Sometimes criticism isn’t an easy thing to take, but your reaction to it can have a big impact on your mental and physical well-being. Your reaction can also speak volumes about your character.
During the current presidential campaign, we've seen plenty of examples of how not to react to criticism. Every candidate experiences criticism, whether it’s coming from the public, the media, colleagues or other candidates. Sometimes it's confronted gracefully and sometimes it results in blame and attack on others.
It’s something we've all had to deal with, but if you don’t see examples of how to handle criticism in a healthy way or take time to step back and digest it before responding, it can create instant defensive feelings that can lead to negative or even explosive episodes.
Angie Cerniglia, a licensed professional counselor and family therapist with New Leaf Resources’ Crown Point location, says that there are two things to keep in mind when encountering criticism: how to handle it in the moment, and how to handle it after the fact. “Initially we will be defensive,” she says. “It doesn’t feel good and we tend to react emotionally. It’s healthy to try and delay the response or not react out of an emotional response.” She suggests practicing “the art of the pause.”
By taking a moment to be silent and take deep breaths, “it gives enough space to decide if you’re in a place to respond or if you need to step away and process," Cerniglia says. "Some people are very good at noticing it's happening and . . . say, ‘I see your point, but I disagree.’ Some people need more time and can’t do it in the moment.” Taking deep breaths also calms your body down from the adrenaline rush. “If we react emotionally, we often don’t feel good about it later."
Michael Cortina, director of outpatient services for Merrillville-based Regional Mental Health Center, agrees that it's helpful not to respond right away. He mentions the phrase “get curious before you get furious”—taking a step back and looking at the intent and validity of the criticism at a later time is best.
“One of the first things to do is distinguish between whether the criticism is something of value and constructive versus false insults," Cortina says. "Look at the intention behind it. Is it meant to help you grow or tear you down?” He also urges not to take it personally. “If the intention is to tear down and it’s completely false, you need to rethink the whole thing. The content of the criticism says more of the person making it than the recipient.”
Cerniglia says that if you’re able to come back to it later, you can take time to determine if you need to respond. “Oftentimes we can feel very personally attacked rather than realizing that it could be something going on for the person doing the criticism. You have to depersonalize it and put it in context. If there is validity to it, it can be a growth moment for you, and figure out why it is a deep wound for you.”
She also notes that criticism coming from a spouse or someone you love can carry more weight. “Obviously, we react differently depending on what the person means to us.”