Criticism can be especially harsh for highly sensitive people because we try so hard and care so much. It’s really fascinating how much it can affect HSPs in particular.
I want to share this because it normalizes our experience to know that we are not alone in our experience. I’ve certainly developed some tools to help with criticism, but I can still be influenced at times.
In an anonymous poll I posted, someone wrote that they found my voice so shrill they couldn’t bear to listen to me. I felt the sting.
But it’s important to realize that criticisms are opinions that vary from person to person, and so we need to be careful about what we assume and what we believe. As an example, many others have shared that my voice is soothing, calm, and nurturing. Notice how conflicting these opinions are?
So next time you receive criticism, I want you to remember this example and know that criticism has nothing to do with us personally and usually comes from one painful place within another. People will have many different types of opinions. It is important that we do not suck them in.
It has helped me a lot to do my own personal growth work and build my self-esteem. When my self-esteem was low, criticism hit me hard and long. When I had no personal worth, I believed the criticism.
It took time to build my confidence and it will take time to build yours if that’s a problem for you too.
If you feel the sting, acknowledge it and give yourself some compassion. Remember your worth and intentions. Also, focus on some positive things about yourself so the brain’s negativity bias doesn’t take over. Remember that it takes eight positives to neutralize one negative.
Not everyone will like us, and that’s okay. What is important is that we learn to love and support our sensitive hearts and know that our intentions come from good places.
I don’t think anyone is completely immune to the effects of criticism. Case in point, here is what some HSPs in my Sensitive Empowerment Community commented after reading some of my thoughts on the criticism:
1. The power of self-compassion
“I remember when I was hurt as a kid, my mom told me to ‘get over it.’ I remember it debilitating, not helping, and actually hurting me more. I think it would be powerful to teach our sensitive children the art of self-compassion. Can you imagine an entire generation of sensitive kids growing up with self-compassion? I’ve found this skill to be one of the best things I’ve developed. It helps me with everything now. I think it’s probably a tool that we can keep sharpening.”
2. The importance of self-care
“Criticism is still so hard on me that it knocks me out for a minute (or even days). I am working on not being flattened by the criticism of others. All I know is that when my rest and my health are okay, it’s a lot easier to shake them off. When I feel criticized, I immediately start making a list of people who support me and think differently than people who criticize me and speak unkindly.”
3. It’s more about them than us
“Criticism is extremely difficult for me. For me, there’s a familial wound around criticism, so I can have a deep, painful reaction. Self-compassion really helped me process these reactions. I once heard something that often crosses my mind these days – what someone says about us tells us more about them and how they see the world than it is information about us. I find that really helpful because I used to take everything anyone said about me as truth, but seeing people see us through the lens of all their wounds and experiences takes the sting out of me a bit.”
4. Perfectionism versus our innate pursuit of excellence
“I was so struck by what you said (and a big yes to the knife-in-the-heart analogy!) — particularly that a desire to avoid criticism is what caused or contributed to your perfectionism.” The same thing happened to me. Now I’m working really hard to figure out when something is just my innate drive for excellence or if it’s more of a perfectionism driven by fear/avoidance.”
5. How it helps build our self-esteem
“When I was younger I held onto criticism a lot more and it hurt terribly. Working on myself and building my self-esteem was an essential part of the healing. I used to work with a boss who criticized everything I did and I was afraid to go to work every day. One day I decided to start therapy and soon I had enough energy to apply to graduate school. When I came in, I gave my two-week notice. Going back to school was an investment in myself.”
6. The opinions of others are none of our business
“It’s still something I’m working on myself, although I’ve grown tremendously in this area. I once read somewhere or heard someone say that ‘what other people think of you is none of your business’ and I try to remember that when I get this pang.”
7. People who criticize often lack courage
“Criticism can indeed be hurtful. It can be good to remember that people who criticize often either don’t realize how much work they’re putting into what they’re criticizing, or they’re taking their own frustration out on you. For many people it is “more comfortable” to criticize others who have the courage to do something than to do something themselves.”
8. Criticism is not always true
“I’ve come a long way working with the deep sting of criticism and feeling the knife in my heart. There are moments when I still feel the deep sting, but it doesn’t “get me out” like it used to. I often ask myself: Is what they said really true? This helps me to come back to myself along with breathing. I am relieved when I see that the criticism is simply not my fault! A work in progress for the future.”
9. Hurt people hurt people
“Criticism is so tough, mostly because everyone wants to be accepted and respected for who they are and the judgments of others are hard to take. Depending on our mindset and self-acceptance/confidence, it can lead us to see ourselves as less than when we don’t have the right tools at our disposal. I always try to remember the simple truth that ‘hurt people hurt people’.”
10. When criticism reaches you, it’s because you care
“I found it quite emotional to read all the posts and to have normalized my intense and long-lasting reaction to criticism. I struggled with that for a long time. I felt similar to you, Julie, with a comment on a poll. It was a really mean, ill-considered comment on a presentation I was giving, and since it came from someone highly respected in my field, it was hard to take and still bugs me years later. It helps so much to redefine it as a problem they have and not a failure on my part! It’s a very empowering feeling. I also try to celebrate the fact that I find it hard to accept criticism because I know that doing things well and with care is so important to me.”
What about you? What helps you take the sting out of criticism?
** Some of the community comments have been edited for clarity and grammar.
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