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How Your Fear of Criticism Could Be Limiting Your Life

Assertiveness is the key to freeing yourself from worry.

Key points

  • If you worry that someone might say something negative, the fear of criticism may stop you.
  • If someone tries to put you down, using assertiveness skills will help you feel more confident and in control.
  • You have a right to set boundaries and end any conversation if it's unkind or hurtful.
Yan Krukov/Pexels
Learning to face critics, reduces your fear of them
Source: Yan Krukov/Pexels

Most people are afraid of criticism. Nobody likes to be told their idea is dumb or that they made a mistake. If you worry that someone might say something negative, the fear of criticism may even stop you before you start.

Where did the fear of criticism come from? For many of us, it began in childhood. We were told by well-meaning adults not to be so "sensitive" or that we needed to "toughen up." Over time, we started to believe that criticism was a bad thing, something to be avoided at all costs.

The problem is that this fear can hold us back from achieving our goals and living our best lives. If we're constantly worried about what others think of us, we'll never take the risks necessary to reach our full potential.

How can you overcome your fear of criticism? There is one surefire way to help, learn to push back. Assertiveness is key. When you're able to speak up for yourself and stand your ground, criticism becomes much less daunting.

When I start working with clients on assertiveness, I like to help them find a few push-back phrases they can keep handy until they have had more time studying different approaches to assertiveness. It's amazing how much it helps to keep a few gentle pushbacks ready for the right moment. Here are a few examples:

"That's an interesting point of view. I'm not sure I agree, but I'm open to hearing more."

"I see what you're saying, and I understand why you feel that way. At the same time, I have a different perspective."

"Thank you for sharing your opinion with me. I'll take it under consideration."

Learning to push back in a respectful way is a powerful tool that will help you overcome your fear of criticism and start living your best life.

But what if someone is more aggressive? It's okay to ask them to stop or to leave the conversation. Here are a few things you can say when someone crosses a line or is disrespectful (without becoming disrespectful yourself):

"I don't appreciate being treated this way. I would like you to stop."

"This conversation is over. I'm not going to continue talking to you if you're going to be disrespectful."

"I'm not comfortable with the way this discussion is going. Let's take a break and come back to it later."

Learning to set boundaries is an important part of assertiveness, and it's something you can practice in all areas of your life, not just when someone criticises you.

Remember, not all criticism is a bad thing. It's an opportunity to learn and grow. Sometimes the main thing you're learning and practicing is setting boundaries. When you're able to handle it with grace and confidence, you'll be amazed at what you can achieve.

Other times, you might be receiving some good feedback that will help you make positive changes to your project, your plans, or your approach. Good feedback (as opposed to criticism) looks like this:

"I noticed that you're having trouble finishing your project on time. What can I do to help?"

"Your presentation could use some work. May I offer a few suggestions?"

"You seemed really nervous during your speech. I don't know if you would find this helpful, but I really found working with a therapist and practicing with Toastmasters helped me with my own speaking anxiety."

In each of these cases, the speaker is offering helpful feedback with the intention of helping you improve. They're not trying to put you down or make you feel bad, they want to see you succeed. Criticism, on the other hand, is usually negative and meant to tear you down. It might sound like this:

"Your project is a mess and it's never going to be finished on time."

"Your presentation was terrible. I can't believe you said that."

"You were so nervous during your speech. You totally bombed it."

This criticism is meant to hurt, and it's not helpful or constructive in any way. If you're receiving criticism like this, it's important to stand up for yourself. Remember, you have a right to set boundaries and end the conversation if it's not going the way you want.

The Olympic athletes of assertiveness are comedians. They have to get up on stage and learn how to manage hecklers. Most people incorrectly assume that comedians are naturally good at shutting down loudmouths in the audience. However, most have to practice and learn how to do it effectively.

Here are a few tips from comedians on how to handle criticism:

Acknowledge the criticism, but don't dwell on it.

Use self-deprecating humor to diffuse the situation.

Be assertive and set boundaries.

Don't take yourself too seriously.

Remember that you're in control of the situation.

Applying these tips to your own life will help you feel more confident and in control when someone tries to put you down. Also, most of my clients love this homework assignment: Visiting Youtube and searching for comedians getting heckled. Each comedian has their own style, and most people are able to find someone who comes close to matching an assertive style that would feel more natural to them.

Johnny Carson had a style that most people could adopt. Calm, cool, and nonchalant. Zach Galifianakis has my favorite comeback of all time, when he asked a heckler, "What's your deal?" It's a brilliant comeback because it's not aggressive (with the right tone), but curious. It doesn't take on the criticism directly but goes to the heart of the intention of the critic. It changes the direction of the conversation and puts the critic in the hot seat.

The next time you’re faced with criticism, or are feeling anxious about being criticized, remember that while it gives you an opportunity to learn and grow, you can push back, set boundaries, and have the power to control the situation. Be confident and assertive, and don’t let it hold you back from living your best life.

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