Criticism can trigger psychiatric symptoms for some individuals who interpret feedback in unhealthy ways. How you handle criticism may affect your relationships with others, your self-esteem, and your opportunities for personal growth. Through Cognitive BehavioralTherapy (CBT), you have the opportunity to discover a new perspective and develop new skills to respond to criticism with a more healthy, productive approach.
People generally have one of three potential reactions to criticism. Two are unhealthy and one is healthy.
One unhealthy response would be to automatically assume that the person giving you the criticism is right. You don’t question the validity or motivation behind the feedback and accept it as 100 percent accurate and deserved. If you struggle with self-esteem or entrenched negative beliefs about yourself, you might receive the criticism as further evidence that you are a failure, incapable, or unworthy, regardless of whether the criticism is valid.
Another unhealthy response would be to automatically assume that the person giving you the criticism is wrong. You might reflexively interpret the criticism as an attack and act defensively or respond with anger. If you struggle with perfectionism or anxiety, criticism may often feel like an attack when it contradicts the image of the ideal person you feel like you are expected to be.
On the other hand, a healthy response would be to accept each criticism as one person’s opinion about your behavior in a specific situation and not as a universal referendum on you as a person. By examining your behavior from the other person’s point of view, you may be able to understand why they are giving you that feedback. You can then determine if you want to adapt your behavior or change the way you approach a similar situation in the future. In some cases you may determine that you don’t need to change your actions, but you can still respond to the other person in a respectful way.
As an example, consider if, after you inadvertently missed an appointment with a friend without calling or texting him, your friend says: “You don’t value our friendship at all.”
If you automatically assume he is right, you might say, “You’re right. I’m always forgetting to do things. I know I’m not a very good friend.” This response can contribute to feelings of inadequacy and exacerbate depression.
If you automatically assume he is wrong, you might say, “Chill out! I usually show up or let you know. You shouldn’t be so sensitive! You’re the one who picked Tuesday and I told you Tuesday was a busy day for me.” This sort of defensive reaction can lead to troubled relationships, another trigger for depression and anxiety.