Ten Tips For Receiving Criticism With Grace

CRITICISM. Magnifying glass over different association terms.

By Lissa Rankin MD

Guest Writer for Wake Up World

Because I put myself out there in public ways, I’m subjected to a LOT of criticism, both on the internet and in person. Some of it is the kind of vicious, violent hating that cowards love to spout amidst the safety of being anonymous on the internet. Some of it is pure projection. People don’t like what they see of themselves in the mirror I hold up. Some of it is totally valid constructive criticism delivered in a respectful, helpful, balanced way.

No matter how criticism is delivered, the ego hates to be criticized. It likes to respond to criticism with defensiveness, anger, or self-flagellation. But if you’re able to receive criticism as your Inner Pilot Light, rather than as your ego, there are ways to let criticism help you. Whether the criticism appears from anonymous people on the internet or from people close to you, it’s possible to receive criticism in a healthy way and let the criticism allow you to grow and learn. Most of the criticism I receive on the internet I ignore because I don’t know the people who are criticizing me, so it’s hard to discern why they’re criticizing me or whether I can trust that they are safe people with my best intentions at heart. However, I invite the people I love to criticize me. It’s how I see my blind spots and grow into a better person.

Here are a few tips for how to receive criticism with grace.

1. Assess whether the person criticizing you leaves you feeling emotionally and physically safe.

If this is someone you trust, who you know has your best interests at heart, invite the criticism. If this is someone unsafe who does not have your best interests at heart, it’s okay to set boundaries around uninvited criticism. You don’t have to sit through a violent verbal attack. If you have a history with an unsafe person who wants to criticize you, it’s okay to ask that person to save the criticism for when you can have a mediator present, someone like a therapist. It’s also okay to refuse to listen if you’re not wanting to keep a relationship. But it very worth inviting criticism from the people who are really trying to help.

2. Listen generously to the person who is criticizing you.

When the ego is feeling defensive and hurt, it’s so easy to interrupt and start defending yourself before the person criticizing you even gets a chance to finish what is being said. Resist the urge to jump in and cut off the person criticizing you. Place your full attention on the person speaking and wait until they’ve finished speaking to respond.

3. Be humble.

Avoid the tendency to make someone wrong just because they’re criticizing you. No matter how awesome you are, chances are, there’s room for improvement. Be willing to be wrong.

4. Find a way to make the person criticizing you right, even if you disagree with what is being said.

Acknowledge what is being said. Recognize the courage it took for your criticizer to speak up. That doesn’t mean you have to own what is being said, but it does mean you create safety for the criticizer by offering reassurance that it’s safe to criticize you without threatening the relationship. Thank the person who criticized you. Assuming what was said was expressed with your best interests in mind, be grateful that you’re in a relationship with someone who wants to help you live a happier, healthier, more productive, more aligned life. It’s not easy to grow and evolve out of our unconscious habitual patterns. We can only do it with the support of those who are committed to helping lift us up.

5. Filter the criticism through the lens of your truth.

Don’t automatically believe all criticism, but don’t automatically reject it all either. When you believe all criticism, you’ll get so traumatized that you’ll stop putting yourself out there, and if you reject all criticism without looking for the truth in it, you’ll turn into a diva. Consider the criticism and examine it to see if it feels true when you assess it not with your ego, but with your Inner Pilot Light. Discerning what rings true for you and what doesn’t is essential.

6. Check for projections.

Sometimes people criticize you when they’re really criticizing themselves, projecting onto you what they don’t like about themselves. These kinds of criticisms aren’t clean. For example, if you’re thinking about taking a risk, like quitting a job you’re unhappy in, someone who is too scared to quit their own unhappy job might criticize you for being irresponsible, when really, it’s not about you. It’s about them.

7. Throw out what isn’t true.

If someone is just pummeling you with mean-spirited criticism or if you deem the criticism pure projection, shake it off. Dance it off even! Don’t let it poison your body, mind, or soul. If the criticism doesn’t feel true, assess whether it’s safe to say so. If it’s your boss or your client criticizing you, you may have to just nod and suck it up. But if it’s someone you’re close to and the criticism doesn’t feel accurate, voice your honest thoughts gently and without defensiveness.

8. Own what you discern to be true.

If your criticizer is right, say so. It’s incredibly validating to the person going out on a limb to criticize you to feel heard and acknowledged if you deem it to be true.

9. Don’t beat yourself up.

If your criticizer is right, acknowledge the truth of how you could improve, but don’t beat yourself up. Avoid using the criticism as an excuse to shame yourself.

