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The Real Truth about Criticism

We all knowTo avoid criticism say nothing do nothing be nothing Aristotle that criticism hurts…a lot…for most people.

Yet, for others, it isn’t a big deal…at all. And that might seem strange…and yet…it’s not.

There are those people who say that criticism is good for us…that we learn from constructive criticism.

Don’t we love to read critiques and reviews about movies, books, plays, and shows? In a way, gossip is criticism…it is making a judgment on the actions of other people.

And judgments hurt.

When we stand in judgement and criticize…we do so without all the facts…because we don’t know what lies in the mind of the other…

Criticism Hurts So Much Because of This

The real reason criticism hurts is because we believe that it’s true. Think about that for just a moment…and you might see what I mean…

Imagine this. There is a young girl with blonde hair. She is very proud of that blonde hair, brushes it for 100 strokes every night…she looks at herself in the mirror and smiles when she sees that hair.

Then one day, she goes to school. The children there start to make fun of her and say that her hair is black and it should be a different color. They begin to criticize the color of her hair. Now, she isn’t stupid.

She knows…beyond a shadow of a doubt… that she has blonde hair. She has been told by her parents that her hair is blonde. Her siblings tell her that is the color…and so did people in authority…her teachers, her grandparents…the media show pictures of people with hair her color…and they have called it blonde…

So she knows that the words that they speak aren’t true…she doesn’t question the color of her hair…because she knows…deep down inside…that she knows what color her hair is…

“I have yet to find the man, however exalted his station, who did not do better work and put forth greater effort under a spirit of approval than under a spirit of criticism.” Charles Schwab

If You Believe the Criticism is True

If you have been criticized…then you believe…on some level…that the criticism is true.

Now…let’s be clear here…that doesn’t mean that I agree with people being critical…and I have doubts that there is constructive criticism…because when we feel that we are being criticized…we often become defensive. When you are on the defensive, you don’t learn well.

There is an old saying “If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.” Dorothy Law Nolte. I believe that is true.

“How much easier it is to be critical than to be correct.” Benjamin Disraeli

Dealing With Criticism

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Am I really being criticized? When we are too sensitive…because we have dealt with so much criticism in the past…we can mind read and think that a suggestion is a criticism when it’s not…it’s like there is a hair trigger response that feels like everything is a criticism…so look at your responses…do you feel like everything is a criticism?
  • Is there any truth to this? If there is…then you need to deal with the issue…if there isn’t…then don’t accept the criticism as being true…then it becomes the other person’s issue…
  • If I took a step back…would that change my perspective here? It often does…change perspective…when you take a mental step back and look at the big picture.
  • What would be a constructive solution here? If you are a criticizer yourself…think of reframing that…and offer constructive solutions after you have listened…and understood.

A Simple Exercise

Imagine what this situation would look like through the eyes of another person…someone that you admire…a mentor…someone who is alive or someone who lived in the past.

Mentors and coaches can help us see things through a different perspective. There is an exercise that I use and you might like that. I imagine that I bring a problem or a criticism to a group of mentors…in my imagination…

That group consists of people that I admire…who have done great works…and I imagine that I discuss that problem with them…and then I listen for an answer…

This is a powerful exercise…because what it really does is tap into that intuition…those gut feelings that know what is right…

“To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.”― Aristotle

In our lives, we can’t avoid all criticism…we can only choose how we react to it…

The real truth about criticism is that it only hurts because you believe that it is true. So your choices are to make a change if it is true…or let it go if it isn’t…and change that belief that you have…because it’s not serving you…is it?

And do you know what that little girl would do to deal with the criticism of the color of her hair? She would laugh…because she would know…beyond a shadow of a doubt that it wasn’t true…and you can do that too…

How have you dealt with criticism in your life? Have you been successful…or not? Let me know in the comment section below…

“Drive your own life…you deserve to, don’t you?” Sherie Venner

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I am a Relationship Coach who helps others create happy, healthy, loving relationships…including the relationship they have with themselves…by breaking through those blocks and barriers to success. I use various techniques gathered through training as a Master Practitioner of NLP, timeline, hypnosis and common sense gathered through life experience.

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  • Ali June 1, 2013, 2:37 pm

    Excellent article! The only case one should take criticism seriously when the person criticizing is complete, got over every obstacle in his/her life and has nothing to improve.. It’s all about self confidence and understanding that we are humans and humans are not complete and they naturally make mistakes.
    Thanks for the inspiring post Sherie 🙂
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  • Lorii Abela March 13, 2013, 9:04 am

    Criticism molds a person into being a successful one. And thanks for pointing out that we can learn from constuctive critism 🙂

  • Susan Myers March 11, 2013, 5:25 pm

    What a thought provoking article Sherri. I never really knew why I would get so worked up even to this day when I am criticized. Thinking back, yes I did believe it or know it to be true. Thank you for the valuable exercised to do. I have bookmarked this page to come back to again.
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  • Anita March 11, 2013, 2:11 pm

