4th September 2018

Author Charlotta Hughes explains why criticism doesn’t have to hurt, and how to develop a more positive attitide to it – it’s not always bad news!

Do you frequently find yourself feeling offended and under fire, or adopt a defensive stance to protect yourself from upset or possible criticism? Does this self-protection typically leave you feeling more secure and confident? I’m guessing not. These are destructive thoughts and feelings, created as a result of your perception that the world is critical of you and forcing you to defend yourself. Does this sound familiar?

The fact is that for the majority of the time we all operate on autopilot, meaning that we act, react, make decisions and think in accordance with habit. So this perception of others being critical of you and the resulting self-defensive response are both likely to be habits you’ve developed over time. It may be that an important role model early on in your life demonstrated these strong reactions in the face of feedback or criticism, teaching you that this is the right way to respond. Alternatively, it may have been true that someone was overly critical of you at some point in the past, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily true now, nor that it’s true of all people. It’s just that your taught behaviour is to react, think and experience others’ behaviour and comments in line with your expectations of criticism, leaving your confidence and self-worth damaged, and you repeatedly feeling hurt and vulnerable.

Let’s look at why we develop these kinds of autopilot responses or habits. It is estimated that our autopilot drives 90% of our daily behaviour. When you engage in habits you do so without consciously thinking about what you are doing, leaving your brainpower available for other tasks. Repeated behaviour forms neurological pathways which are shortcuts in your brain for efficiently processing routine tasks.

Here’s an example: if you’re a driver, you’ll remember how when you were learning to drive each action was carefully considered and deliberate and now you do those things without thinking. The pattern of ‘mirror, signal, manoeuvre’ is now a habit, with a strong neurological pathway attached to it, leaving you free to think about the meeting you’re driving to, the scenery outside or the song on the radio. When you were concentrating on processing each task involved with this relatively complex action, you most likely filtered out all of these things, but now that a neurological pathway is in place, you have freed up the capacity to appreciate them.

If you frequently feel like you’re under fire, you may have developed an autopilot response of feeling attacked, criticised or somehow threatened and you may then become defensive, lash out or perhaps withdraw from the situation.

Whilst your autopilot is often useful in saving you time and energy because you don’t have to relearn what you’re doing every time you do it, when it causes you to automatically feel challenged and criticised this isn’t likely to boost your confidence and you need to retrain it.[1]

The good news is that you do have a choice in how you respond to others and you can decide to develop new responses and more helpful habits.

Ask yourself, how would I respond if someone’s comment, opinion or feedback genuinely wasn’t critical of me? If they were simply expressing a different opinion or toying with ideas, without a critical agenda?

Instead of shutting down and feeling offended, angry or hurt, what would it be like to listen, consider their point of view and even try out some of their ways of thinking or operating?

The fact is people will always have different opinions and perspectives on things. It isn’t personal. It happens to everyone!

And isn’t that how we develop and learn, through discussion with others? But you can only do that when you stop treating their opinions as criticisms of you and allow yourself to hear and consider their different point of view.

Of course, it may be that there are people in your life who are indeed overly critical or judgmental. However it’s your choice as to how you respond to these people and how you allow them to influence you. A defensive stance will only feed your negative emotions, whilst accepting their viewpoint calmly will not only leave your confidence intact, but also encourage them to hear your own views more clearly. Or frustrate them enough to stop the criticisms and judgements!

If the above resonates with you, try working through the following questions:

Developing greater resilience to criticism

  • Where in your life do you often end up feeling frustrated, annoyed or insecure? Who are the main ‘offenders’?
  • How would it feel to accept their viewpoint whilst still feeling strong in your own decisions or actions? To listen to others’ perspectives whilst not allowing them to challenge your own unnecessarily? Note down how you’d think and act when taking this calmer and more self-assured approach
  • How could your typical behaviour or responses in these situations be contributing to your negative experience? Be honest with yourself and consider options without trying to predict how the other person might respond. Give them, and yourself, a chanceThis exercise is not about taking responsibility for the other person but merely for yourself. They may still have flaws and, for you, annoying or inappropriate views or habits. This is about you finding out how you can encourage a more positive or better functioning relationship in order to boost your confidence in the relevant situation. If, however, you still feel certain that some people in your life are too critical, negative or judgmental it may be that you should consider doing a social audit! Because some people can, and do, have a big negative influence on the confidence of those around them.

Here are three ways in which this type of person could be affecting your confidence:

Making you feel guilty – Negative and judgmental people often make others feel obscurely guilty, as if they are somehow responsible and to blame for their own problems. If this is happening in your life, you probably find yourself walking on eggshells to make sure that you don’t say or do anything that will upset the person further, and every tiptoeing step will drain your confidence further.

DominatingNegative and judgmental people can exert power over those around them causing them to have to be overly careful before they act or speak. They dominate and dictate unhealthily within their relationships, and if this is happening to you it will leave your confidence drained.

Making you doubt yourselfBeing negative, cynical and miserable about life in general can give the impression of being knowledgeable and intelligent, or of having superior and profound philosophical knowledge that others (happy, ‘shallow’ people) can’t possibly appreciate. If you have someone like this in your life, you may soon find yourself doubting your own intelligence and worth.

Do any of these scenarios exist in your life? Then it may be time to consider whether you need certain people in your life if they do nothing but drain your confidence.

[1] Read more about this in an article by Julie Poland at

If you found this blog useful you might like to take a look at Charlotta’s book “Being More Confident” where you’ll find lots more useful tips.


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