Fear of rejection is a social animal’s worst fear: when your species survival depends on cooperation, you become hypersensitive for all the clues towards or away from belonging: validation, affirmation, appreciation and reward.
So when there is criticism coming at you and you haven’t done your homework on how to respond, you’re most likely to be unhappy about the words you hear or read, and likely to respond in ways that will further make you — and the others concerned — unhappy.
Before we look at happy-making strategies of response, let’s take a look at criticism, as not all criticism is equal. As we human behaviour in general, what a person does doesn’t always weigh as much as why a person does it. “Why” has two components to it: cause, and purpose.
So when you are at the receiving end of criticism, and have time to ponder (before replying to a comment, for example), become curious about the “why”: What causes the person to say what they do, and with what purpose.
Purpose-wise, criticism comes to either lead to improvement, in which case we call that “constructive criticism”, or it’s meant to cause pain, in which case we call it many other things, including “destructive criticism”, “trolling”, “put-down” and so forth. Criticism is aimed at one’s behaviour, at an object: someone’s athletic performance; someone’s acting; someone’s cooking. When directed at a person, when it’s personal, it is not criticism but an insult, and an act of violence.
For example, it is one thing to say to a baker: “Your cake dough is uncooked and gooey” (criticism is directed at an object) or “Your baking skills suck” (criticism addressing a behaviour); and it is another thing to say: “You are a lousy baker” (criticism directed at the person).
When someone offers you a value judgement or some specific criticism regarding something you did or do, with a clear purpose of improvement, accept it as a gift, and start by thanking the person for it. Then inquire into what could be improved and how.
When someone’s criticism is not clear to you whether it’s a gift or an attack:
1- Do not make the assumption that it’s an attack. Easier said than done when you have trauma or such past conditioning about criticism. And even if you have a rather intense emotional response…