How to Listen to Criticism Without Becoming Defensive or Feeling Hurt

by Neseret on December 3, 2013

Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things. ~ Winston Churchill ~

It is easy to become hypersensitive to criticism if you’ve been over criticized in significant relationships (especially in childhood). As well, if you’ve been part of a  culture that idealizes perfection.

The former may trigger long standing feelings of rejection and hurt. While the latter may trigger fear of failure and sense of being inadequate.

In both cases it becomes extremely difficult to view criticisms for what they truly are – others perception of your mistakes, flaws, and faults.

Others may or may not be realistic, reasonable, and or valid in their assessments.

Nevertheless, others are entitled to expressing their thoughts, feelings, and opinions as much as you are entitled to accepting or rejecting them.

Criticism have the power to impact us in positive or negative ways depending on the relationship, the context in which they occur, and the style of delivery.

Criticism, like rain, should be gentle enough to nourish a man’s growth without destroying his roots. ~ Frank A. Clark ~

We have little control over when and how criticisms come to us but we have choices about how we view and respond to them.

The first step in being able to listen to criticism without becoming defensive or feeling hurt is to be aware of how you view and react to criticisms.

What does criticism triggering in you?

Fear? Past rejection or hurt? Did you experience criticism in the context of unhealthy relationships? Constant criticism is a hallmark of unhealthy relationships.

Has there ever been a time when you received criticism that was valid and helpful? Those around us can and will often act as mirrors of our attitude and behavior.

As human beings we want feedback from others on many things. We seek approval in simple things as our looks and in complex a subject as of our behavior, and performances.

Invariably we are given both praise and criticism. It happens whether we want it or not and sometimes even when we didn’t ask for it.

People can be quiet generous with their criticisms.

They may sincerely believe they are being helpful. Sometimes they are and sometimes they are not.

Once you identify how you view and react to criticisms the next step to listening to criticisms without becoming defensive is to create a healthy detachment.

The next time you receive a criticism, take time to acknowledge how it makes you feel, and identify what it is triggering in you.

Then put a space between you and the criticism. Examine it from a distance like you would if you had stumbled upon a foreign piece of object. Look at it with openness and curiosity.

You want to be as objective as possible when looking at a criticisms.

Ask yourself: How much of my reaction is to the criticism itself and how much of it about feelings it is triggering from the past?

Is there any truth to this criticism? What are the flaws in it? Is there anything I can learn from it?

Initially this maybe challenging and even painful. Yet every criticism is an opportunity to practice to expand our self awareness.

A constructive criticism can help us improve in areas of our lives that are important such as personal and work relationships.

The final proof of greatness lies in being able to endure criticism without resentment. ~ Elbert Hubbard ~

It takes a certain level of humility and courage to closely look at and examine our reactions to criticisms. Likewise so does our willingness to be o.k with being human.

It is o.k to make mistakes, to have flaws, and faults! Our imperfections are part of what makes us beautiful. You are wonderful just the way you are – flaws and all.

When you are at peace with who you truly are criticisms lose their significance. I believe a person with unconditional acceptance of their inherent goodness and worth is in a better position to “endure” criticisms.

Your opinion of yourself is far more important than the opinion others have of you.

Yet if you are willing to take criticisms at face value and with more objectivity you stand to learn valuable things about yourself and others.

Criticisms given with respect and love from people who truly care can be a helpful guidance. It can make us aware of areas in need of improvement as well as our blind spots.

It can help us improve our performance in work or study related situations. Feedback is an integral part of the learning process.

Similarly constructive feedback is essential in intimate relationships such as parenting. Children thrive with encouragement, guidance, and support.

How we model giving and receiving feedback will have enduring impact.

The most destructive criticism is indifference. ~ E. W. Howe ~

Please take the time to share your thoughts, and experiences with me below. If you found this article helpful please share it on Facebook, Twitter and Google +. Thank you.

Peace, Love & Gratitude,


{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

marquis December 12, 2013 at 7:28 am

This is something my therapist and I were talking about. I never had nice criticism before and it was hard to tell if the person was trying to hurt or be helpful. All of my life, criticism was extremely hurtful from my parents and past teachers. They offered nothing nice to say, everything was based on perfection, how I should be perfect and how I should measure up to my brother and just tear me down daily.

I blow up at criticism, I would prefer not to ask anybody about me as to what they think I should change. When they did, I would curse at them and storm out never wanting to speak to them right then or ever. My boyfriend would try to explain to me something I need to change and I have blew up at him; I am like is he trying to hurt me or be helpful?

I know lots of things need to be changed, but are a person’s feelings suppose to hurt too? When it comes to criticism, I feel I can never be good enough for anybody because I have watched others get away with crap while some sneer in my face – I look at them like which is it?!? People don’t want to hear about what’s wrong with them and we feel embarrassed when it is brought to our attention.


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