    So true! We believe and then its painful to bear. As always I will share your words of wisdom!
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  • Catherine Doucette March 10, 2013, 4:24 pm

    Well said 🙂 I know if I am offended, I need to take another look at me.
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  • Shari March 8, 2013, 7:55 am

    I think often it is difficult to identify and neutralize the old, internalized critical voices that can become part of our schemas very early in life. Those voices can close our hearts to ourselves and others. Thank you for this compassionate post, Sherie.
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    • Sherie March 8, 2013, 9:06 pm

      It can be difficult but well worth digging those weeds out…so appreciate your kind words, Shari!
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  • Carl Mason-Liebenberg March 8, 2013, 12:50 am

    I never thought about it quit this way…very interesting and thought provoking…criticism can hurt and that hurt can linger….I guess all the more reason to know the truth about who we really are and not let anyone take that away from us with harsh words and their opinions!
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    • Sherie March 8, 2013, 6:25 am

      Well put, Carl! Once we know who we really are, then even if we want to make changes in our lives, then we can do so without the constant criticisms…from others or ourselves…
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  • Meryl Hershey Beck March 6, 2013, 11:29 pm

    I have used a similar approach with my clients…criticism hurts because we believe it. It takes strength and belief in oneself to not fall into that trap. Thanks for bringing this to everyone’s attention, Sherie.
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    • Sherie March 7, 2013, 6:43 am

      It is an approach that works well…glad to hear that you use it with your clients, Meryl! Thanks for dropping by and leaving me a comment!
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  • Marvelous post, Sherie. Criticism used to be a crippler for me because of the way I heard it through my filters. I love your advice, “The real truth about criticism is that it only hurts because you believe that it is true. So your choices are to make a change if it is true…or let it go if it isn’t…and change that belief that you have…”
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    • Sherie March 6, 2013, 8:09 pm

      Those filters can really get in the way, can’t they, Lisa? Thank you so much for your kind words. : D
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  • Kathy Robinson March 5, 2013, 10:50 pm

    Sherie I learned how to accept criticism when I learned how to criticize myself. Before that I’d hide in my little shell because someone didn’t like me. Now I thank the person and think about what they’ve said. If it will improve me or what I’m doing then I’ll do it. If it’s just a comment to upset me I move on. I don’t have time to be upset by what other people think. I am finally happy within myself.
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    • Sherie March 6, 2013, 8:11 pm

      Kathy, I hope you aren’t too critical of yourself. When we know our true value, we can let those unkind criticisms slide off our backs…thanks so much for your comment!
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  • Kumar Gauraw March 5, 2013, 9:34 pm


    I am preparing a post on my own blog on this topic since I had some incidents that caused me to think of writing something and your post just added some fuel to my desire. Thank you for such wonderful words of wisdom. I enjoyed reading your post and the tips.
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    • Sherie March 5, 2013, 9:38 pm

      Kumar, thank you for your kind words and I am glad that you found value in the post! Thanks for commenting!
      Sherie recently posted..The Real Truth about CriticismMy Profile

  • Moira Hutchison March 5, 2013, 3:46 pm

    I loved this article Sherie! It’s so true that we cannot avoid criticism but we do not have to buy into it if it does not align with what is true for us.

    Constructive criticism is a great way of allowing us to finesse what we are bringing to the world – but it’s the development of a keen self awareness and integrity that allows us not to get stung or caught up in judgement.
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    • Sherie March 5, 2013, 8:18 pm

      Keen self awareness…love that perspective, Moira! Thanks so much for your comment!
      Sherie recently posted..The Real Truth about CriticismMy Profile

  • Helena Bowers March 5, 2013, 1:28 pm

    As a child I let criticism destroy me, and it’s taken the better part of my adulthood to actually come to terms with it all and rebuild my life and my confidence. Now I’m more of a take it or leave it person … as in if you don’t like me the way I am, you can leave. 🙂 Great post Sherie!
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  • Aimee March 5, 2013, 10:14 am

    Criticism can also hurt when we feel betrayed by the criticiser, a loved one or someone who we thought was our champion, even when we know it isn’t true. Actually especially when it isn’t true in that case! And I love when a criticiser starts with no offense, but… Yeah right!

    • Sherie March 5, 2013, 8:16 pm

      I hear you, Aimee! Yes…that is always a warning sign…that starting with “no offense”!
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  • Norma Doiron March 5, 2013, 7:30 am

    Good article. You know what? I barely pay attention anymore to that type of criticism. The one I will listen to is the constructive kind. The one just to criticize, I just push aside. No one knows my heart but God and as long as I know who I am, I am not defined by what someone thinks of me. Makes sense? They are projecting their baggage on me. So, I just move on! 🙂
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  • Liz Bigger March 5, 2013, 3:43 am

    Thanks Sherie! This was actually VERY timely for me! I had a rough day yesterday…my friends and family get mad at me because I always explore all criticisms to see if they are true, even the ones that I know are not true…then I can dismiss them with a clear mind.

