Sensitivity to Criticism: Kryptonite or Superpower?

man in superman capeYou might have heard the phrase, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” When it comes to being sensitive to criticism, that’s so true. Think about it. You have spent years and years recovering from other people sitting in judgment of you, and once you stop taking their comments personally, you become like a shield. Their nasty words finally bounce off of you faster than a speeding bullet.

That’s right. While friends and family are getting triggered left and right by those who criticize them, you can look confidently at them and exclaim, “That’s not about you. There’s never a reason for anyone to criticize you.” How cool to be able to counsel others, and how wonderful to have the confidence not to react when YOU are the target of someone else’s judgment. It’s like you’ve been vaccinated from criticism for the rest of your life.

How do you build up this Teflon surface when others keep throwing kryptonite at you? You go to counseling and start understanding the depth of despair that lives within the psyche of someone who is critical. You begin to recognize the negativity that is their blood that keeps them away from their depression, anxiety, or feelings of emptiness. You understand that their lethal language has nothing to do with you and everything to do with them dragging you down into their darkness.

You will be surprised when your therapist acknowledges that there is nothing wrong with you. “Really?” you may ask with a furrowed brow. After all, haven’t these bullies made you believe that you’re inadequate and shameful? I mean, they speak with such authority and denigration—how could you not believe them? They insist with such certainty that you are too fat, too thin, stupid, selfish, vulnerable, bad at relationships, difficult, needy, sensitive, uncoordinated, awkward, and embarrassing. How could they be wrong?

These people are masters at making you believe that you are flawed in some way merely because you are not living up to the standards they have created for you—standards that have no basis in reality. In counseling, with the help of an experienced and nonjudgmental therapist, you will be able to find the child self that you had to bury to keep yourself safe in the face of constant criticism.

After years and years of criticism, a person gradually loses their ability to trust in their thoughts and feelings. Like a virulent toxin, scolding words quickly poison the mind and heart of a child who is then left feeling hurt, rejected, ashamed, disabled, and confused. There is nothing these children can do to fight back, so, inevitably, they just lay down and say “uncle.”

Counseling will empower you to find your voice, talk back, and reclaim the confidence that was your birthright. You will learn that being reactive to criticism is normal. Negative words hurt everyone, but for those who are highly sensitive, criticism feels like being stabbed and brutally wounded. You will also learn about compassion, so that you, too, don’t become so critical of yourself and others.

But remember: Unlike Superman or Wonder Woman, who were born with their superpowers, humans have to learn them. It takes a long time to understand and undo the damage that was done to you and to learn healthy ways of expressing and protecting yourself. In the end, though, it is well worth it. Life and all of your relationships become easier, you have better self-esteem, and you finally feel safe expressing who you are.

Basically, no one can mess with you anymore. And that, my friends, is power.

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  • Celia

    March 21st, 2014 at 11:19 AM

    Criticism? It is my undoing. No matter how harmless someone could intend for it to be, or how helpful, I always take it a bit too personally and take it as they are looking at me negatively.

    Even when I can step back after a while and see that they were only trying to help or give me some pointers on how to do something a little better in the future it never strikes me quite like that in the beginning and well, I never do too well with that.

  • Melody

    March 21st, 2014 at 1:15 PM

    Depending on the day or who it’s coming from I guess it can go either way for me. I would like to say that I can always take something good away from it but there are always going to be times when it might just rub you the wrong way. Someone may mean well and it could fly all over you, but it could be a very innocent comment after all.

  • brandi a

    March 22nd, 2014 at 5:56 AM

    Try to take it all with a grain of salt.

    I lok at most of this stuff as coming from people as people who are probably so insecure about themselves that the only way they can feel good about themselves is to point out the flaws that they can come up with in me.

    I know that isn’t always the truth but it sometimes makes me feel a little better about what they’ve said and I can shake it off and move on.

    So all in all, I guess in many ways I let it make me a little stronger instead of letting it drag me down, I feel like that’s what they want so I refuse to be drawn down to their level.

  • Reesa

    March 22nd, 2014 at 1:38 PM

    It can kinda build you up though if you let it. Yeah it can tear you down too, but let it do something positive and influential instead of negative and degrading.
    Mostly though, most people mean well by it. They just are trying to help, and we all think that our way is the right way.

  • maye

    March 23rd, 2014 at 4:29 AM

    Finding your own voice can be so empowering. It is the chance that you have been looking for your whole life to finally be able to speak back and speak up, defebd yourself in a way that does not also sound critical or hypocritical toward another. It may be best sometimes to ignoe, but you also have to learn to defend yourself against the pain too.

  • John McGuir

    March 23rd, 2014 at 9:30 AM

    “You understand that their lethal language has nothing to do with you and everything to do with them dragging you down into their darkness.”

    This is so true. And also, it’s a cultural context thing. Our society is constantly conditioned to focus on the negative. A simply look at the media shows this. Such negative bias can have a big impact on mental health, and learning to immunise ourselves as much as possible is a big help.

    John McGuirk

  • Constance

    March 24th, 2014 at 3:47 AM

    While I wish that more of us could use it in a constructive way, I dare say that most of us simply choose to take the offense from it and look at it as something that is bad instead of a way to improve ourselves. Let’s face it, none of us are perfect and unfortunately there are plenty of people out there who are more than willing to point that out to us. They will all have their own reasons for doing it, and whatever those reasons are, soemtimes it will be warranted and sometimes not. But if you can choose to each and evry time walk away from it with something to gain from it, even if it is just the experience of walking away from someone toxic in your life, then you will have learned from it.

