How to Not Let Criticism Hurt You

Every once in a while I’ll get a not-so-nice note in my email about a blog I’ve written or a video I’ve posted. I try to have thick skin but, I’m not gonna lie, sometimes reading them really hurts. 

Now, I know that some criticism can be good…when it’s given constructively with the intent to teach you something. It’s the destructive criticism that stings and has me shaking my head and wondering why someone would choose to be so mean. 

No One Ever Kicks a Dead Dog

While I was licking my wounds after reading one such note, I picked up a Dale Carnegie book lying on my shelf and happened upon a chapter titled “Remember: No One Ever Kicks a Dead Dog.” The chapter tells the story of Richard Hutchins who was inaugurated as the president of Chicago University in 1929. He was only 30 years old. “Criticism came roaring down upon this “boy wonder” like a rockslide. Even the newspapers joined the attack.” 

When someone pointed out the criticism to Richard Hutchins’ father, his father replied “Yes, it was severe, but remember that no one ever kicks a dead dog.” In other words, a dead dog won’t respond to a kick; however, the more important a dog is, the more satisfied people get in kicking him.

Reading that was just what I needed to soothe my hurt feelings. I was reminded that when people torment, bully and criticize it’s often because those behaviors give the “kicker” a sick feeling of importance. It can often mean that the “kickee” is doing something important and noteworthy. 

Let It Go

When I was younger it was very difficult to maintain my self-esteem when criticism came my way. I felt bruised and misunderstood. Destructive criticism had me doubting my worth and kept me from stepping out of my comfort zone and trying new things.  

Over the years, I’ve been able to put criticism in perspective. I’ve learned that I’m not going to be everyone’s cup of tea and that’s okay. Differences among people are part of what makes the world go around. If we were all the same, life would be boring. Yawn.

Let it go. Go ahead. Take a cue from every 4-year-old out there and start humming the tune from the Disney film Frozen. While this catchy and slightly annoying song is more about letting go of the constraints of the past and moving forward with expectation to the future there are some correlations to letting go of critical words or actions too. Here are a few of the words that the beloved blond ice queen belts out: 

Let it go, let it go

Turn away and slam the door

I don’t care

What they’re going to say

Elsa was onto something when she sang that song. Slamming the door on destructive criticism and not caring what other people say about us is just what you and I should do!

Rain Repellant, Ducks, and Umbrellas

Here are three analogies that popped into my head as I was preparing to write this. As I’ve “said” before in my blogs, I don’t think in black and white. I think in color, in words, and in connections.

Analogy 1:Rain Repellent

Earlier this week it was a perfect summer day. High in the ’80s. Not a cloud in the sky and no rain in the forecast so I decided to wash my car. As I was digging through my husband’s stash of automobile products I found a box full of goodies: a microfiber wash mitt, an anti-scratch drying aid, a degreaser, a headlight cleaner, a car duster, an extreme tire gel, and leather “honey.” Apparently, I’ve been living with a product junkie and I didn’t even know it. 

It was when I happened upon a product called RainX windshield repellent that I knew I had hit the jackpot! I find it so annoying when you wash your car and have it looking super spiffy only to find that as it dries, water droplets have spotted your windshield. But not anymore! This stuff is the bomb! Without getting into the science behind it, this little spray-bottle-of-good-stuff causes water to bead up and run off the glass. No more annoying water spots! Let’s vow to have criticism roll off us like a RainX’d windshield!

Analogy 2: Ducks

If you’ve ever watched a duck, you’ll notice that no matter how often the duck dives under the water, it comes back up looking quite dry. This is because duck feathers are coated in a special oil that repels water. Water droplets quite literally roll off of ducks’ backs.

The phrase “like water off a duck’s back” originated in the 1800s. People often use the phrase to describe insults or other negative actions that others do against them that do not harm them. 

Analogy 3: Umbrellas

It’s been rainy here the last few days. I happen to love summer rains because they are usually refreshing, short lived, and just what the farm fields around me need. Umbrellas make me think about one of my favorite quotes about criticism from Dale Carnegie: Do the very best you can; put up your old umbrella and keep the rain of criticism from running down the back of your neck. 

