Why Criticism Hurts So Much And How We Can Deal With It

Dr Mehmet Yildiz

Criticism can be tough to deal with at times. But it is a skill. We can learn it. Nobody was born confident to deal with negative criticism, but many learned it. Once we rewire our brain, negative criticism becomes not only useful and productive but also joyful. It is a substantial skill to learn. By learning this skill and applying it, we can reap many benefits in our personal and professional lives.


Photo by Matheus Ferrero on Unsplash

Naturally, as default, no one enjoys criticism. When we are criticized, we automatically go to a defensive mode. It is a survival mechanism. Fear of negative criticism is natural. Our primitive brain creates fear and anxiety when it perceives a threat, whether it is real or perceived. We are hardwired to feel worried when we are criticized.

We use the term feedback to soften the meaning of criticism. Positive and negative feedback are used commonly in business and personal development domains. Learning how to benefit from negative criticism made a tremendous impact on my life therefore I want to share my experience.

It took me long to learn the secrets of using negative criticism creatively and productively in my life.

Dealing with negative criticism determines our emotional maturity and intelligence. Leadership training has a high focus on feedback, particularly for dealing with negative ones. Leaders must be tolerant of negative criticism.

Psychologists and mental health practitioners created useful solutions to address fear and anxiety generated from criticism.

A healthy dose of anxiety and fear can be useful. However, when fear and anxiety pass the threshold levels, they can turn into a chronic psychological problem. They adversely affect our health and wellbeing. These negative emotions may interfere with enjoying our lives.

Like many people, I used to hate negative criticism. It was undesirable and scary for most of the times. Negative criticism from peers, family members, colleagues, and employers created wrong signals and threat alarms in my mind and body.

During my leadership studies, I focussed on the importance of feedback for my growth. My observations showed that those who could tolerate and embrace negative criticism usually performed better than those who couldn't.

My journey started with accepting negative criticism slowly.

As soon as I accepted some minor criticism, something positive happened.

Whenever I received negative criticism, I observed my emotions. It was apparent that my hard-coded survival mechanism was trying to protect from perceived threats. Therefore, uncomfortable emotions emerged as a defence mechanism.

As I started tolerating criticism, my perspectives changed gradually.

Learning that uncomfortable emotions have triggered by perceived threats, rather than real danger, was insightful.

My key point in this article is looking at the effects of criticism from survival versus thriving point of view.

While survival keeps us safe in our comfort zones, thriving requires effort to move out of our comfort zones and challenge our abilities.


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This significant yet straightforward viewpoint was the major success factor for my growth.

Thriving requires to embrace negative criticism. This requirement sounds easier said than done. For accepting and embracing negative criticism, we need to make a substantial mental effort.

The critical skill is to switch from the instincts of our primitive brain and consciously use our thinking mind.

Mindfulness was a starting point for me to accept and embrace negative criticism.

Mindfulness practice helped me observe my thoughts, emotions, behaviour, and external triggers. Living in the moment, rather than worrying for the future was an excellent start to beat my anxiety and fear of negative criticism.

With the mindful approach to my conversations and relationship, I started using my thinking part of the brain more efficiently. Using my cognitive brain, consciously and mindfully helped me develop my attention, focus, awareness, and reasoning. These skills established the foundation for dealing with negative criticism progressively.

With these foundational skills, I deliberately accepted negative criticism and searched for it.

I methodically started to understand and learn the benefits of negative criticism. I leveraged my prior knowledge and assumptions.

For example, I asked myself two key questions:

  • Did anyone die from negative criticism?
  • What is the worst case if someone negatively criticizes me?

Finding answers to these two questions broadened my perspectives and enhanced my tolerance for negative criticism.

My studies and observations showed that successful leaders, professionals, celebrities, politicians and other public figures had learnt the benefits of negative criticism. They all acquired this skill, possibly from their parents, teachers, leaders, mentors, or coaches. No one is born as tolerant of negative criticism.

My skilled mentors helped me a lot to make progress in my transformation. In addition, learning from various sources such as biographies of confident leaders, educational materials, informal and formal education practices became a catalyst for my transformation.

I decided to put my knowledge to practice. My first approach was to focus on the benefits of accepting, embracing, and using negative criticism in my personal and professional life.

The primary benefit of negative criticism for me was to gain new perspectives in life. For example, the negative comments for my work kept me alert and activated my brain for producing alternative solutions.

I turned negative criticism to a positive motivation tool. This mindset change was remarkable.

I was gaining new insights after accepting and tolerating negative criticism for my work. With new insights, I came up with exciting ideas and solutions. My creativity and productivity boosted substantially. This mindset shift manifested as an innovative solution to my growth.

One of the significant benefits of negative feedback was to maintain quality in my work. The negative feedback obtained from my colleagues extended and expanded my ideas, content, and other intellectual materials at work.

I applied this skill to my writing practice because I noticed that prolific and best-selling authors precisely desired their manuscripts to be torn apart by editors. I know that the best selling books are edited multiple times. They are substantially criticized by editors, reviewers, beta readers, agents, and publishers.

I also used my skills in my scholarly pursuits. Academia and the scientific world thrive with negative criticism. Some may think that academics and scientists sound cruel to the public. That is true to some extend. However, these professionals contribute to improving the quality in thought process by adding rigour to the research.

At later stages of my profession, tolerating negative criticism and turning it to joy helped me become an inventor.

I experienced the benefits of negative criticism substantially in the invention process when I was creating patents. The invention process is rigorous because the end product must be novel, functioning, practical, and usable in society.


Photo by Blake Cheek on Unsplash

I have never witnessed any cosy ideas to be patented. As an inventor and an active member of invention development and assessment teams, I learnt the value of negative criticism in this process. I simply saw the negative criticism as the best feedback and tool for improvement.

The successful inventors I met specifically solicited negative criticism in their review and feedback sessions.

Even though positive feedback has inspirational and motivational value, it is the negative criticism that helps inventors create alternative solutions, gain precision, and develop the final quality solution.

As an inventor, I used negative criticism as a productivity tool. It helped me come up with original and insightful ideas leading to innovative products and services.

  • By leveraging negative criticism, I looked at things from multiple perspectives.
  • By embracing negative criticism, I moved from a comfort zone to a risk zone.

Initially, my ideas were ridiculed, but they started accepting them when people saw the value after a while.

I was not the only one. I witnessed many examples of ridiculed and penalized ideas throughout my profession. I even read in the literature that some inventors and thought leaders were even killed because of their radical ideas. We made them our heroes after they died.

Fortunately, in the modern world, we developed and implemented freedom of information and freedom of thoughts. Many developed and democratic countries understood the importance of freedom of ideas and information. They took appropriate measures and implemented solutions in their legal system.

We don't have those severe threats for creating radical ideas anymore but many of us still are concerned. Just knowing the threats as perceived can be an excellent start.

To conclude, we can learn how to deal with negative criticism positively. First, we need to create foundations. Then, knowing benefits can motivate us to use it in our personal and professional life. Understanding our mind's negative bias and tapping into thinking brain can help us accept and tolerate negative criticism.

Conditioning our brain to take negative criticism and repeating the process in every opportunity can improve our skills. Once we rewire our brain, negative criticism becomes not only productive but also joyful.

It was a substantial skill for me to learn. I reaped many benefits in my personal and professional life. You too can.

Thank you for reading my perspectives.

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I write about important and valuable life lessons. My goal is to delight my readers. My content aims to inform and engage my readers. I'm a technologist, cognitive scientist, and postdoctoral researcher, with four decades of experience.


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