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Dealing with Non-Constructive Criticism

Dealing with Non-Constructive Criticism

The human ego is at once both an incredibly powerful and terribly fragile beast.

With a swift boost, it can will us over seemingly insurmountable obstacles that we would have otherwise struggled with. Yet with an equally as swift kick to the temple, it can drag us down into feelings of despair and self-pity, preventing us from achieving what’s important to us.

That’s why it’s important to keep a regular check on our ego, especially when it comes to unjust shcriticism.

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Haven’t we all heard the tales of people criticized by friends, peers and maybe even overbearing parents to such an extent that they grew up believing themselves to be as worthless, weak or stupid as those around them had said they were.

If we hope to achieve anything in life, we must prevent criticism from holding us back to the point that even though we may see the opportunities that lay ahead, we don’t believe ourselves to be good enough, or strong enough, or smart enough to pursue them.

Dealing with Non-Constructive Criticism

We’re not talking about utilizing constructive criticism, and using feedback to further improve a piece of work or, in some cases, a piece of ourselves.

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Though some people don’t even handle that very well, what we’re really talking about here is the unfair, unjust, often harsh criticism that often takes the form of a personal attack. Though such attacks can be hurtful or otherwise detrimental, it is possible to handle them with the kind of care, which ensures that not only does our ego survive unharmed; our self-esteem can actually be bolstered by harsh words. All it takes it to look at these attacks with a different perspective and ask ourselves a couple of questions.

  • Is this really an attack, or are we taking constructive criticism too personally?

Let’s face it; there are a lot of people out there who just aren’t the world’s greatest communicators. They probably meant to give us some helpful advice or feedback from which we could actually use, but they went about it an altogether unhelpful fashion.

Or maybe they did mean to attack or insult us, and yet somewhere in their words, we can find a glimmer of truth. Give some thought to the underlying message of the ‘attack’ and see if you can’t glean something positive from it.

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  • If it is constructive criticism, what can we gain from it?

Is there something we can learn? Something we can utilize to improve a project or a personal attribute?

  • If it’s merely an outright attack, why?

‘They’re just jealous’ often seems like a childish response to criticism, but half the time it’s actually a reasonable response. It isn’t uncommon for people to feel threatened by another’s success or happiness. Nor is it particularly unreasonable to suggest that some folks feel a certain resentment towards others because they struggle to understand a person’s motives or ambitions. Their view of the world struggles to comprehend that of another individual and they feel like they need to attack or demean that person until he or she comes around to their way of thinking. This is entirely unhealthy of course, but it happens.

You could try talking to your aggressor, not necessarily to win them over to your way of thinking, but at least to help them understand that your success, happiness, or way of life detracts nothing from theirs. They are free to do whatever makes them happy just as you are.

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If that fails, it may simply be necessary to strengthen your resolve. You know in your heart and in the pit of your gut that what you’re doing is the right thing for you. Providing the only way you’re hurting this other person is in a manner made up entirely in their own mind, you can carry on safe in the knowledge that your ego and self-esteem remain balanced.

With that, you can safely overcome those insurmountable obstacles and seize those all-important opportunities remaining confident that you are indeed good enough as you are, yet always remaining willing to improve at the behest of fair, constructive criticism.

Featured photo credit:  Closeup of many fingers pointing at man via Shutterstock

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Chris Skoyles

Coach, and trainee counsellor specializing in mental health and addiction.

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Last Updated on December 16, 2018

12 Simple Ways You Can Build A Positive Attitude

12 Simple Ways You Can Build A Positive Attitude

We all look for a better and happier life, but somehow we realize it’s our attitude that makes it hard to lead the life we want. How can we build a positive attitude? Grant Mathews has listed out the things (from the easiest to the hardest) we can do to cultivate this attitude on Quora:

1. Listen to good music.

Music definitely improves your mood, and it’s a really simple thing to do.

2. Don’t watch television passively.

Studies have shown that people who watch TV less are happier, which leads me to my next point…

3. Don’t do anything passively.

Whenever I do something, I like to ask myself if, at the end of the day, I would be content saying that I had spent time doing it. (This is why I block sites I find myself wasting too much time on. I enjoy them, but they’re just not worth it when I could be learning something new, or working on projects I care about.)

Time is incredibly valuable.

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4. Be aware of negativity

A community that considers itself intelligent tends to be negativity because criticizing is seen as a signaling mechanism to indicate that you’re more intelligent than the person you corrected. This was irrationally frustrating for me – it’s one of those things you’ll stay up all night to think about.

5. Make time to be alone.

I initially said “take time just to be alone.” I changed it because if you don’t ensure you can take a break, you’ll surely be interrupted.

Being with other people is something you can do to make you happy, but I don’t include it in this list because nearly everyone finds time to talk with friends. On the other hand, spending time just with yourself is almost considered a taboo.

Take some time to figure out who you are.

6. Exercise.

This is the best way to improve your immediate happiness.

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Exercise probably makes you happy. Try and go on a run. You’ll hate yourself while doing it, but the gratification that you get towards the end vastly outweighs the frustration of the first few attempts. I can’t say enough good things about exercise.

Exercising is also fantastic because it gives you time alone.

7. Have projects.

Having a goal, and moving towards it, is a key to happiness.

You have to realize though that achieving the goal is not necessarily what makes you happy – it’s the process. When I write music, I write it because writing is inherently enjoyable, not because I want to get popular (as if!).

8. Take time to do the things you enjoy.

That’s very general, so let me give you a good example.

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One of the things that has really changed my life was finding small communities centered around activities I enjoy. For instance, I like writing music, so I’m part of a community that meets up to write a song for an hour every week. I love the community. I’ve also written a song every week, 37 weeks in a row, which has gradually moved me towards larger goals and makes me feel very satisfied.

9. Change your definition of happiness.

Another reason I think I’m more happy than other people is because my definition of happiness is a lot more relaxed than most people’s. I don’t seek for some sort of constant euphoria; I don’t think it’s possible to live like that. My happiness is closer to stability.

10. Ignore things that don’t make you happy.

I get varying reactions to this one.

The argument goes “if something is making you unhappy, then you should find out why and improve it, not ignore it.” If you can do that, great. But on the other hand, there’s no reason to mope about a bad score on a test.

There’s another counterargument: perhaps you’re moping because your brain is trying to work out how to improve. In fact, this is the key purpose of depression: Depression’s Upside – NYTimes.com

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I can think of examples that go both ways. I remember, for instance, when I was debating a year or two ago and my partner and I would lose a round, I would mull over what we had done wrong for a long time. In that way, I got immensely better at debate (and public speaking in general – did you know debate has amazing effects on your public speaking ability? But now I really digress).

On the other hand, there’s no way that mulling over how dumb you were for missing that +x term on the left hand side will make you better at math. So stop worrying about it, and go practice math instead.

11. Find a way to measure your progress, and then measure it.

Video games are addictive for a reason: filling up an experience bar and making it to the next level is immensely satisfying. I think that it would be really cool if we could apply this concept to the real world.

I put this near the bottom of the list because, unfortunately, this hasn’t been done too often in the real world – startup idea, anyone? So you would have to do it yourself, which is difficult when you don’t even know how much you’ve progressed.

For a while, I kept a log of the runs I had taken, and my average speed. It was really cool to see my improvement over the weeks. (Also, I was exercising. Combining the two was fantastic for boosting happiness.)

12. Realize that happiness is an evolutionary reward, not an objective truth.

It’s easy to see that this is correct, but this is at the bottom of the list for a reason.

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