How to Deal With Criticism: Positive Ways to Embrace the Good & Ignore The Bad

Back when I first started my business, I envisioned how it would look years down the road.

I dreamed of the day when I’d be lucky enough to work with really talented people like the ones who fill my company now.

I fantasized about having work/play “getaways” in gorgeous places with tons of healthy food and ample supplies of markers and flip charts.

I imagined the millions of people we’d reach, the projects we’d knock out of the park, and the impact we’d make on the world.

But that was a fantasy I didn’t tell many people about for years.

Why?

Because I was afraid that my idea was dumb and I’d be judged for it.

I was afraid of dealing with criticism.

Twenty years later, I now see how silly that was. But at the time the fear of criticism felt very real and very intimidating.

Since growing my business to what it is today, I’ve dealt with my share of criticism. Sometimes it’s a useful tip from a well-intentioned friend to improve my life. A lot of times it’s an uncreative comment from a bored clown biscuit online.

Either way though, criticism can offer a moment of growth — if you know how to deal with it.

How to Deal With Criticism Positively 

If you ever let the fear of what other people will say stop you from creating to your full potential or don’t know how to handle criticism, the MarieTV episode below is for you.

You’ll learn four critical points to keep in mind about criticism, as well as two of my all-time favorite quotes on the subject. If you want more tips and clear steps on how to handle criticism in the moment, keep reading after the video.

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Check out this episode on The Marie Forleo Podcast

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People handle criticism (or the fear of it) so differently. If you’re not careful, the fear of judgement can freeze you in your tracks, keeping you from taking real-life action. 

Don’t let criticism stop you from doing the work you were born to do. 

It’s time to stop hiding your gifts from the world and start embracing the inevitable criticism that comes with creativity.

How Do You Not Let Criticism Bother You?

As long as there is creativity, there will be criticism of it.

If your goal is to avoid criticism, as Aristotle said, “Say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.”

If you’re going to do anything in life, you’re going to have critics. As you grow and gain more and more awesome fans, you’ll also gain more and more critics. It comes with the territory. But it doesn’t have to tear you down.

Here are four things you need to know about criticism:

  1. You’re being judged and criticized right now. People judge the clothes you wear, music you listen to, your politics, stuff you own, personal beliefs, how you spend your money, how you raise your kids, what car you drive, where you live, who you worship, and who you love. Be honest: You judge yourself, too. Human beings are judging machines.
  2. The bigger game you play, the more criticism you’ll receive. It’s just how it goes. The more you put yourself out there — and the bigger difference you make — the more people come out the woodwork to tear you down.
  3. Always consider the source. I’ve never received a piece of hurtful, vitriolic criticism from anyone I admire or respect. Most successful people don’t have time to harshly criticize others. They’re too busy making change and living their lives. The harshest critics are often bystanders on the sidelines of life who risk nothing and create nothing.
  4. Use what helps. Leave the rest. Most criticism is irrelevant. It’s just someone’s opinion. And you know the saying: Opinions are like a certain part of human anatomy. Everyone has one, and most of them stink. But don’t be so fragile that you miss information that could help you. When you hear criticism, ask yourself, “Is there any part I can use to grow and do better?”

What Does Criticism Do to a Person?

You may be the most confident, successful person in the world — but criticism can still hit like a ton of bricks. It can make you feel like a failure. Inadequate. Embarrassed. Exposed. 

Constant or manipulative criticism can be extremely destructive and aggravate feelings of depression or anxiety, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

Words are powerful. No question about that. But here’s what you need to remember: not all criticism is bad. 

Constructive criticism is a valuable tool that can help you grow. The trick is knowing what’s helpful and what’s not worth your time or attention. 

Constructive criticism

Supportive and caring folks usually share advice with you in private, after you’ve asked for their input. When they do, they do it in a way that will boost your growth, not stunt it by making you fearful or self-conscious.

The people closest to me offer this kind of constructive feedback. I’m grateful they look out for me, and I work hard to do the same for them.

Unsure whether a piece of criticism is constructive or not? After conducting a series of focus groups, some academic researchers created a model for constructive criticism that includes these three elements:

  1. You need to respect the critic and believe they care about you.
  2. The message must be well-intentioned, targeted, and offer specific guidance for improvement.
  3. You must be motivated to change.

Destructive criticism

Sometimes someone says something so horrible about you or your work that you’re left thinking, “Oh my god! How could someone be that mean?”

That’s not cool.

Insults don’t help you learn or grow, and people who lob them at you don’t care about making change. You don’t have to tolerate anyone being mean or cruel.

Don’t let someone come into your house and take a hot steamy dump on your living room floor.

If that happens in person, walk away. If it’s online, delete, disengage, block, unsubscribe — flush that dump down the toilet.