  • VAL

    March 24th, 2014 at 5:37 PM

    should it have to be either one?
    do you really have to care that much about the opinions of others to let it affect you that much?

  • gabby

    March 25th, 2014 at 3:52 AM

    I don’t necessarily wish to become that person that those words just bounce off me.
    That implies that I don’t feel anything at all, and quite frankly that’s not the person that I want to be.
    No, I don’t want the words that others say to hurt me or make me think less of myself.
    But you know there are times when they can sort of be thought provoking and make you see things a little differently than you may have before.
    That can actually be a good thing at times, an impetus for change that you may not have once recognized was necessary.

  • Mark

    March 25th, 2014 at 12:56 PM

    You are right about criticism wearing us down after years and years of hearing it.

    How could it not. Especially if you are a child and hear it at home and then you get it at school too. As we know, it is never poor teaching techniques that don’t allow a kid to learn. It is ADHD, every time. Now all we need is a doctor to confirm that mom and dad, and the school are right. That you are so “sick” they need to give you pills to straighten out all the problems you have.

    I do think that some kids need medication, but that should be rare, instead, it is alarmingly common.

    I think this is a tremendously dangerous course of action for parents, school, and doctors to be taking. It is a little like giving a kid a lobotomy because they misbehave.

  • Tyler T

    March 25th, 2014 at 3:29 PM

    everything you say bounces off me and sticks back on you.. or something like that… wasnt’ that the old playground taunt? that’s the mantra i try to live by

  • Sadie

    March 26th, 2014 at 4:57 PM

    Cute Tyler ;) Don’t you wish that in reality it was that easy?

  • Willie

    March 29th, 2014 at 6:45 AM

    I try to play it all off, like it doesn’t bother me all that much when on the inside it could be kiiling me, but I figure as long as I can play it off and look cool on the outside then no one will ever have to know

  • pamela

    June 5th, 2014 at 9:24 PM

    Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me is NOT TRUE.
    Some very insensitive remarks from a gung ho bully can definitely hurt one.
    I understand it’s not what they say it’s how one responds however the truth is that harsh, cruel, demeaning, negating, negative biased words against one self can be damaging.
    I have had to attend therapy for a long time to overcome the damage from a critical first family and accumulative traumas, all brought about by bullies who had free reign over me.
    Being highly sensitive I was too often the one every single person told me about their worries, fears and sadnesses. As an empath I couldn’t help but feel others pain so I felt the hurt of others to an extent which until some time ago wasn’t good for my self. One grows with healthy supports. we are none of us islands doing it all alone.
    We live in a world which presently only appears to value the bullies including gung ho go ahead at fastest pace possible people.
    It’s good to read what others have written here.
    We are part of the changes in the world.
    The world needs more intuitive, sensitive people who can stand up and say
    Stop, that’s not on, don’t put me down to put your self up.
    Don’t pour your emotional garbage onto me, I am not a doormat to be used this way.
    For the therapist who gets paid for their services of course they usually have to “hold” or “contain” their clients feelings and thoughts.
    They’re a special kind of empath whom I admire immensely.
    Bullies who criticise and put others down in derogatory ways have no ability to own their own, so they “project” their “rubbish” onto others. NOT ON in the 21st century. Not on for my self, my family you and your families and all who want peace with justice and a sane society which is healing not degrading.
    I see the future as having more sensitive attitudes and values as this is what is so lacking – the inner life of people – it’s importance.

  • pamela

    June 5th, 2014 at 9:38 PM

    I recommend Elaine Aron’s book: The Highly Sensitive Person How to thrive when the world overwhelms you by Elaine Aron.
    Those with “thin skin” as they call it don’t have to become hard, tough, cold, mean and bitter, rather love their in-the-minority traits and thrive.
    What is in the minority today may not be so tomorrow.
    What each of us is entitled to is freedom to create and grow.
    What the present international media shows us is not fair and not balanced.
    It is fear provoking and part of the condition of judging or critcising.
    I’m a life learner though, and understand people can sometimes be so frazzled they take it out on the one near by. Not fair or right yet it can happen. This is when the person who is impacted by the “frazzled” maybe needs to walk tall and throw the negativity up, out and far away into the ether.
    If the other is hostile, we all need to recognise this and walk away or ignore their “hostility”.
    I hope it’s o.k. to end with something I love:
    “I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet” by Gandhi.

  • Lenora F. Brown

    June 6th, 2014 at 7:53 PM

    Thanks so much for your comments. I wish I had heard them earlier. I have given up most out-side contacts because of 2 persons in 2 different activities that constantly critize me. They happen to be friends to each other but not to others. After all, they are members of the DAR!!! They think that makes them better than the rest of us. My father fought in WW1 and joined the Merchant Marines in WW2 since he was too old to be in the Army. I am very proud of him. Thanks again! I also get constant criticism from my Daughter-in-law. I can never please her. I am planning on going to therapy! Please don’t print my comments.

  • Monkey madness

    January 16th, 2017 at 3:00 PM

    “You understand that their lethal language has nothing to do with you and everything to do with them dragging you down into their darkness.”

    Scenario: You are a manipulative psychopath and your partner has finally stood up for themselves do you:
    A) See how you’ve been destroying them for years and admit you may be imperfect. Or:
    B) Glibly declare, “How dare you drag me down into your darkness. You’re always critcizing me. You make out the gimp box is my fault. Get back in there and stop making me feel bad.”

    My point is this, even sociopaths will feel criticized sometimes.

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