September 6, 2006
Ideally, receiving criticism helps us grow by increasing our understanding of how we can improve our relationship skills and performance at work or school. However, for those who are especially sensitive to criticism, a seemingly slight negative remark can lead to defensiveness, depression, withdrawal, and even a fractured sense of self-worth. The field of cognitive therapy (CT) offers a unique perspective on why this happens and how to interrupt the process. According to CT, how a person thinks about the criticism actually determines the quality and intensity of the feeling, not the criticism itself. Those who are most sensitive to criticism tend to automatically think that criticism is a personal condemnation, all negative, unbiased, or a recognition of their personal inadequacy. Imagine the following: You ask a co-worker for her reaction to your work presentation and she responds, “Honestly, I had a hard time following what you were saying.” Would you feel hurt, wonder why she was mean to you, or label yourself a lousy speaker? If so, you may have a tendency to personalize criticism. Now imagine that you later learn that your co-worker had an especially difficult day because she found out that her son was seriously ill and she began taking sedative medications that day to calm her nerves. Would you think differently about her criticism? Probably so. However, most people who are sensitive to criticism often fail to consider other explanations. Fortunately, learning to be more open to criticism is a skill that can be developed with guidance and practice.
Cognitive Therapy Tips to Use
When Dealing with Criticism
View it as an Opinion: Remember that another person’s criticism is an opinion, not necessarily the absolute truth.
Consider the Source: Is the person who gave the criticism jealous of you, having a bad day, or upset about something else?
Focus on the Behavior: Recognizing the specific behaviors criticized makes it easier to accept the criticism and make any necessary improvements.
Don’t Over-Personalize: If a friend criticizes you for being late, she isn’t necessarily saying you’re a bad friend or an uncaring person, so don’t say it to yourself.
Learn to Defend Yourself: Learn to recognize the difference between criticisms and personal attacks, and to defend yourself appropriately by setting limits and being assertive.