How to Deal with Criticism

“The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism” ~ Norman Vincent Peale.

You’re expressing a thought or an idea to a group of friends or co-workers.

And all of a sudden it comes out of nowhere. An interruption, a critical remark, or a probing question that catches you off-guard.

Your confidence dries up and you struggle to regain your composure. You feel betrayed, confused, humiliated.

Some people are more afraid of criticism than death. Maybe you’re one of them. Maybe you’ve allowed an experience of criticism in the past to hold you back from speaking up or being yourself in front of others. But maybe you’re also tired of hiding.

Here’s a hard truth, as long as you’re breathing (and even after you’ve stopped breathing), you will be criticized, mostly behind your back. The ones that reach your ears will hurt but they need not stop you from showing up in the world.

4 strategies to help you deal with criticism

First, a word on the various types of criticism. Criticism comes in many forms, but in my experience it’s often a combination of these qualities: helpful or not helpful versus well-meaning or mean-spirited. I believe the following strategies to deal with criticism will help in most cases, but clearly it’s more difficult to deal with mean-spirited criticism, even when it’s helpful.

For tips of dealing with more difficult cases, see my post on how to deal with toxic people.

Ok, here are the strategies:

1. Acknowledge your vulnerability

The first step to dealing with criticism is to acknowledge your vulnerability. Recognize that your first automatic reaction will be defensiveness, fear, or anger. Don’t try to suppress them but allow the feelings to move through you quickly.

2. Wait to respond

This could be a few seconds, a few hours, or a few days depending on the circumstances. The type and intensity of the criticism matters. If you’re able to acknowledge that you’ll be most vulnerable in the very beginning, it will help you recognize the value of waiting or not responding at all.

You’ll be less likely to act out of defensiveness to protect your ego and do or say something you’ll later regret.

3. Be curious

Resolve always to learn something from an encounter with a critic. You may actually gain valuable information or perspective that strengthens your understanding, even if your position remains unchanged.

But if the criticism was well founded, admit your error, apologize if needed, learn from the mistake, and move on.

Additionally, you’ll likely learn something about your critic or their point of view that allows you to empathize with them. This creates the possibility for more positive interactions with people you may disagree with.

4. See criticism as an act of love

Most of us tend to see any criticism as an act of aggression, but what if we turned that idea on it’s head? What if we saw criticism instead as an act of love?

Think about it. Someone cared enough to write you a note, or offered a word of instruction that may be difficult to hear in the moment, but may contribute to your personal growth long-term.

Whether or not the person actually offered their criticism in love is immaterial. What matters more is that you receive the criticism in this spirit. You’ll experience more peace and less inner turmoil.

Don’t let criticism hold you back

If you’re doing something worthwhile in the world, you will be criticized.

If you’re doing nothing or hiding from the world, you will be criticized too.

So wouldn’t you rather do something worthwhile? Don’t let the threat of being criticized hold you back.

Resolve to learn from each encounter and become stronger in the process.

Don’t Waste Your Energy

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. ~ Philippians 4:6-7

What do you waste your energy on?

Worrying needlessly about what you cannot change? Desperately believing that exerting negative energy at a problem will make it go away? Worrying about things that are unlikely to happen? Always wondering what people are thinking of you?

Worry is an insidious force because whenever we’re feeling helpless, worry can make us feel like we’re doing something about the situation.

But when you worry, all you’re doing however is wasting your spiritual energy. And for a person of faith like me, it demonstrates a profound lack of faith in God.

A few thoughts about worry

  • We rarely worry about things we are presently facing. Our worry if fueled by uncertainty and anticipation.
  • Worry tends to be future oriented. We only worry about the past if we are concerned about how it might affect our future.
  • When we become addicted to worry, the inconsequential become significant. This leads to stress, anxiety, anger, and other forms of energy waste.

Some practical tips

  1. Let the onset of worry be a signal to pray. Let a pray of thanksgiving precede a prayer of petition.
  2. Focus on the good things you have going right now. Be mindful of the present.
  3. Keep a worry journal. Write the things you are worrying about. Be specific. Later on, write about how the situation resolved itself. Did your worse fears come true? Was it as bad as you thought? Why or why not? Was it worth your time to worry?

Understand that worry is only our pitiful attempt to control our external environment. Don’t waste your valuable energy on the external. Use it to change your internal environment.


Start Before You’re Ready

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the things you did” ~ Mark Twain.

What are you waiting for?

Are you waiting for all the stars to align? Are you waiting till you have more money in the bank? Are you waiting for all the facts?

Well, I don’t know how to say this, but I have some bad news for you.

It ain’t gonna happen.

That’s right.

All the stars will never be aligned. You may have some money in the bank but it won’t help. And you’ll surely never have all the facts.

Because here’s the truth:

You’ll never be ready to start.

You’ll never be ready to get married, raise a family, go back to school, change careers, speak in front of a packed room, or become a leader.

You’ll never feel ready. You’ll never be ready.

And if you continue to wait till you are, you’ll never start and all you’ll have is a life filled with regret.

That’s why you must start before you’re ready.

Some other “reasons” why we never start

I’m too old. I’m too young. I’m not smart enough.

To be clear, none of these are reasons for not starting. They are all just excuses. See them for what they are and you’ll be well on your way to starting.

How to start before you’re ready

1. Learn to say no.

Saying yes to everything except the thing we really want is one of the most effective ways to never start. This habit creates the illusion that we’re at least doing something, even it’s not the thing we really want to be doing.

If you struggle to say no, you may want to check out The Life-Changing Power of No! by Laura Tong.

2. Get uncomfortable

Start doing things that make you uncomfortable. Why? Because starting before you’re ready is uncomfortable. Get used to it. Put yourself in situations where you’re forced to be uncomfortable, even a little embarrassed from time to time.

Try small things like speaking up in group conversation even when you feel like you know nothing about the subject being discussed.

3. Bring out your inner actor

Ever hear the expression “fake it till you make it”?

Well, that phrase applies here. If you’re not ready to start, pretend to be ready. Act like you’re ready even when you (and everybody else) know you’re not.

Are you ready to start?

No, but it doesn’t matter.

You don’t have to be ready. All you need is a willingness to take the first step.

If you’ve already decided what you desire is right for you, it’s time to step out in faith.