This guide explains why some people are sensitive to criticism or get upset easily when they are criticized. It then shows you how to reduce your sensitivity to criticism so you don't get upset when you are criticized. Based on scientific research proven to be effective.
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Sensitive to criticism? Here's how to overcome it
SENSITIVITY TO CRITICISM
Some people are sensitive to criticism and get upset easily while other people aren’t bothered by it at all or even appreciate being criticized.
Why are some people more sensitive to criticism than others? Is it genetic?
Some people have been sensitive to criticism their entire life and assume it must be a genetic trait. However, research shows that’s not the case and that this sensitivity to criticism can be overcome.
MISUNDERSTANDINGS/NEGATIVE THINKING PATTERNS
Normally, when children are upset, their parents talk to them about their feelings which helps correct any misunderstandings that may have caused them to feel worse and help them think about things in optimal ways so they can feel good about themselves and understand themselves and other people better.
When children get upset and their parents don't talk to them about their feelings, misunderstandings don't get corrected. If this happens repeatedly, they may get the impression their feelings aren't important and suppress their emotions which can cause them to think they're a bad person or that people are worse than they really are. Unhealthy thinking patterns they developed when they were a child may remain with them throughout their life unless they become aware of it and make an effort to change them.
When people experience positive or negative emotions when something occurs, their brain makes associations that result in them experiencing the same emotions when something else reminds them of that event. For example, if someone was harshly criticized by her father, she may experience the same negative emotions when she is criticized by other people that she felt when her father criticized her since her brain associated criticism with those negative emotions. If someone was bullied by a group of people, he may experience the emotions he felt when he's around people who remind him of those people.
WHOSE FAULT IS IT WHEN I GET UPSET AFTER I AM CRITICIZED?
It's not your fault. You couldn't help what you learned or didn't learn when you were a child. You had no way of knowing if you misunderstood something or that there may have been a better way of thinking about things. You probably couldn't help being harshly criticized, bullied, or treated poorly by others. It's not your parents fault if they tried the best they could and just didn't understand emotions or had problems of their own. It's not the fault of those who criticize you since, as you'll see upon reading further, no one can control your emotions or cause you to feel worse. In many cases, it's no ones fault. Life isn't always fair and bad things happen to everyone. The good news is you can change your situation. You have the power to control your own emotions. You can learn to think about criticism in ways that won't make you feel worse and learn ways to counteract negative associations so you won't get upset when you are criticized.
HOW OUR BELIEFS INFLUENCE OUR EMOTIONS
Our beliefs about ourselves and others influences our emotions even when we aren't aware of it. That means having a low self-esteem or holding negative beliefs about other people can cause us to get upset when we are criticized.
People with a low-self esteem might have conscious or unconscious thoughts when criticized such as "This criticism shows he thinks there's something wrong with me.” or “This criticism means he thinks I’m stupid.” Why would that make them feel worse? They may have an unhelpful belief such as "I need people to accept me to feel good about myself.”
One way to counteract those negative thoughts is to change them into more accurate and helpful thoughts. For example:
Unhelpful thought - "This criticism shows he thinks there's something wrong with me or that I'm stupid.”
Unhelpful thought - “This criticism means he thinks I’m stupid.”
Helpful thought - “Just because he disagrees with me, doesn’t mean he thinks I’m stupid or that there’s something wrong with me. He may just have a difference of opinion.”
While trying to correct these thoughts in the moment may be beneficial, it’s necessary to correct the underlying beliefs that result in a low self-esteem to prevent these negative thoughts from recurring.
Unhelpful belief - "I need people to accept me to feel good about myself.”
Helpful belief - “I’m just as good as everyone else. My self-worth isn’t based on the opinions of others.”
If low self-esteem is a problem, check out the following guide:
Knowing Yourself - How to improve your self-esteem
LOW OPINION OF OTHERS
People with a low opinion of others might have a conscious or unconscious thought when criticized such as “People are being mean and criticizing me unfairly.” Why would that make them feel worse? People with negative opinions about other people in general may feel alone or rejected. It makes them feel worse because it’s a basic human need to feel accepted and connected to others. These unhelpful thoughts can be counteracted by replacing them with more accurate and helpful thoughts. For example:
Unhelpful thought - “People are being mean and criticizing me unfairly.”
Helpful thought - “Their criticism may be wrong or unfair but no one is perfect. It’s normal to misunderstand other people and think things about them that aren’t true. If there’s some truth in it, it just means I’m not perfect which isn’t a big deal since no one is perfect.”
The harm caused by negative associations (such as criticism by anyone causing you to feel the same emotions you felt when you were harshly criticized by a parent) can be reduced by changing unhelpful beliefs about that person. For example:
Unhelpful belief - “My father was a jerk who ruined my life.”
Helpful belief - “My father had an anger problem. That anger hurt me but no one is perfect. We all have problems.”
Negative associations can also apply to groups of people. For example, someone who was bullied by a group of co-workers may react negatively whenever he is criticized by anyone who reminds him of those people. Someone who had negative interactions with a variety of people may experience those negative emotions around most people he encounters. The way to deal with those associations is the same, change your beliefs about those people. For example:
Unhelpful belief - “Neurotypicals are intolerant and judgmental of anyone who is different.”
Helpful belief - “Many people have treated me harshly but that doesn’t make them bad people. Instead of being angry and bitter about it, I can accept they weren’t perfect and not let it bother me anymore. Despite those experiences, some people have been nice to me.”
Another way to counteract negative associations with a group of people is to socialize more with people who remind you of them and form positive associations to counteract the negative associations you formed previously. That way, those negative associations will fade away and criticism from those people won’t provoke the same negative emotions you previously experienced.
This also works with things too such as criticism. For example, if being harshly criticized in the past resulted in strong negative emotions associated with criticism, you can weaken this association by asking people you like to criticize you while thinking about it in helpful ways that won’t make you feel worse to help your brain stop associating criticism with the emotions you experienced when you were harshly criticized in the past.
WANT HELP IDENTIFYING AND CORRECTING UNHELPFUL BELIEFS?
I created a list of unhelpful beliefs along with more accurate and helpful beliefs to help you identify and correct your own beliefs:
Replacing Unhelpful Beliefs with More Accurate and Helpful Beliefs
Once you successfully overcome your sensitivity to criticism and no longer get upset when you are criticized, you can use the information below to use criticism to your advantage.
LEARN FROM CRITICISM - HOW IT CAN HELP YOU
Many people appreciate being criticized because it lets them know what other people think about them. They know they can use that information to help them become a better person. That's why some people like to give advice to other people.
If you no longer get upset when criticized, you can start benefiting from criticism as shown by the following example:
Situation: Someone said you're pretentious and snooty.
Unhelpful thought: They're bad people who don't know what they're talking about. How dare they think that about me? What idiots! I'm not going to talk to such people in the future.
Helpful thought: These are qualities most people don't like. I wonder what caused them to think that about me. There is probably some truth in it or at least something about me they misunderstood. Pretentious people see themselves as better than other people but I don't feel like I'm superior. However, a history of negative interactions with people has caused me to form negative opinions of other people in general. From their perspective, me seeing other people in a negative way makes it appear that I think I am better than most people. In a certain sense, that may be true since seeing myself in a normal way (an ordinarily decent person) and most people in a negative way is similar to seeing myself as superior and other people as average because, either way, it's seeing oneself as better than most people. I'm going to work on changing my negative beliefs about other people and forming more accurate and helpful beliefs to reduce the likelihood that other people will see me as pretentious or snooty in the future.