Psychology

Coping with Criticism



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Everyone likes to feel good about themselves. Therefore most people strive to maintain positive ideas about who they are, what they enjoy doing, how they appear to others, what they stand for and what they look like. In more psychological terms this means that people strive for positive self-esteem or to remain feelings of self-worth. Unfortunately, there are many things in every day life that can challenge or even attack our self-esteem.

One of those things that could be perceived as a challenge to our self-esteem is criticism. Because we are all motivated to feel good about ourselves, we do not like to hear negative things said about us. It is a very natural response to try to fend off anything negative that comes our way. However, just because something is a very natural response does not necessarily mean it is always the best response.

Receiving criticism might never be something enjoyable, but it does not always have to be a bad thing. It all depends on the circumstances, in particular, who is criticizing you and what it is that they are criticizing you about. In addition, it is important to look at why people are criticizing you and what their reasons are for saying those things. Lastly, it matters how the criticizing is done.

Is it a good friend, a family member or someone who barely knows you who is doing the criticizing? Sometimes it is harder to take criticism from people close to you than from people you do not know very well. We tend to be more objective and feel less attacked when we hear negative things about us from strangers than from the people we love. Of course there are also situations in which you might react much stronger to criticism from a relative stranger, especially because they do not know you well enough to pass judgment. This all depends on the topic of the criticism.

Let us look at two examples. The first one is the situation where someone criticizes you for your behavior. They might tell you that you are behaving inappropriately and that you are offending people. If a family member or a good friend tells you this you might want to react strongly, because you are offended that they would question your behavior. However, you should also keep in mind that they care about you and they might be telling you this because they do not want you to make a fool out of yourself. If a complete stranger told you the same thing, you might react less strongly, but because this person does not really know you, you would be less likely to take their criticism to heart.

In the second situation someone criticizes you on a presentation you have just given. They might tell you you still need to work a little bit on your skills and next time you should be better prepared. In this example the same reasoning about strangers and loved ones applies, but the main difference is that this time the criticism is directed at a specific skill, namely giving a presentation. Therefore it is most important whether or not the person who criticizes you knows anything about giving presentations. Your family and friends might say nice things to you, but the feedback that really matters is that from the expert in the room.

Even in the situation where an expert is criticizing you on your performance, you might still have a hard time coping with their criticism. As I have mentioned before, no one likes to hear negative things about themselves. Still, it is important to ask yourself whether or not what they are saying is true. Are you an expert in presenting? Were you very well prepared? Did you feel it went brilliantly? If you cannot answer yes to all of these questions it might not hurt to take their criticism to heart.

Remember a lot of criticism has nothing to do with you personally. People are not telling you you are a horrible or unlikable person, they are simply telling you that you could improve your skills or your behavior. Unless the people who criticize you are horrible persons, they usually have your best interests in mind. Well meant criticism should always be accepted gracefully. No matter how hard it might be, you just have to swallow your pride, because nothing makes you look worse than when you attack someone who is just offering you friendly advice.

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More about this author: Bridget N. Watts

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