Criticism can be especially hard for highly sensitive people because we try so hard and we care so much. It’s really fascinating how much it can affect HSPs in particular.
I want to share that because it normalizes our experience, to know we’re not alone in how we experience things. I certainly have developed some tools to help with criticism but can still be impacted at times.
On an anonymous survey I posted, someone wrote that they find my voice so shrill that they could not stand listening to me. I felt the sting.
But it’s important to realize criticisms are opinions that vary from person to person, and therefore, we have to be careful about what we take in and what we believe. To provide an example of that, many others have shared my voice is soothing, calm, and nurturing. Notice how opposite those opinions are?
So the 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 a painful place inside another. People are going to have many different types of opinions. What’s important is that we don’t soak them in.
It’s helped a lot to do my own personal growth work and build my self-esteem. When my self-esteem was low, criticisms knocked me down hard, and for a long time. When I had no personal value, I believed the criticism.
It took time to build up my sense of self, and it will take time to build yours if that’s an issue for you too.
When you feel the sting, acknowledge it and give yourself some compassion. Remind yourself of your value and your intentions. Also, focus on some positives about you so that negativity bias of the brain doesn’t take over. Remember, it takes eight positives to neutralize one negative.
Not everyone is going to like us, and that’s okay. What’s important is that we learn to love and support our sensitive hearts and know our intentions come from good places.
I don’t think anyone is completely immune to the impacts of criticism. Case in point, here’s what some HSPs in my Sensitive Empowerment Community commented after reading some of my thoughts on criticism:
1. The power of self-compassion
“I remember when I would be hurt when I was a kid my mom would tell me to ‘get over it.’ I remember that being invalidating, unhelpful, and actually hurt me more. I think it would be powerful to teach our sensitive children the art of self-compassion. Can you imagine a whole generation of sensitive children raised with self-compassion? I have found that skill to be one of the best things that I’ve developed. It helps me with everything now. I think that it’s probably a tool that we can constantly sharpen.”
2. The importance of self-care
“Criticism is still extremely hard on me to the point where it will put me out of commission for a minute (or days even). I’m working on not letting others’ criticism flatten me. I just know, when my rest and my health are in order, it’s much easier to shake it off. When I feel criticized, I’m starting to immediately make 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
“I find criticism extremely difficult. For me, there is a family wound around criticism, so I can have a deep, painful reaction. Self-compassion has really helped me work through those reactions. I heard something once that often comes to 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 this really helpful because I used to take every single thing someone said about me as truth, but seeing that people are seeing us through the lens of all their wounds and experiences takes the sting away a bit.”
4. Perfectionism vs. our innate drive for excellence
“What you said resonated so much with me (and a big yes to the knife in the heart analogy!)— especially that the desire to avoid criticism is what has caused or contributed to your perfectionism. I feel exactly the same way. Now I work really hard on trying to figure out when something is just my innate drive for excellence or when it’s more a perfectionism driven by fear/avoidance.”
5. How it helps to build our self-esteem
“I used to hold onto criticism much more when I was younger, and it hurt terribly. Working on myself and building up my self-esteem was integral to healing. I used to work with a boss who was critical of everything I did, and I dreaded going to work every day. One day I decided to begin therapy, and soon I built up enough energies to apply to graduate school. Once I got in, I put n my two-weeks notice. Going back to school was an investment in myself.”
6. Other people’s opinions are none of our business
“This is still something I’m working on for myself, although I’ve had huge growth 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 if I get that sting.”
7. People who criticize often lack courage
“Criticism can indeed be hurtful. It can be good to remember that people who criticize are often either unaware of how much work you put into doing that which they are criticizing, or they are taking out their own frustration on you. For many people, it’s more ‘comfortable’ to criticize others who have the courage to do something than to actually do something themselves.”
8. Criticism isn’t 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 I still feel the deep sting, but it doesn’t ‘take me out’ in the way it used to. Often, I ask myself ‘is this really true what they said?’ That helps me to come back to myself, along with breathing. I am soothed when I see the criticism is simply not about me! A work in progress going forward.”
9. Hurt people hurt people
“Criticism is so hard, especially because everybody wants to be accepted and respected for who they are, and the judgments of others can be hard to bear. Depending on our mindset and self-acceptance/self-confidence, it can make us see ourselves as less than if we do not have the right tools in place. I always try to remember the simple truth that ‘hurt people hurt people.’”
10. When criticism gets to you, it’s because you care
“I found it quite emotional reading all the posts and having my intense and long-lasting reaction to criticism normalized. I have struggled with this for a long time. I had a similar thing to you, Julie, with a comment in a survey. It was a really mean, unthoughtful commentf about a presentation I gave, and coming from someone well respected in my field of work, it was hard to take and still gets to me years later. It is helping so much to reframe it as an issue they have rather than a failing of mine! It’s a very empowering feeling. I am also trying to celebrate the fact I find criticism hard knowing that it’s because I care so deeply about doing things well and with care.”
What about you? What helps you take the sting off criticism?
**Some of the community comments have been edited for clarity and grammar.
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About Julie Bjelland
Julie Bjelland, LMFT, is an HSP psychotherapist, author, and founder of The Sensitive Empowerment Community and The HSP Podcast. Julie’s free webinars and online courses help millions of HSPs reduce the challenges of sensitivity, bringing out gifts the world needs. Julie loves connecting in her community and invites you to join this positive, inclusive, sensitive family.
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