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Anxiety and Perceived Criticism
Orlando Therapist Shares How CBT Can Help

No one enjoys being criticized. Even “constructive criticism” in the form of performance reviews and feedback or implicit criticism that consists of helping you when you feel you don’t need help or unsolicited advice, is often difficult to take. For individuals suffering with anxiety, it can be particularly challenging to receive criticism because criticism often brings up one’s worst fears of being judged or demeaned.

Sensitivity to criticism is an aspect of all anxiety disorders and of social anxiety, in particular. Imagine a simple criticism: your boss tells you that your approach when handling your customer was wrong.   A person without an anxiety disorder would likely accept the criticism, consider the comment objectively and make an adjustment to their approach the next time they interacted with a customer. They may also consider the comment as a worthwhile, yet differing, opinion. A person with an anxiety disorder would likely have an entirely different reaction. Given the same criticism, the anxious individual would probably feel humiliated, judged and rejected. In addition, the person with anxiety would probably also become sensitive about how they reacted: Did they blush or stammer? Did they look silly or unprofessional? Then the anxious person begins to berate herself, “How could I have been so stupid! I should have known better!” In other words, the self-critical voice that’s in your head continues to criticize long after the actual or perceived criticism has ended.

Common thought errors include:

Mind Reading. You tell yourself that you know exactly what your boss is thinking without having sufficient evidence. You tell yourself, “He thinks I’m incompetent”.

Fortune Telling. You predict the future negatively. “I’ll probably get fired”.

Should Thinking. You tell yourself that you should have known better, which makes you feel badly about yourself. You may also tell yourself that he should not have criticized you, which makes you feel angry and resentful toward your boss.

Catastrophizing. The criticism is viewed as a catastrophe. You tell yourself that the event is absolutely horrible and unbearable.

Labeling. You assign global negative traits to yourself and your boss. “I’m so incompetent” and “He is such a rotten person to have dcriticize me”.

Negative Filtering. You focus mostly on the negatives and discount any of the positives. “Everyone at the office thinks I am incompetent and no one likes me”.

Blaming. You refuse to take any responsibility for changing yourself and believe that your boss is the sole source of your negative feelings. “He is to blame that I feel so anxious”.

Emotional Reasoning. You allow your emotions to be the only guide of reality. “I am feeling anxious, which means that this isn’t the job for me”.

Inability to Disconfirm. You reject any evidence that might refute your negative ideas. For example, when you have the idea “I am lousy at my job”, you reject any evidence that you have done your job well countless times.

This unhealthy way of thinking makes you feel like you’re getting attacked every time you are criticized. Not only does it make you feel anxious, it also makes you feel angry and causes you to think nasty things about the person who criticized you. Often it causes you to believe that the person who criticized you doesn’t like you at all and that he is out to get you.

Because you’re human, you will make mistakes and no matter how much you try, it’s impossible to please everyone. This means that criticism is unavoidable.

So how can you learn to take criticism without becoming anxious, defensive, and angry?

  1. Listen. Really listen to what is being said. Try to remain objective. Is there some truth in what is being said?
  2. Look for common trends. Have you begun to notice that you’re being criticized for similar things over and over? Even though you may not think there is a problem, if you begin to notice a pattern, there may be something you need to change.
  3. Don’t get defensive. It’s important not to make excuses. Instead, say that you’ve heard what they are saying and let them know how you’ll handle the situation differently next time.
  4. Ask for help. Asking how you can improve lets the individual who gave the criticism know that you take their feedback seriously and that you would like to work on doing better.
  5. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Remember that everyone makes mistakes and with the right attitude, we can learn from our mistakes. Nobody’s perfect.

At GroundWork Counseling in Orlando, our practice is guided by the most current evidence-based practices available, with therapists who have specific training. We utilize Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which research has shown to be most effective in reducing anxiety symptoms and improving quality of life for individuals with anxiety disorders. In short, we focus on what works.

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