Criticism can hurt in any situation, regardless of whether it has merit. While some people can consider and integrate helpful criticism and experience no lasting effect from it, others find it more difficult to accept and digest and experience extreme defensiveness and/or negative affect (anxiety, depression, anger, and shame).
High sensitivity to criticism is related to high levels of neuroticism, depression, fear of negative evaluation, pessimistic explanatory style, and low scores on self-esteem (Atlas, 1994). Oversensitivity to criticism can hinder an adaptive response to criticism, even when that criticism is constructive and intended to be helpful. Further, oversensitivity to criticism can develop into a fear of criticism, and this fear can result in avoidance of opportunities to receive critical feedback (Atlas, 1994).
While it may not be possible to avoid being criticized by people in life, one can learn to react and respond to it in more helpful and less damaging ways. One such way is to adopt a growth mindset, which means approaching criticism as an opportunity for personal growth and learning (Dweck, 2008). By comparison, approaching criticism with a fixed mindset would be to interpret this feedback as challenging and threatening to one’s capabilities.
In this exercise, clients will examine their tendency to be oversensitive to criticism, and they will explore how to reframe the experience of criticism as an opportunity for growth and learning.
This tool was created by Hugo Alberts (Ph.D.) and Lucinda Poole (PsyD).
The goal of this tool is to help clients adopt a growth mindset in the context of receiving criticism. By doing so, clients learn to view criticism as a means of improvement rather than a means to self-criticism and negative affect.
- The ‘Extracting Strengths from Problems’ tool would be a valuable complementary exercise to help clients identify strengths within the given problem.
- Clients may benefit from additional information about the benefits of adopting a growth mindset in life, such as the fact that people with growth mindsets are more likely to succeed academically because they are more motivated to learn, have a desire to work hard, are less discouraged by difficulty, and use more effective strategies for learning. In contrast, people with fixed mindsets are more likely to be debilitated by failure because they believe they cannot succeed.
- Atlas, G. D. (1994). Sensitivity to criticism: A new measure of responses to everyday criticisms. Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment, 12, 241-253.
- Dweck, C. S. (2008). Mindset: The new psychology of success. Random House Digital, Inc.