3 Tips To Stop Taking Criticism So Personally

Written by Dr. Alice Boyes
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Feedback helps people improve, but anxious people often avoid it because it can feel threatening. Avoiding feedback due to anxiety may lead to slower than optimal progress in attaining your goals. Also, if you're closed off to feedback or react badly to it because of the anxiety it activates, your relationship with the feedback giver can become strained.

The following experiments will help you understand your thinking processes around feedback and move your thoughts in a more balanced direction.

Fine-Tune Your Mind to the Benefits of Feedback

When you're in anxiety mode, it's easy to think of feedback as something wholly torturous and psychologically painful. Can you nudge this thinking by attuning to some of the benefits?

  • You may find out you've done something well.
  • You may discover that things you perceive as minor aspects of your work, other people see as major strengths.
  • You may achieve more success because what you produce after feedback is better. For example, someone gives you a tip or suggests a change that improves your work. You may realize you like the new version, but it wasn't something you would've attempted without a push in that direction.

Through feedback, you may get new insights that help you solve problems you've been stuck with. The feedback giver may give you useful information about how he or she previously solved the problem you're currently having.

Lastly, the process of receiving feedback can strengthen your relationship with the person giving the feedback. It can be a bonding experience.

Experiment: Try one (or both) of these options:

Option 1: Think of one specific instance in the past when negative feedback has actually been useful to you.

Option 2: Go through each of the listed benefits of feedback and write one example of a specific situation in which you received that benefit.

Recognize The Costs Of Avoiding Feedback

When people avoid feedback they miss out on benefits (covered earlier) and incur costs. For example, you might worry for longer than you need to about how your work will be perceived. Do you tend to think about the potential pain of getting feedback more than you think about the costs of avoiding it? If yes, you can consciously correct for this thinking bias. Anxious people tend to think about the potential harm of acting more than the potential harm of not acting.

Experiment: To get some big-picture perspective on what avoiding feedback has cost you, try answering the following questions. Write down one specific example of each. If you can't think of answers, let the questions marinate for a day or two.

  • Have you avoided seeking feedback early on only to later realize that earlier feedback would've saved you from continuing down the wrong track so long? When?
  • Have you avoided feedback only to later realize your fears of negative feedback were unjustified? How long did you worry unnecessarily? What was that like for you?
  • Have you had times when your predictions of negative feedback came true, but it was a much milder experience than you anticipated?
  • Have you had an experience where you realized that making the required changes was much easier than you thought, and you endured extra worry for no reason?
  • What cool opportunities have you opted out of because you didn't want to expose yourself to even the possibility of negative feedback?

Minimize Personalizing Of Feedback

We touched on personalizing in the chapter on rumination, but since personalizing feedback is a very common thinking error, let's briefly revisit it. I'm going to include being told no in response to requests under the feedback umbrella because getting a no answer can be considered a type of feedback. For example, you ask your boss if you can go to a conference and are told no. You take it personally when, in reality, it has more to do with budgets.

Another example: You're not prone to speaking up, but you muster the courage to pitch an idea to your boss. She tells you she's "just not that into it." You feel crushed. Those negative feelings trigger panicky thoughts that your boss sees you as the least-smart person in the office, when you weren't having those thoughts previously.

There are two thinking shifts you need to make to overcome personalizing. The first is mindfulness: You need to train yourself to consider the possibility that whatever has happened might not be personal. The second is recognizing that negative feedback does not necessarily mean the person doesn't like you, doesn't respect your capabilities, or doesn't recognize your potential.

Experiment: Do you ever underestimate how capable and talented others perceive you to be? Think of an example when you've possibly underestimated how positively you are perceived by someone?

3 Tips To Stop Taking Criticism So Personally

Adapted from The Anxiety Toolkit: Strategies for Fine-Tuning Your Mind and Moving Past Your Stuck Points by Alice Boyes, Ph.D. © 2015 by Alice Boyes. A Perigee Book, Penguin Group USA, a Penguin Random House Company.

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