Sometimes mean things stick with you for a while, but remember: If mean words keep popping up in your mind, don’t let them drop down and poison your soul. Those insults say less about you and far more about the person who said them.

Use those insults to fuel your fire. 

Prove those nasty naysayers wrong. Use their severely misguided opinion to inspire you to be an even greater success than you already know you’re going to be.

How Do You Handle Criticism?

Once you recognize the criticism you’re receiving is constructive, you can receive it and use it to learn and grow. This takes practice, but will be well worth the effort.

If you’re feeling triggered when someone gives you constructive criticism, here are some steps that will help you process the feedback and respond with kindness:

  1. Do a body scan. Notice your initial reaction by how you feel in your body. Do you feel yourself stiffening in defense or heating up with embarrassment? Do you feel anxiety in your stomach or hear negative self-talk in your head?
  2. Take a beat. Before you respond, take a breath, relax tension in your muscles. If you don’t feel emotionally prepared to receive feedback, ask to have the conversation another time when you can show up ready to listen and respond calmly.
  3. Say “you’re right.” These magical words can diffuse any contentious situation. Consider what might be true about the criticism, and acknowledge it. Repeat the critique back in your own words to show you’re listening and to make sure you understand.
  4. Thank them. Offering feedback isn’t easy, so thank the critic for caring about your growth and development, and trusting you enough to share it with you.
  5. Turn it into action. After the conversation (or during, depending on who you’re talking to), make a plan to change. The person offering criticism might have suggestions, but ultimately, you know the best way to incorporate this new insight into your life. It’s up to you to take consistent action.

Most importantly, remember that responding to criticism doesn’t include making excuses, rationalizing, apologizing, or arguing your case. You don’t have to justify yourself or convince someone they’re wrong. Just listen, and use what helps.

Insult-Proof Your Ego

If the words coming your way belong in the category of destructive criticism, know this: You don’t have to respond to it or change yourself.

Yes, it will still sting sometimes.

But If you’re going to do anything in this world, you’re going to get haters. These people don’t know you and they share their opinions with you, anyway. And it’s usually mean and in public, i.e. social media.

Don’t give them your power.

People can say whatever they want, but you don’t have to take it in or let it ruin your day. Your time on this earth is precious, and you have to protect your soul.

Make this your new mantra for anytime some nasty criticism or BS comes your way: You cannot take me down; I will not give you that power.

With your power intact, here’s another simple way to salve the sting of a nasty critique: Have a good laugh.

Laughter disarms anything you find scary. Once you find the humor in something, it’s hard to take it seriously. 

In case you’re not ready to laugh at your own critics yet, watch this MarieTV where I share some “feedback” from my critics — and have loads of fun laughing it off.

Are You Ready to Embrace Criticism?

I’ll wrap up with one of my favorite quotes about criticism, from Teddy Roosevelt:

“It’s not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again, because there is not effort without error and shortcomings.

“But who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

Now, let’s turn this insight into action…

Take 5 to 10 minutes today and practice receiving criticism by giving your critics the mic.

Not literally. Instead, in your journal, go off on yourself:

  1. Write the exact words you’d be crushed to hear about what you’re creating or doing.
  2. Take a deep breath, and read it to yourself or aloud to a soulmate.

Boom! The worst anyone can say about you has already been said.

When you bring your fears to light, they lose all their power. How can anyone hurt you now?

Bring on the critics. You got this.

With so much love,

XO

How to Get Over the Fear of Being Judged by Others

Can I let you in on something?

I feel fear and self-doubt about my business and passions every single day. That’s feel, present tense — and I’ve been running this business for over 20 years.

In my early 20s, when I made my living doing many things — coaching, bartending, waiting tables, cleaning toilets, personal assisting, teaching fitness and dance — I was terrified of being judged by others.

I had self doubt out the wazoo, especially when it came to talking about my work with family and friends. I started my life-coaching practice at age 23. What did I even know about life? What would people think? Most people had never even heard of a “life coach” in the nineties.

When you forge your own path and step outside of the norm, you will be judged by others. And often, that judgment can feel harsh.

Often, the more unconventional you are, the more you can expect to have that “nobody gets me” feeling and all the fear and anxiety that comes along with it.

Especially in the beginning stages, when the people around you may not even understand what you’re trying to do, it’s crucial to get this fear under control.

Today I’m answering a question from Shannon who wrote in to ask:

I often feel like my family and friends don’t understand me, my passions, or my business. How do you get over the fear of judgement by others, especially from your family?

This is such a common question, especially from those of us following a different path than our friends and families.

How do you get over the fear of being judged by others so you can stay true to yourself and keep on truckin’ toward your dreams?

The Psychology Behind the Fear of Being Judged

To get over your fear, you should first understand where it’s coming from.

Let’s start with some A’s to your Q’s… 

What Is the Fear of Being Judged?

