The Double-Edged Sword of Criticism

It can build you up, but it can also break you down.

It can boost your confidence, but it can also shatter your self-image.

It can drastically improve your life, but it can also challenge your personal identity.

What is it?

I’m talking about criticism.

Criticism is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it can enhance your day-to-day life and relationships. Criticism brings honesty, accountability, and depth into a conversation. However, on the other hand, criticism can cause you to doubt yourself, to feel discouraged, and to drown in negative self-talk.

That’s why knowing how to deal with criticism is vital to improving yourself in not only your personal life, but your professional life, as well.

But before we talk about how to deal with criticism, we have to acknowledge that there are two distinct types of criticism: constructive and destructive. Noticing the difference between these two types is crucial because we can often mistake loving criticism as a personal attack.

Constructive criticism

Constructive criticism is intended to help us improve. It comes from a desire for open communication leading to a deeper relationship. Most often, constructive criticism comes from a person that seeks our good, not our harm. It can help us to see our flaws clearly and to ask forgiveness when we wrong someone. In fact, over time, constructive criticism strengthens our character and gives us a well-rounded, humble view of ourselves.

Destructive criticism

Destructive criticism is intended to humiliate and control. When you receive destructive criticism, you can assume that, in that moment, they do not have your best interest at heart. Everyone makes mistakes and says things that they regret, but destructive criticism goes a step further. It is used to put others down, to harm their self-image, and to manipulate their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Destructive criticism is just what it sounds like… destructive.

The ways you deal with these two types of criticism will look different, but whether you receive constructive or destructive criticism, it’s crucial to know how to handle it. Whether you’re at home, at work, or out with friends, critical comments will occasionally come for all of us.

Are you ready to deal with them?

I’m about to outline some steps that can help you deal positively with any type of criticism.


Right as you hear the critical message, whether the message is constructive or destructive, you must give yourself time to process it before you respond. You may feel sad or angry. You may feel like the person speaking has hurt your feelings. But as you work through these emotions, be sure to process the information given to you before reacting. Take some deep breaths and determine why the criticism was delivered.

Ask yourself a few questions. Does this comment point out something in me that I need to change? Do I have a close/loving relationship with this person? Do they seem to be coming from a place of concern and humility? Is there some truth to what this person is saying?

Thinking before you react will allow you to avoid unnecessary conflict, pain, or embarrassment.


If you determine that there is no truth to the critical message, it may be appropriate to use a technique called distraction. This means that you calmly acknowledge the statement. Without becoming defensive or upset, you can simply state that you have heard what the person has said to you.

This technique can include general responses such as, “I appreciate that you shared your opinion with me.” Avoiding a confirmation or denial of what they said shuts down the possibility for argument, puts the other person at ease, and may even allow you to change the subject.

However, if you determine that there is truth to the criticism, you are free to humbly admit that. This is one of the hardest yet most rewarding responses to criticism. By admitting fault, you take ownership of your imperfections and allow personal growth to take place.

You can acknowledge constructive criticism by using phrases such as, “You’re right, I’m sorry,” or “That’s my mistake.” Admitting your mistakes or flaws breaks the barrier of pride and stimulates a fuller self-awareness.

Be sure to avoid using the word “but” when accepting criticism, as this leaves room for defensiveness to creep into your response.

If you are unsure whether or not there is truth to the critical comment, you may want to ask the person to give you more detailed feedback. Not only will this help you gain more information, but it will help the person delivering the criticism to clarify the facts of their perspective.

For example, imagine that your coworker tells you that your work is sloppy. In response to this criticism, you can ask about your coworker’s expectations of work performance. In this way, you can strive to meet those expectations if appropriate instead of trying to figure out what your coworker means by “sloppy.” Since everyone has different expectations, a simple adjustment to your workday might be all you need to resolve the criticism.


Remember that you cannot control others – only yourself. When you find yourself on the receiving end of criticism, you get to choose how you respond. You can either ignore or embrace the criticism, depending on its type (constructive or destructive) and source.

Criticism can build you up or break you down.

The choice is yours!


  1. Sharon G. Carruthers says:

    I agree and can see how criticism can build me up or break me down. The suggestions for effectively handling criticism are practical and easy to implement – (1) pause and reflect before responding (2) assess motive based on the giver of criticism (3) admit and thank if there is merit and (4) clarify expectations, or acknowledge the comment, indicate appreciation for their sharing, and move on if not true or harmful.

    What if that criticism is from yourself – self-criticism? What if you are constantly criticizing yourself?

    • Anne says:

      Self-criticism is the most difficult. Isn’t it!? Whether from childhood experience, internalizing other people’s criticism, or something else, self-criticism is a challenge because we ruminate over and over again about how we fall short. How to deal with it, then? Really with much of the same as what was mentioned above. Self-criticism is self-talk. So, talk back. Let’s chat about it!:)

  2. Stacy Sorrells says:

    This was quite helpful from both being a receiver and a giver of criticism. I can only hope to have the self control to think before reacting and to objectively consider what is being said. In the same way, I hope that when I deliver a criticism I will consider carefully the feelings of the other person treating them with love and respect. Thank you so much for sharing this with me.

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