Sensitive to Criticism? You’re Not Alone

Criticism from others helps us grow by increasing our understanding of how we can improve our relationships and performance at work or school.  Being responsive to others’ criticism is related to having empathy, compassion, and an awareness of how we are impacting our communities.  It is definitely a character strength.  However, for those who are especially sensitive to criticism, a seemingly slight negative remark could evoke strong feelings of embarrassment or anger, a desire to withdrawal or become defensive, and even a fractured sense of self-worth.  So, like most traits, the ideal is to achieve a healthy balance in terms of how we respond to critical remarks.  The field of cognitive therapy (CT) offers a unique perspective on how can learn to achieve that balance.  According to CT, how a person thinks about the criticism plays a significant role in the process.  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?  Perhaps.  Now imagine that you later learn that your co-worker had an especially difficult day because she recently found out that her son was seriously ill and she began taking sedative medications earlier that day to calm her nerves.  Would you feel differently about her criticism?  Probably so.

Tips to Think about Now When Dealing with Criticism Later

  • 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 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.
  • Get support: If you are sensitive to criticism, you are not alone.  Share your experiences with others who are supportive.


Jim Carter, Ph.D.