We all have moments when we’re afraid of people’s judgment, no matter how confident we are.

It’s that feeling of stiffening up before you speak or biting your tongue because you’re worried what someone might think.

Sometimes this fear manifests as going along with something you don’t agree with just to be liked. Or feeling indecisive when you know you can’t please everyone.

You can’t be an important and life-changing presence for some people without also being a joke and an embarrassment to others. Here’s advice from Mark Manson how to stop caring about things that don’t matter and get on with what does.

An extreme fear of being judged in social situations might be a symptom of socialized anxiety disorder (a.k.a. “social anxiety”), which you can learn more about from the National Institute of Mental Health.

These tips for confronting your fear will help you build confidence and reduce your fear, but you may want to talk to someone about mental health treatment if you think you suffer from social anxiety.

Why Do We Care about Other People’s Judgments?

Have you ever felt insecure talking about what you do for a living? Or worried that everyone thinks you’re a fraud?

Your specific fear usually points to what’s most important to you, not necessarily to other people.

For many of us, we fear others will judge us for the things we judge in ourselves. We internalize critical thoughts like:

You don’t make enough money.

You should be married by now.

You have no idea how to run your own business.

You’re not good enough.

When you tell yourself these nasty lies, it’s easy to believe everyone else is thinking them, too.

I’ve been there.

When I was working several side jobs and launching my business, I was so scared people would think I was unfocused, flaky, or unprofessional. Why? Because I believed the myth that successful professionals stick to one thing.

Now, instead of trying to force myself into a career box, I embrace the power of being a multipassionate entrepreneur.

Caring about what others think of you doesn’t mean you’re weak, immature, or broken. It means you’re human.

Why Do We Hate Being Judged?

Humans are social animals. We crave community. Not in the way we crave mint chocolate chip ice cream, but in the way we crave broccoli. It’s essential to our well-being.

In psychology, our need for community is called “belongingness” (which sounds like a word a blogger invented, but it’s the real deal).

According to researchers, the need to belong “is so basic to human behavior that the first premise of virtually every theory of social or cultural behavior could be that people have a pervasive drive to form and maintain at least a minimum quantity of lasting, positive, and significant interpersonal relationships.”

On a biological level, feeling socially anxious stems from our need to be socially safe to survive.

And judgment = threat to your belonging. No wonder judgement is scary AF.

6 Steps to Get Over the Fear of Being Judged

Fearing the judgment of others is natural, normal, and no one escapes it entirely. So what’s the big deal? Especially if you do unconventional work or have unusual life goals, this fear could be holding you back.

Don’t let it. The world needs what you have to offer.

In this MarieTV, I share four action steps to help you get over the idea “Nobody gets me!” Keep reading after the video for two more ways to dissolve your fear.

DIVE DEEPER: Setbacks happen. Here’s how to stop feeling like a failure, get back up, and keep moving forward.

You’ve got important work to do. Take these six steps to let go of self-doubt and avoid being paralyzed by the fear of being judged:

  1. Don’t invite judgment. When we’re insecure about what we do, we might unwittingly nudge others to judge us for it. Like when you steer the conversation toward what you do for a living or nudge someone to ask you about your dreams for your future.
  2. Stop judging yourself. When you stop judging yourself, people will miraculously find less to judge about you. This doesn’t mean you have to be confident 100% of the time — all of us feel fear and self-doubt regularly. To keep working anyway, turn your focus outward to the people you serve, and away from your inner critic.
  3. Don’t assume people are judgmental a-holes. Sometimes, what you interpret as judgment from someone is just a lack of understanding. Have you ever taken the time to explain to them what you do? Give them a chance to get it before dismissing their lackluster response as judgey.
  4. Stop chasing people’s approval. OK, so maybe they are judging you. So what? You can’t change what people think about you, so don’t waste energy trying. Be true to yourself to achieve your true purpose.
  5. Be happy. I know that sounds trite, but here’s the thing: It’s hard for people to judge or criticize you if you’re happy, making money, and enjoying your life.
  6. Get a power posse. Pull together a group of people you can hang with and never have to explain what you do for a living. For me, that’s a group of other online business owners. When I’m with them, I never have to explain what a “funnel” is — that’s how I know I’m home.

Let Go of Judgment

The fear of harsh judgment can be creatively and spiritually debilitating, but only if you let it.

When you surround yourself with people who get what you do, let go of your own self judgment, and learn to love your life without others’ approval, you can let go of the fear and get on with sharing your special gifts with the world.

Now it’s time to turn this insight into action.

Grab a notebook, and spend five to 10 minutes writing your answers to these questions:

  1. Imagine the criticism you fear actually happens. What are three constructive and healthy ways you would deal with it?
  2. Write down 10 things you’d do if you had absolutely zero fear of judgment or criticism. Then pick one — and do it!

XO