Sometimes all it takes to keep us from pursuing the things that are most important to us is the fear of being judged or condemned. Therefore, it may be costly to lack the ability to handle criticism or rejection constructively.

It is in our nature to be concerned with how others see us. Criticism may sometimes indicate a danger of rejection or desertion and can also be an indication that we haven't lived up to expectations in some manner. Therefore, you will instinctively become stressed out when you receive criticism. That reaction energises us and makes us want to take action. In the past, being rejected by our community posed a major risk to our existence. These days, things are similar in some aspects and different in others. Our health is still greatly threatened by rejection and loneliness, and our brains will always be attempting to keep us secure in groups.

Beyond simply keeping us safe, our capacity to imagine what others might think of us is a key skill that helps us to function in the social groups that we live in. We develop our sense of self and identity, not only from our own experience and how we interact with others but also through what we imagine those other people think of us and the ideas and perceptions they might have of us.

So, if we have this brain that is set up to care a great deal about what everyone else is thinking, how we can ensure we can have those meaningful relationships but not become trapped by constant worries about disapproval and judgment? And how we can pick ourselves back up when disapproval from someone else stops us from living in line with what matters to us?

Steps to handle criticism:

  • Building up the ability to tolerate the criticism that could be helpful and use it to your advantage while maintaining a sense of self-worth.
  • Being open to learning from negative feedback that could help make progress.
  • Learning to let go of criticism that reflects the values of someone else rather than your own.
  • Getting clarity on which opinions matter the most to you and why, so it becomes easier to know when to reflect and learn and when to let go and move on.

It's also beneficial to keep in mind that individuals often judge others according to their standards of life. We desire the approval of everyone, but since every individual has different thoughts and opinions, we can't always win everyone over.


Criticism is not always bad. When someone gives us negative feedback on a particular behaviour, we often feel guilty, which motivates us to correct our mistakes to mend the relationship. However, when someone criticises our personality and our sense of worth as a person, we usually feel that in the form of shame.

Shame is the intensely painful feeling that can be mixed with other emotions like anger or disgust. It is different from embarrassment, which is less intense and tends to be felt in public. Shame is much more painful. We feel unable to speak, think clearly or do anything. We want to disappear and hide. The sheer intensity of the physical reaction makes it difficult to recover from.

Shame triggers our threat system in such a way that it can feel like someone held a match to all our other emotions. So we get a rush of anger, fear or disgust to go along with it. Then the self-attack comes swarming in like soldiers over the hill, coming at you with self-criticism, self-denigration and blame. With that sort of onslaught, the instinct is to block it all out. But shame is not easy to ignore. So we go for the most absorbing, addictive behaviours that offer instant relief.

Shame resilience is something we can learn, but it is a life practice. Building resilience to shame does not mean you never feel it. Instead, it means we learn how to dust ourselves off and get back up.


Being able to experience shame and come back from it without losing your sense of self-worth involves:

  • Getting to know what triggers shame for you. Anything that you link to self-worth can give rise to shame. To build and maintain a sense of self-worth, we need to understand that our worthiness as a human being is not dependent on living a mistake-free life.
  • Reality-checking the criticism and all the judgments that follow. Whether it comes from someone else or inside your head, judgments and opinions are not facts. They are narratives and stories that can significantly change our experience of the world. So looking after your self-worth involves taking the name-calling and personal attacks out of the equation and focusing on the specific concrete behaviours and their consequences. Reminding yourself that being imperfect, making mistakes or falling is all part of being human. Making friends with your fallibility means that when you do fail you don't have to feel worthless. You can use each experience to your advantage by learning from it.
  • Minding what you say. Criticism will always hurt a little, that is our brain doing its best to keep us safe. The brain wants to pay attention to it because it is a threat, but each time you go over it in your mind the stress response is triggered again. Time spent thinking over a helpful criticism that we can put to good use and that adds to the work we are doing in the world is time well spent. However, ruminating and churning over a nasty comment with no sense of how this can help you is just a continuation of the attack on your character.
  • Talking to yourself in the right way after criticism. This is vital if you want to have the capacity to move through shame and bounce back. When we are in shame we may feel a sense of self-loathing, and we convince ourselves that we need to continue the attack. The idea of responding to ourselves with respect and compassion feels undeserved and indulgent, as if would let you off the hook and stop you bothering to try harder. But in reality, if you want a man to get up off the ground, you have to stop beating him. The key to using all criticism to your advantage is having your own back, and having so much self-compassion that you are able to listen to criticism and decide which of that criticism you will take on board and use to your advantage as a learning experience, and which voices offer you nothing but dents in your self-esteem and crushed confidence.

Finally, do not keep shame to yourself. Shame is amplified by secrets, silence and judgment. Making contact with someone you can trust and sharing your worries with them can help you to process your guilt and move on. If that is not available, a solution focused hypnotherapy can help you create a positive shift in your life where you will be able to tolerate the criticism and use it to your advantage while maintaining a sense of self-worth.