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Don’t Take It Personally: How to Handle Criticism

Author Don Miguel Ruiz who penned the best seller, The Four Agreements, sagely says, “Don’t take anything personally. Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.”

Easier said than done at times. While it doesn’t mean that we are exempt from correction and re-direction, those who feel a need to hurl critical words often do so because of their own insecurities and worldview. What happens when those harsh words echo from within our own cranium?

Scott Kalechstein Grace is a California based singer-songwriter whose music is inspired by his personal psycho-spiritual journey, some of which has included addiction and recovery. His song parodies are like that of Weird Al Yankovich. Scott refers to one of the most insidious self-deprecating addictions as “critiholism; indeed, one to which I and many others I know fall prey. It reflects the paradoxical poster I saw near the punch clock in a place I worked many years ago: “The beatings will continue until morale improves around here.” I laugh still and use it as an example for my clients who are harshly self-critical. They nod and smile knowingly.

I notice my own chattering mind running amok with thoughts such as, “You should know better, since you are a therapist with a Master’s degree.” “How come you keep falling into that same pattern of taking on other people’s issues and feeling a need to fix, save, heal, cure and kiss the boo-boos to make them all better?” “You need to practice what you preach.” “What will it take for you to finally have it all together?” This last one is said with an exasperated sigh.

What has become increasingly clear is that I still have work to do in that area and that when I am most concerned about what others think about me and especially the work I hold dear, my inner critic becomes embodied in someone else. Many of the professional hats I wear, beyond that of social worker/therapist are rather unconventional and revolve around the use of healthy, non-sexual touch by consent in the form of a workshop, as well as Laughter Yoga (a modality that is deemed legitimate such that NASW (National Association of Social Workers) offered 16 CEUs (Continuing Education Units) when I took the weekend training.

Over the past few months, whenever I have posted something about either of these topics on social media, inevitably, someone I know professionally has chimed in about how “strange, odd, weird, creepy and silly,” these interests are. This person indicated that they are not befitting the professional they know me to be and can’t understand how I could see them as valid methods of teaching skills in the areas of communication, relationships, boundary setting, assertiveness, childlike playfulness, trust and safely stretching comfort zones.

I am clear that although they are not therapy, they do have therapeutic value. Whenever I have attempted to explain the validity and value, the response has been to dig in more deeply, repeating the criticism. When I have suggested that this person step back and re-evaluate the way they express their objection, I am met with a response that sounds like, “When you place something in a public venue, you can expect some disagreement, or do you only want people to agree with everything you say?” It had me pausing and asking a few well-chosen questions: How important is this person’s opinion? Am I not solid enough in my own estimation of what I do that I put too much stake in what others think? Why do I feel a need to defend my position?

The answers I came up with harken back to the erroneous belief that I had to make everything look good and I needed to be seen as competent and confident to combat childhood asthma and pediatric problems. I was viewed as precocious by the adults in my life and didn’t want to disappoint anyone. It was my own version of “the empress has no clothes,” while I clutched at the invisible garments that were supposed to cover my emotional vulnerability. These days I am far more willing to be transparent, knowing that by doing so, I am exposing myself to external critique.

I am learning to soothe the aspect of myself that I refer to as Perfectionista, who seeks approval, both internally and externally.

When inquiring of others how they face their chattering monkey minds, their responses were as diverse as those responding:

“I use deep breathing and the conscious redirection of thoughts and images to focus on. Positive affirmation and moving the body also helps.”

Essential oils/blends. Yoga works great. YouTube meditations, a short walk, a conversation with a colleague.”

Lots of internal dialogue, reminding myself of my survival rate thus far (100%), all that I have accomplished (more than the average bear), and that I am clever and smart and can solve anything life throws at me because, so far, I have and the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior/outcome. And I take naps.”

Counting my breaths till my mind calms. Yoga before sitting is essential for me (the whole point of it right!)”

I am not great at meditation, but I am one heck of a visualizer. That is my surest way of quieting monkey mind. I visualize anything that holds my interest at the moment, and then I see it in exquisite detail. Voila, all quiet upstairs. And it has the added benefit of creating something in my mind that may actually get translated in the future to a piece of art, some home decor, a garden design, etc.”

Meditation and journal writing.”

Turn it into a song.”

“I allow the words… Then I add, and I love that about you. I started this years ago and it’s quieted my inner critic. I still do it occasionally, this week it looked like this. ‘You have gained so much weight… And I love that about you.'”

Sit in my car and look at lake at Peace Valley Park.”

Meditation, mantra and Vedic astrology.”

“Let it go let it go let it go.”

“Always get a good night’s sleep and do integral yoga and meditation.”

Learn to observe the chatter rather than having ownership.”

“Review, acknowledge release!!”

“When my chattering mind is going, I consciously change my thoughts, it’s the one thing I do have control over in my life. This could be singing a song, doing a chore or an activity and redirect my thoughts.”

“I can shut mine off at will.”

“I go for a run or bike ride.”

“Of course, we need the little fellow, but when I feel it is getting in the way more than helping, I take a deep breath and send it to bed.”

“Yes… Creative Activity… Physical Activity… Social Activity… Meal Activity.”

“I redirect my mind to gratitude.”

I am willing to tame my inner critic.

Don’t Take It Personally: How to Handle Criticism

Edie Weinstein, MSW, LSW

Edie Weinstein, MSW, LSW is a journalist and interviewer, licensed social worker, interfaith minister, radio host and best-selling author.

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APA Reference
Weinstein, E. (2018). Don’t Take It Personally: How to Handle Criticism. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 3 Jan 2018)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.