Four tips for handling criticism

Ah, poor Charlie Brown.  Can you relate – have you ever been criticized?  Who hasn’t been, right?

But how do you receive criticism?  Do you shut down, get mad, become despondent, react defensively….or do you grow and improve?  Obviously criticism can be offered in a variety of ways – some helpful, and others only seemingly hurtful – and the way in which it’s offered can have serious implications upon how we receive it and respond.  While that’s true, that perspective can also become a cop-out for us.  Rather than listening honestly and intently to the criticism, we can take the “easy way out” and simply ignore or challenge the criticism because it wasn’t said in the right way.

What would happen in each of our lives if we were to look for the truth and opportunities for growth in each critical word that we hear spoken to or about us?  Is it possible to take only the positives, and none of the negatives, from these critical comments, regardless of how they were intended?  I think it might be.

With our eyes fixed on God, knowing He sees us as we fully are, complete with flaws, mistakes, sins and corruption, and loves us anyway – the pithy, ill-intentioned comments from others become less hurtful.  And the well-intentioned suggestions become markers along a path that we’re already walking.

It’s often said that which most bothers us about others is in fact what most bothers us about ourselves.  Similarly, the critical comment that most disturbs us may be the comment we most need to hear.  The very reason it bothers us is because it speaks truth to something with which we struggle.  Why in church settings do people often speak of the “Holy Spirit convicting them”, but if their neighbor were to say the same thing, people become irate at their neighbor’s rudeness?

I admittedly struggle with being a perfectionist.  In college I used to detest the phrase “good enough” because it never was.  I desire that everything I do – whether it’s folding laundry, writing a blog post, or playing sports – is done to the best of my ability.  Just the other day, I was discussing my perfectionist-tendencies with a friend who struggles in the same way.  The topic of constructive criticism came up, and we surprisingly had very different perspectives.  I LOVE constructive criticism.  I regularly seek it out, and am frustrated when I get nothing more than “great job”.  My friend on the other hand, struggles with receiving constructive criticism because in her mind, it breaks her streak of perfectionism.  I was surprised by this conversation, and realized that not everyone necessarily responds to (constructive) criticism in the same way.

Whether you’re a perfectionist or not, how can you avoid depression and embrace growth in the face of criticism?  Here are a few thoughts:

  • Maintain an attitude and desire for growth. I want to improve how I do things – to better serve my family, better live out my purpose, and better reflect my Savior to the world.  In that vein, I try to embrace anything that will help me improve – even (or especially) criticism.  When I do something, I recognize that it was done to the best of my ability at that time. But, I also know that my ability can grow and expand. Constructive criticism is the means to that growth. So whenever I do something/anything, I’m constantly looking for insights as to how, next time, I could do better. I confidently stand behind what I’ve done, but desire in the future to improve on that performance. So constructive criticism doesn’t negatively reflect on what I’ve done in the past, as much as inform the future.
  • Keep your eyes fixed on Him. What people say about you, either good or bad, doesn’t change who God created you to be, nor does it change how much He loves you.  If a comment from someone deflates you, turn to His word and allow Him to restore and refresh you with His love!
  • Pray to find truth. When you hear a critical remark, respond first in prayer.  Ask Him to show you the truths in the remark.  Imagine the comment as coming from the Holy Spirit, not an annoying co-worker or family member.  Allow yourself to become convicted and moved toward growth, rather than hurt and angered.
  • Seek out criticism. Admittedly this sounds strange.  But, the more you seek out criticism with an eye toward growth, the healthier your attitude about it will become.  When you seek out criticism, you will learn to endure the comments, rather than become crushed by them.  And eventually, you will move from enduring to growing!  Abba Isaiah, a teacher from the early church once said, “Nothing is so useful…as insults.  [One] who bears insults is like a tree that is watered every day.”

How do these tips perhaps change your perspective on handling criticism?  Maybe you’re not quite ready to seek out insults yet, but begin your journey with confidence, as the person God created you to be, and embrace the unique opportunities for growth offered by criticism!