The Sensitive Person’s Guide to Handling Criticism

Has this ever happened to you?

You’re happily going about your day when, out of nowhere, someone criticizes something you say or do. Suddenly you lose focus and can’t stop thinking about what they said or wrote. You know you shouldn’t be bothered, but knowing doesn’t help you stop thinking about it over and over and over.

In the past I have spent hours, days even, thinking about even the smallest of critical comments. It still happens to me every so often, but for the most part I have learned how to effectively handle it. I guess you could say I am a sensitive person, and truth be told I don’t think there is anything wrong with this for the most part. However, being sensitive to criticism is a major problem if it causes you to lose focus on important tasks or makes you stop acting in a certain manner due to fear of being criticized.

Since putting myself “out there”, in particular with my blogging, I have had to implement a number of strategies for dealing with criticism. And for the most part these strategies have worked well. That is not to say I don’t still feel the sting of criticism, but for the most part I don’t let it hijack my thoughts or stop me from acting in my normal manner.

Understanding Criticism

To effectively deal with criticism, it is important to first understand that there are different types of, and reasons for, critical comments.

It is not always about you. The truth is, there are some angry, jealous and insecure people in the world who are critical because… well…. that’s just the way they are. That’s not to say that sometimes they are not critical for good reasons, but other times it is just a case of you being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

It is inevitable. Recently I read how Drew Barrymore was criticized by some people after donating $1,000,000 to charity. To me, this just shows that when it comes to how we act or what we say often we are caught in a Catch 22. That is, we are damned if we do and damned if we don’t.

It may be justified. We each have our imperfections, and this means that sometimes we do something wrong or say something stupid. When this happens, any criticism we receive may be well justified.

How to Handle Criticism

We now know that not all criticism is the same. The key is to be aware of what type of criticism you are receiving and then act accordingly. The following are some strategies that I find to be effective:

Don’t take it personally. As I mentioned earlier, sometimes criticism has very little to do with you and a lot to do with the other person’s own insecurities, anger or unique way of seeing the world. If someone makes a nasty personal attack on you, there is a good chance that it is actually them that has the problem. At the other end of the spectrum, if someone criticizes you in a constructive manner don’t let your own pride get in the way of hearing what they have to say.

Learn. Sometimes there is good reason for people to be critical of what we say or do. So if you are criticized for whatever reason, try to be open-minded about it. Perhaps even welcome it by expressing gratitude to your critic. It may not be nice to hear criticism, but such feedback is often a part of the learning process and can provide us with valuable insights into how we can improve and grow as a person.

Toughen up. As I said before, I don’t necessarily think it is bad to be sensitive. But if criticism regularly hijacks your thoughts, it could be time to toughen up and grow a thicker skin. In my opinion, the best way to do this is with an inside-out approach. By this I mean don’t just pretend to be tougher. Instead, take the time to work on your self-esteem so that you hold greater confidence in your abilities and ideas.

Be assertive. If you feel that the criticism you receive is unjustified, I suggest you respond courteously, but assertively. This may be difficult, particularly if the other person is your senior. But it is generally not a good idea to “bottle up” your feelings as this is what can leave you dwelling on criticism for hours or even days.

Do it anyway. Perhaps the most important point in this article is: don’t change the way you act or the things you say simply to avoid criticism. Remember, criticism is usually inevitable. And it may just be an indication that you have taken a risk and chosen to tackle something which is a challenge to you.

Photo by SeraphimC.

Peter writes about how to change your life at The Change Blog. He is also the author of Starting a Blog and Audio Book Downloads.


Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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