This helps alot, will definitely try it. Thanks.

  • http://www.bcbstaffing.co Lily Dagdag

    That is definitely a skill that I have to master. My sister once told me that her supervisor told her, when someone says something to you, make sure you only listen to their words. Don’t put your own spin on what they said. You may think they are criticizing you when in reality they are just stating facts and you are taking it personally for no reason at all. It’s definitely helped me lessen my stress levels. Great post!

  • beaten down verbally

    I can see the point of this if the criticism is truly constructive from a
    well-meaning person, I admit you could learn from them, but what if either
    the criticism was untrue, the criticizer was not a nice person, or the comment was
    mean-spirited no matter who it was from? If the person was so damaged for years
    that their self-esteem was shot, filled with doubts where there used to be healthy self-
    confidence, this due to the person accepting the abusive vitriol and lies, of which some turned to truth through going over it repeatedly in their heads since the other person`s opinion was considered more important than the one who was criticized? While I agree we can learn from others, it`s also not good to agree with everyone`s opinion of us. After all,
    opinions are not all fact-based, that is why they are called opinions! Learn of things
    that can help you, but please consider the source and the intention behind other
    people`s comments. If you take everything to heart it may cause problems with
    self-esteem or to not be true to oneself if what another says is not the best advice
    for you. Better to use wisdom and discernment to find this out than to go along with
    everything you hear and be sorry later.
    Someone who has been there

  • beaten down verbally

    By the way, I still think you made a good point in your article, my point was not to take it too far!

  • http://www.facebook.com/rouran.shiranui Richie Rou

    thanks.. helped me a lot.. :)

  • HP

    I applaud you for taking the steps to address the negative emotions. I myself have been a victim of it for the past couple of years but am starting to handle it and like you said, learn from it. Which, I think, is the most important part of the process. I am having a hard time with trying to get my spouse to identify and start the process. But will keep at it and hope for the best! Thank you for the post.

  • Shaun Goh

    Hmm, what about when the person criticising you is someone you feel vulnerable around because you shared your problems and stuff with him/her. The thing is, when the person’s in a good mood, everything’s okay and in fact, the person would say things like “I don’t judge”. But then on bad days, he/she’ll take everything you’ve said, label my behaviour/issues/whatever with some underlying problem with me and give me advice I never asked for. And the worse part is, he/she expects that I don’t judge him/her either (and I don’t! neither do i give unsolicited advice (which feels alot like criticism)… especially not about the issues he/she tells me).
     
    Now I’m just afraid to talk to him/her lest i add more ideas / presumptions / labels to myself which I feel causes this person to treat me differently (in a bad way).

  • Kakapo

    Great article Sean, very helpful.  I can see lots of situations where I can apply this thinking.

    Does anyone have any thoughts on how you react when others criticise you in a way you find offensive?  My self asteem as it is affronted by the persons attack but because I don’t like confrontation either I don’t say anything and let it bubble inside of me. 

    I then start to worry that because it’s true what they’re saying, then I think I’m useless and that they hate me.  Ridiculous thought process I know!

    Has anyone felt the same and overcome the negative thoughts?

  • Kakapo

    self-esteem sorry!

  • kathy

    You will always get negative feedback, even if you are correct in your opinion. There are people with extreme egos who do not want to be questioned about anything they do because they are right about everything. Those people will take everything as a personal attack even if the opinion you have clearly states it is not. Sometimes you just have to consider the source. If you are personally attacked for your opinion consider the source and move on. These people will personally attack anyone that disagrees with them or questions them instead of just asking why you don’t agree or why you have the opinion you have. Kudos to anyone who tries to change their behavior! You will certainly be better for it!

  • mak

    Wow! This is me.  My mind has been filled with so many negative thoughts in the past 3 years I cant seem to take them out!  Now if I feel that someone is even remotely being critical of me my emotions skyrocket…but I won’t confront them I keep it inside and it dwells and dwells. I feel like an emotional reck.  Why do I take others opinions of me (the way I raise my childern, the way I spend money, the way I decorate my home, etc.) so personally.  I am ruining my own life with all these negative thoughts!   I need to stop taking other peoples opinions soo personally and stop feeling like the world is out to get me!

