• Criticism comes in two forms: destructive and constructive. Both types of feedback point out our mistakes, flaws, or potential improvements.
  • But while constructive criticism uplifts, offers suggestions, and even provides possible solutions, destructive criticism is cutting, derogatory, and sometimes even mocks our failures.
  • Like it or not, we’re bound to receive both forms of feedback and can’t ultimately control what others share with us. But what we can control is our emotional response to criticism: A healthy response depends upon us learning self-acceptance.
  • Learning self-acceptance may require some life “renovations,” including cutting out toxic people, practicing reaffirming phrases, or even using thought replacement to root out negative thought patterns and steer clear of stewing in harmful emotions.
  • And just as importantly, we should gauge the nature of the criticism we’re offering to others. This starts with evaluating our emotional state, remembering our goal is to be constructive, and considering our relationship with the person we’re offering criticism to (we’re more likely to destructively criticize those we’re closest with).

Learning to accept criticism may not be high on your bucket list, but psychologically speaking, it should probably be recognized as an advanced art form that takes years to master. Because it’s hard. When we hear criticism from others, depending on our self-worth and the nature of the comment, we may retreat inward, becoming our own, even harsher, critics. Equally as damaging, we may also harbor resentment toward those who’ve pointed out our flaws, be they valid or not. 

But not all criticism is created equally: Psychologists recognize both constructive criticism and destructive criticism as two distinct forms of verbal feedback. While both have the potential to expose our shortcomings, constructive criticism can help foster a more positive growth mindset. Destructive criticism, on the other hand, can be emotionally damaging but isn’t 100% avoidable. Most importantly, whether the criticism we give or receive is constructive or destructive, our ability to practice self-acceptance defines our relationship with criticism.

Consider the Source of the Criticism

Criticism challenges us to reconsider at least some aspect of ourselves, something we may have overlooked—and provides an opportunity for self-growth. This essentially means we need to be able to examine ourselves for errors, without becoming overly self-doubtful in the process. With that in mind, no one can escape criticism completely, and becoming fearful of it can start to corrode your self-image and may even lead to mental health conditions or other concerns. 

You may have heard the old saying, “consider the source”; criticism isn’t any different. Criticism can take many forms and may come from family, friends, partners, our children, coworkers, supervisors, and neighbors. Being able to tell the difference between constructive criticism and destructive criticism can begin by: 

  • Doing a self-check-in before responding: If you automatically react defensively, you won’t be able to tell if the comment was destructive or constructive criticism. In fact, according to research, you might not even completely absorb what they’ve said if you respond by shutting down. 
  • Evaluating the emotional state of the person offering criticism: Those who feel angered, insecure, or jealous are most likely to launch destructive criticism at others in an attempt to satisfy their own sour mood. If you receive destructive criticism, examine whether the individual is angry, worried, or stressed about an unrelated situation or subject. But if what they say is friendly, neutral, and points out a problem (or even better, offers a solution you might’ve overlooked), thank them for sharing their input. And if it’s needed, let them know you’ll address their comments—a great example being a work supervisor who offers constructive criticism related to your job performance. 
  • Considering whether they’re speaking constructively or destructively: Does their comment offer you a way to improve upon the issue they’ve pointed out? Are they offering you help in solving a problem they’ve identified? Or are they speaking in absolute terms of failure, or wrong, pointing repeatedly at your error, and insulting you? 

This can only happen when we have a strong but flexible sense of self, one that allows us to listen without retreating mentally, or putting up emotional walls to avoid confronting difficult thoughts. We can’t always count on constructive criticism from others, and even destructive criticism has some kernels of truth baked in. With self-acceptance, we can encourage ourselves to take all forms of criticism in stride while honestly evaluating outside comments for their true value. 

Self-Acceptance Can Help You Absorb Criticism

Self-growth is a process much like gardening; let things go for a month, and you may find that what was once manageable has gotten quickly out of hand. The truth is likely that no one really likes unrequested criticism unless they already feel good about themselves enough to handle being criticized. Don’t feel inferior if you’re working on accepting yourself: It’s a life-long process for everyone. 

Try to: 

  • Eliminate negative influences in your life: Some people aren’t just critical, they’re toxic. Whether they mean to be, or are simply insecure themselves, self-acceptance will be difficult to attain with a toxic social network pulling you down. 
  • Practice re-affirming phrases: This type of positive reinforcement means that when you encounter constructive criticism, you may say to yourself, “I can use this feedback to improve myself.” When someone offers you destructive criticism, you might remind yourself, “My flaws don’t define me.” 
  • Use thought replacement therapy to steer yourself straight: If you find that criticism tends to send you into deeply critical, harsh, or even harmful thought patterns toward yourself, your mental “alarm” bells should be ringing. Whatever you may think about yourself in a negative state of mind isn’t balanced. Though it might be hard to steer yourself away from a mental pit, start small. Replacing these thoughts may involve simply noticing them, reminding yourself that criticism can be used and offered constructively—you may be overreacting. 

Learning to Offer Constructive Criticism

With the roles reversed, it can be equally difficult to honestly examine how you deal out criticism. Just as you might receive criticism from a multitude of sources, you probably take on an equally diverse set of titles in the lives of others: Partner, parent, child, sibling, coworker, community member (or even leader). In each of these roles you play, the criticism you offer probably affects those it’s directed at more than you realize. And you can help ensure that influence is as positive as possible. 

When offering criticism, remain: 

  • Mindful of your emotional state. If you’re feeling upset about something (even if it’s related), try and check your temper or tone. You’ll feel better about yourself if your criticism offers a solution to the other party. 
  • Cognizant of what your goal is for sharing criticism: Is your hope to help the other person improve something, or to notice how their actions or choices may be affecting others unknowingly? With a positive goal in mind, you’re less likely to start ripping into them with destructive criticism. 
  • Aware of your relationship with the person you’re criticizing: For better or worse, we’re unlikely to criticize our boss the way we might go after our partner. But the example goes to show that our relationship with the person we’re directing criticism at almost always comes into play. Being emotionally closer to someone shouldn’t be an opportunity to knock them down a few pegs. Family members, partners, and close friends are often the people with whom we speak the most harshly—but we can’t expect constructive criticism from them if we aren’t also giving it ourselves. 

Criticism comes in two primary forms—destructive and constructive criticism. We can’t always determine the nature of the criticism we receive, but our reaction to the feedback we get is entirely up to us. Self-acceptance, which comes with time and effort, makes this process easier. We can even assist ourselves by nurturing relationships that offer constructive criticism to us: By learning to offer this type of feedback ourselves.