Let’s be like RainX, ducks, and umbrellas and not let any destructive criticism stick to us.

Criticism Comes in All Shapes and Sizes

Criticism comes in all shapes and sizes. Some can be small zingers like:

  • “You’re going to wear that to the restaurant?” 
  • “Maybe you shouldn’t eat at the buffet…” 
  • “You always ______” 
  • “You never ______” 
  • “Everyone thinks you’re ______”
  • “Why do you always wear clothes like that?” 
  • “How many tattoos will be enough?”

And some can be very hurtful and emotionally scarring like: 

  • “You call that talent?”
  • “You’ll never make it.”
  • “You are so sloppy” 
  • “You what? Only an idiot would forget to pay the bills!”
  • “I feel sorry for whoever you end up with!”
  • “You are a coldblooded and heartless #%&$!”

No matter the shape or size, don’t let criticism get to you. I recently read about how Eleanor Roosevelt handled the criticism that came with her role as First Lady. She said that she took the advice of an aunt who told her “never be bothered by what people say, as long as you know in your heart that you are right.” Such simple yet powerful advice that we should all take to heart.  Here’s a great rule of thumb: If you’ve done nothing wrong then forget about it. 

Why People Criticize

There is a multitude of reasons why people criticize.  A few of the most common are: 

  • Jealousy and envy. Remember the dead dog analogy above? The more important a dog is, the more satisfaction jealous people get in kicking him. Whatever you’re doing, keep it up. You must be doing something right!
  • Hurt people often hurt people. Oftentimes there’s more to criticism than meets the eye. Sometimes there’s a hidden hurt underneath the meanness. Criticism indicates a shortcoming in the critic, not you. Rephrasing the question “what’s wrong with that person?” into “what happened to that person?” is more appropriate than frustration and hurt.
  • Fear and threat. Your success may be a threat to some people. Their philosophy: If they can’t be numero uno then no one else can.
  • Power. Some people have a controlling personality and have to be in charge. They may try to shame or humiliate you as part of a revenge or power play.
  • They think they’re helping you. Some people genuinely believe that their words are helping you. Their intentions are good, not bad. 
  • Competition. Some people think life is a competition. You and I know that it’s not. It’s about helping and inspiring others so we can all reach our potential. 

How to React to Criticism

Here are a few ways I’ve learned to deal with criticism:

  • I ignore it. Choose not to fuel a fire and instead choose to give no reaction to the criticism.
  • I don’t become defensive. Don’t let your first response be one of Attack! Take a deep breath and think about it. Mull it over. 
  • I smile. Let kindness “kill” the critical messenger. As the saying goes: “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down”. 
  • I consider the source. I ask myself if my critic has earned the right to criticize me. Is he/she someone I respect and admire? 
  • I ask for clarification. Have the critic repeat the point they were making. Dig for understanding. Question why they believe what they believe. 
  • I don’t take it personally. As I stated earlier, some people genuinely believe that their words are helping you. Their intentions are good, not bad.
  • I ask myself “what can I take away from it?” Ask yourself what you can learn from the criticism. Is there a skill that can be improved? Is there a wrong that should be righted? Reflect on it. Value it. 
  • I don’t dish it out. If I don’t like to receive criticism then I must make it a point to not give criticism either.  

We’re all on this planet for many reasons. One of those is to bring value to those around us. We do this by using the gifts and talents we’ve been entrusted with. We are masterpieces made by the Master Himself. Each of our journeys will look different from those around us. We need to put our earplugs in and not listen to hurtful words others are saying to us. Hey Friend, do me a favor and believe in yourself. Believe that you’re doing the best that you can. And never let anyone’s critical words steal your joy and sway you from your mission.

I’d love to hear from you. Have you gotten any good takeaways from this blog? What are some ways you combat criticism? Are you harboring any hurt feelings from criticisms that you just can’t let go of? Feel free to reach out to me. I’m a great listener and I’d love to help.


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