    • MPH

      Come to think of it I’m the same! But I usually wonder, are people in actuality jealous of me, or is because I actually use criticism to my advantage but never happy with the results, or for what I have! Guess we’ll never know what the other person is thinking, intent, and we’ll never be perfect

  • John

    This is a great piece!  There’s so much in it.  But to touch on one aspect:  When talking about blogging/writing/expressing one’s views, the Internet has made it possible for anyone to just do so without barriers.  The things we read in prominent publications, the movies we see, even the commercials we see on TV, are all the result of creative thoughts or statements that took a great deal of effort to produce.  Fight, write, re-write, re-write again, take the criticism, more fight, more re-write, work with editors, work with co-workers, adjust the piece, fight again, make your point so not to offend, polish it, shape it, do it all in a short time, then done.    
    When it comes to writing or creating, use the criticism to your advantage.  They are your focus group.  And you don’t have to pay for it.  Remember the movie,  ”All the President’s Men”?  It wasn’t far off.  Washington Post editors rode Woodward and Bernstein to be accurate, dig, research and provide real information.  They took criticism that made them better, rich and wildly successful.       

  • Ggarr5

    i feel these same feelings currently and I want to be freed from this. and acting out angrily when they just want the best for us (ie: my husband/siblings, etc..)

  • kathlene b

    I happened upon your post because I was angry about a critical email I’d just received.  The email was just, but my response was so consuming, that I googled “how to not take criticism personally” and here I am!  Your post was just what I needed to read :)  Thanks!

  • Emotionally Abused Husband

    this sort of thing makes sense when there is something to actually be learned… but does not make sense when someone is intentionally or un-intentionally belittling you.

    Some of the replies stink of someone who derails arguements in order to marginalize their victim.

    “You’re just over sensitive” or “it’s all in your head”

    Once again, though very similar to You’re Being Overemotional, this one has a slightly different nuance. 

    What you’re implying is that the Marginalised Person™ is looking for offence where none exists.
    Once again, you’re disowning your own responsibility, and this is absolutely the crux of any derailment – you just can’t repeat or reinforce it often enough. No matter what, none of this is your fault – nothing you said that was hurtful, offensive, bigoted or discriminatory is really to blame here, because you said it in all innocence! After all, what reason have you ever had to examine your ingrained prejudices? Why should you start now?So you want the Marginalised Person™ to know this is how you feel and that you really believe the responsibility is all theirs – if they weren’t looking so hard for offence, everything would be a lot more pleasant!(For you)

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  • Kalpine

    Your side bar for social media sites takes up almost the entire screen of my phone and tracks up and down with the article, preventing me from reading it. But goes away when commenting……

  • Hoff123

    Awesome post! I just found this when googling for it :). Not exactly of course, but you know what I mean.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jhaascampbell Jeanne Haas-Campbell

    I was just terminated from my job last week for “poor job performance”. Even though I was “warned” about this months ago, I felt I had improved. My immediate reaction to “clients have complained” was “what? who? when? I have many many clients that are satisfied with my work. I can name them”… trying to steer the focus away from the “bad” to the “good” things about me. After time and talking with my HR, I realize I may be internalizing the “disciplinary” action as “I am a bad person”. This is reflective of most of my life. I can’t stand criticism. I immediately try to defend myself, making it a huge issue. This enlightenment has brought me to realize that I may need some help.. stop seeing things black and white. Thanks for sharing your story!

    • Rema

      Jeanne. Thanks for sharing your story. I too internalize negative feedback as “I am a bad person.”

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  • Rema

    Yes. This is something that I am struggling with right now. I have a resume writing service, and I submitted a resume for certification review. The reviewers ripped it apart. I was devastated. I took it very personal. In my head, all I heard was “You’re a terrible writer and a terrible person.” The truth is they were right. My writing needed a lot of work. I’m finally at the pointed where I realize I need feedback and criticism to improve my writing skills. It still hurts, but I started putting myself out there for criticism. Your post was very encouraging because I can see it’s something I can overcome. Also, it’s nice to know I’m not the only imperfect person out there struggling with this. Words from a recovering perfectionist.

    Rema

  • Eric

    Lots of great points here. I’m trying REAL hard but man I just cannot handle criticism. Especially when I feel I go out of my way to not criticize others and they do not do it in return. My ego has total control of my brain and I just can’t stop it.

  • DailyDose

    I have not criticized pepole, but I often have opinions on some fashion Dolls I collect. Each time if I say I dont like the doll (the design), some doll collectors would get soooo offended, they think I disrepect them and bring them down, so they want to eat me alive. I could not understand what is the problem with them? they didnt design the doll, the doll is not their child but a product, but they would attack me personally like no tomorrow and presume I am an unhappy person and I am too negative… If I say “this doll’s 2ndary market price will drop next year” –they would hate my “know-it-all attititude” . I would really like to understand what’s psychic behind it?