  • MamaRed March 5, 2013, 12:54 am

    Oh yeah, I know this one well and it is been a lifelong companion. Learning to listen and hear whether there is something to be shifted or to let go and let that criticism be transformed is how I now handle it (blush to think how many years it took for me to get to this!).
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    • Sherie March 5, 2013, 8:15 pm

      And how awesome that you did get there! Thanks so much for your comment, MamaRed!
      Sherie recently posted..The Real Truth about CriticismMy Profile

  • Cathy Taughinbaugh March 4, 2013, 8:52 pm

    Great article here, Sherie. Criticism hurts when we believe it, but also hurts our pride. We can live in denial about our flaws until someone points them out. Their comment may not be true, so love your advice to just let it go and move on. To handle criticism we need to feel confident about who we are.
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  • Karla Campos March 4, 2013, 6:23 pm

    Great article, I grew up being criticized and I don’t like doing it to others. I do believe in constructive criticism because I am a teacher and want students to do their best. You can’t control the world and what people say or do, you are very right when you say the only thing you can control is your reaction.
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  • Carolyn Hughes March 4, 2013, 2:44 pm

    I love the distinction you make here between judgement and criticism. Constructive criticism given in a positive and empowering way is very different to the feeling that you’re being judged. I’ve also learnt to keep my distance from anyone who is a generally critical about everything and anyone. Like you point out, whatever they say can’t hurt me. I know it’s not true.
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    • Sherie March 4, 2013, 8:37 pm

      That is a good strategy, Carolyn…and usually people who are overly critical are even more critical of themselves. Thanks so much for your insights, my dear!
      Sherie recently posted..The Real Truth about CriticismMy Profile

  • Martha Giffen March 4, 2013, 1:52 pm

    I think we all have such a desire to be liked that we have a hard time receiving helpful criticism. Many times it’s not judgmental, but is taken that way.
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  • elizabeth maness March 4, 2013, 12:49 pm

    Oh sherie, you’re right.. the reason it hurts is we believe that it’s true! That’s it. I have never thought about it before! I love you and your blog! 😉 You’re podcast with Lisa was AHH mazing!
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  • Eva Blaskovic March 4, 2013, 11:27 am

    Sherie, the hair colour example is a brilliant, tangible illustration of the mechanism.

    And, yes, constructive criticism helps us to grow, but misplaced criticisms and judgements–or projections of others’ deep-seated issues onto us–are not worth taking personally because, like the hair colour example, we KNOW the truth.

    • Sherie March 4, 2013, 8:34 pm

      Right on, Eva!! And when we KNOW the truth…what a difference that makes, right? Thanks so much for reading the post and commenting. : D
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  • Barbara Griffin Billig March 4, 2013, 11:11 am

    As a writer who gets book reviews regularly on Amazon, I get criticism on a regular basis. I try to sort out those which were constructive (now into the 3rd edition of my book for those who were calling for current updating of it) and those that are just mean. While I try to ignore the truly nasty people, sometimes I cannot help myself and I respond. One man who had been truly insulting to a point where I did not believe he had read the book responded to me with “Well, I hope I didn’t offend you”. That did make me laugh and I let it go.

    • Sherie March 4, 2013, 8:33 pm

      Hee hee…good for you, Barbara! Seeing it like that…and laughing…and letting it go…amazing!
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  • Lisa Birnesser March 4, 2013, 10:29 am

    Loved this post, Sherie. I loved the point “Is there any truth to this?” It’s accepting the criticism at face value that can be the problem. Doing a personal inventory can really help decipher the truth. Thanks!
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  • Sharon O'Day March 4, 2013, 8:45 am

    As an adult, it’s easy to accept that any criticism or judgment is coming through the mental filter of the other person, so it’s easy to deflect if we believe we are right …or good .. or whatever. However, as a child it was so much harder because we accepted so much of what we heard as “truth.” That’s the stuff we spend a good part of our adulthood unearthing and letting go of … once we look at it through our adult belief system.
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    • Sherie March 4, 2013, 8:31 pm

      Sharon, I appreciate your point of view. It is much harder for children…and that is the beginning of many a limiting belief.
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  • Angela March 4, 2013, 8:43 am

    Can I just say how much I LOVED this article. I hate criticism more than anything. It does really hurt. And I loved your perspective. What an amazing article. Thank you!!!
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  • Rob Hodgins March 3, 2013, 4:30 pm

    No criticism from me about this blog! 😀

    Ah, that old criticism game! Familiar with it and used to feel stung when I was on the receiving end of it.

    Some criticism is worthwhile. Without it we would think we were perfect.

    Some criticism is simply the product of boredom. Understanding that gave me a new perspective on the how’s and why’s of people’s critiques. When I think I’m being criticised unproductively I simply probe the person DEEPLY for more specifics. Either they have something useful to add or they’re just wasting my time.