Learning from Criticism

Learning from Criticism. Psychology Fanatic article header image

Learning from criticism is not easy. The ego intrudes, and criticism feels like rejection. Yet, criticism can be constructive, even when poorly presented, assisting with self-discovery and improvement. If we disregard messages because we perceive them as ignorant and malicious, we may miss golden nuggets of wisdom that is only available from external observations; much criticism is only available through others.

Certainly, some criticism has malicious intent. Instead of thoughtful messages for improvement, comments are laced with demeaning labels, presented with sharpness with an intent to hurt. We learn from this criticism as well. We learn to not spend too much time with these foes. Some criticisms come dressed in compliments, thinly disguised so the malignant message can still be received. We refer to these comments as passive aggressive.

Key Definition:

Criticism is an expression of disapproval of someone or something based on perceived faults or mistakes. Criticisms may be helpful or harmful depending on the underlying intent and content of the message.

We can divide Criticism into two types. One form of criticism is focused on the wrongness of a behavior or end product. For example, a reader may criticize my writing, grammar, or website design. They may do so thoughtfully or rudely. Often there is value in these criticisms. Another form of criticism is directed at the person with intent to shame them. The underlying goal is not to aid improvement but to destroy. Little wisdom can b learned from this mode of criticism.

Some Criticism Hurts

​Some messages hurt, challenging beliefs, behaviors or dreams. By instinctively disregarding all messages because they challenge our soundness or intelligence, we hobble personal development. Instead of gaining wisdom, we foolishly protect with defensiveness, missing valuable insights that provide opportunities to enhance skills, knowledge, or wisdom.

“Feedback is the breakfast of champions.”

~Ken Blanchard

Marshall B. Rosenburg wrote that “blame, insults, put-downs, labels, criticism, comparisons, and diagnoses are all forms of judgment” (2015). Depending how we perceive the judgment, they often hurt, signaling personal flaw. However, we are all flawed, and someone exposing a flaw may be helpful. We can learn from the criticism.

T. Franklin Murphy wrote, “negative Feedback slashes hopes, disrupts confidence and spikes fears—not just when poorly presented; sometimes it’s just poorly received. Some of us are fragile. Any correction, disapproval or well-meaning advice ignites protective emotions. Whether well-intended or not, we can learn from feedback—verbal and behavioral” (2018).

Not All Criticism Has Worth

​Not all criticism is valuable. There are false messages with malicious intent. Some insults are born from jealousies and bitterness. Other messages flow from those without helpful experiences, commenting without understanding. These messages give more insight into the character of the criticizer than the subject of their misguided comments.

In toxic homes, parents ruthlessly attack the children. Thoughtless parents pepper the young minds with criticism. Michael Eigen explains, “relentless criticism and warmth were so interwoven as to form an indistinguishable blend” (2019). These children often grow into adults that mimic their childhoods criticizing without tact. Under these circumstances, It is difficult for a child to learn from the criticism because parents deliver confusing the messages. Eventually, receivers of repeated denigrating remarks push away the criticism and ignore the advice.

In our age of anonymity, we have taken criticism to a new level. A quick trip online we can see destructive criticism in action. IN the media and on line “…people can feel empowered by devaluing someone else and shredding their creations. It takes years to write a book, to film a movie, or to prepare for a world championship competition. It only takes a few minutes to write a scathing criticism of them. Such antagonistic rivalries and zero-sum games stress out all involved and are harmful to our mental health” (2015, Kindle location 2,336).

Accordingly, both the giver and receiver of criticism have roles. The giver should criticize judiciously, and the receiver should listen for thoughtful messages. Only when both parties involved hold up their end of the bargain does learning effectively take place.

We Evaluate Source of Criticism

Because faulty messages are possible—and abundant, it’s easy to disregard valuable messages containing rich insights. We lose wisdom in the sludge, disregarding valuable messages to protect our egos. Our naturally competitive states get involved, our insecurities rise to the intrusions and wisdom suffers. We justify our arrogance, fears, and protections by blaming the advice as flawed.

“We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve.”

~Bill Gates

​However, many sources of criticism are valuable. People with experience and skills may offer thoughtful critiques that help. A valuable message from a trustworthy sources still may be poorly presented. For example, a person may be a masterful engineer but a terrible teacher. Her insight on engineering may be valuable even if her social skills are lacking. We can still learn from the expert criticism.

In conclusion, if we want wisdom, we must take time to listen, asking questions to better understand messages others convey, guarding against the protective recoiling of our ego. Once we clear the air of the normal interference, we can mindfully evaluate the message for value. Our humble approach opens the door of a listening heart, we gain wisdom and we create an atmosphere where ideas, knowledge and experience are welcome.

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Eigen, Michael (2019). Toxic Nourishment. Routledge; 1st edition

Kashdan, Todd B.; Biswas-Diener, Robert (2015). The Upside of Your Dark Side: Why Being Your Whole Self–Not Just Your “Good” Self–Drives Success and Fulfillment. Plume; Reprint edition,

Murphy, T. Franklin (2018). Accepting feedback. 4-13-2023. Accessed 5-5-2023.

Rosenburg, Marshall B. (2015). Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life: Life-Changing Tools for Healthy Relationships (Nonviolent Communication Guides). PuddleDancer Press; Third Edition, Third edition.

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