10. Soothe yourself.

Your ego may feel bruised after the critique. Do what you can to comfort yourself with something pleasurable. Get a foot massage. Take a long bath. Read a good book or watch a funny movie. Call a close friend and have a good cry. Soak in a hot tub. Give yourself a hug and honor yourself for being such a good sport in the midst of criticism. Only when we’re humbly open to criticism can we grow into the best versions of ourselves.

Can You Participate In Healthy Conflict?

When we learn to give and receive criticism in healthy ways, we participate in the kind of healthy conflict that is essential not only to good relationships, but to world peace. As Martin Prechtel said, “War is the absence of healthy conflict.”

Are you able to give and receive criticism in a healthy, ego-less way? Or do you avoid conflict at all costs and defend against criticism when it arises? Are you willing to be wrong? Will you speak your truth when you feel someone else has wronged you?

Share your thoughts in the comments.

Learning to receive criticism with grace,

Previous articles by Lissa

About the author

lissa_rankinLissa Rankin, MD is a mind-body medicine physician, founder of the Whole Health Medicine Institute training program for physicians and health care providers, and the New York Times bestselling author of Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself. She is on a grass roots mission to heal health care, while empowering you to heal yourself.

Lissa blogs at LissaRankin.com and also created two online communities – HealHealthCareNow.com and OwningPink.com. She is also the author of two other books, a professional artist, an amateur ski bum, and an avid hiker. Lissa lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her husband and daughter.

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  • Open

    Great advice Lisa.
    I especially liked point 4. To me it’s about creating an empathic bridge across which potentially conflicting viewpoints can find harmony.

  • Jen

    I really like point #4 as well. Many friendships could be spared if everyone knew these guidelines.

  • Monique

    I love reading your articles – they are so helpful and often reflect what is going on in my own life – thank you

  • kala

    i also liked this,

    I tend to find taking criticism from my significant other the hardest, actually i can bite my tongue for everyone else literally except her

    I cut her off in midst sentence if i find what she is saying to be upsetting

    She really hates it

    I dont like making her mad, because she is mad because she feels like i dont respect her

    I start to question do i?
    how is it when others get angry with me i can stay calm
    how is it others and say stuff and i dont interrupt them?
    how is it that when she gives me advice sometimes i shrug it off? but complete strangers can give me advise and i latch onto it?

    Why is it that i scream at her when im angry. when she says hey your getting loud with me i do rec it and try to stay calm

    it really hurts thinking about what happens in our arguments

    sometimes i say nasty things to hurt her and make her the way i feel inside

  • red

    valuable advice – thank you.
    In your closing paragraphs however you say “When we learn to give and receive criticism in healthy ways” – I would love to also read an article about ‘giving’ healthy criticism.
    My partner & I have separated after months of constant critical warring! Many criticisms given were reactionary and projections, many were valid however but delivered in a manner that instantly triggered defensiveness and anger. Criticism of a loved one delivered in a manner to encourage and empower self evaluation, change and growth can be the greatest gift.
    I could recognise many traits, habits and old paradigms that I wished to shed. I ached for and pleaded for support to help me recognise my faults and change but instead continued to be criticised in a demeaning disrespectful manner that so easily triggered the fight or flight response – I’d either defend myself verbally or I’d clam up and walk away from a potential fight. Or I too would start to criticise in return in a hurtful, unhelpful manner. So we both have much to learn about both receiving and delivering criticism.

  • Deborah

    I found that in this society, far too many people either don’t know how to deliver constructive and compassionate criticism or choose to deliver it with mean, and sometimes nasty, accusations and name calling. As a result, I may have gotten to the point of not listening to criticism from someone outside my circle of family, friends and acquaintances whom I know mean well – and those who truly did not, are not in my life anymore. It’s not that I can’t take criticism, I can, but it’s the rudeness I cannot tolerate since I do treat people with respect, and I deserve respect back. It’s not that I can’t recognize my own mistakes or can’t apologize, I can and I do, but it’s the person’s lousy behavior when delivering the criticism that warrants it being ignored, because being “in the right” does not excuse abusive behavior towards me or another person. It’s more of a matter of me setting my boundaries on what I will or will not put up with when it comes to criticism, because I chose to no longer be a victim (of anyone’s abusive behavior) two years back.

  • Name Arika

    I find this article to be so uplifting! To “hear”, see and read this and the comments after relating to….give me hope again in my relationship with my husband. Well and generally. Thank you so much! Truly!!