Being on the receiving end of negative feedback is an experience most of us can relate to. It might be feedback about something a person has done, the way they act, their appearance, or their performance in a job. In any of these situations, the natural human tendency is to want to be liked and thought of in good terms.
Of course, that is not always possible in a world where not everyone gets a trophy and some people come in third. Sometimes being on the receiving end of negative criticism is unavoidable. When it happens, how you react can determine whether the experience is supportive of or detrimental to your self-growth.
How to Know if You’re Hypersensitive to Feedback
An article in TIME defined hypersensitivity using “three factors that can be used to measure our sensitivity to feedback”:
- Baseline – a person’s general level of happiness
- Swing – how far up or down a person’s mood will go in response to positive or negative feedback
- Recovery – how long it takes a person to return to their baseline after negative feedback
In other words, someone who may be emotionally wired to have a lower baseline and who experiences a big downward swing and slow recovery in response to negative feedback is probably hypersensitive.
What Hypersensitivity May Mean
If receiving any feedback that is less than stellar throws a person into a nosedive of obsessively negative thoughts and feelings, this hypersensitivity can inhibit their personal development, contribute to dishonesty and other issues in their relationships, and even impact their mental health. (Explore how people are overcoming mental health issues like depression at FHE Health.)
Hypersensitivity may also mean that someone is perfectionistic and sets too high a standard for their performance. They may think that anything less than an A+ is total failure and may misconstrue the real intention of the communication.
When a person is hypersensitive to feedback, it may also reveal self-esteem issues. These might be bubbling under the surface and come out when feedback is mistakenly perceived as a personal attack or putdown.
8 Tips for How to Get Over Hypersensitivity to Negative Feedback
Some people are just wired from birth to be more emotionally sensitive, so recovery from hypersensitivity will come more easily for some than others. Still, there are things that even the most hypersensitive person can do to take negative feedback in stride and avoid the self-sabotaging nosedive.
1. Acknowledge how and when feedback can be valuable
“How does this look on me?” is a loaded question. Everyone wants to hear, “super,” “fabulous,” “so sexy,” or the like. When someone shrugs their shoulders in response, it can be a letdown, assuming that what was put on was meant to impress.
But there is the other side of the coin, too. A trusted friend may say something tactfully, and their honesty can be a lifesaver—because those plaid pants and plaid top probably wouldn’t look good on anyone. A good friend can tell it like it is, and that can be appreciated.
2. Remember that someone’s feedback typically reveals more about them than you
People generally are thinking more about their own self than about others, so when a person reacts negatively to something about you, it is first and foremost a reflection of who they are. Yes, there are mean and nasty people in life; and sometimes what a person says can be an “aha” moment and a cue to separate yourself from them as quickly as you can.
When seen for what they are, negative or hateful people can be tolerated, and life goes on. That said, negativity spreads like a virus. If you’re constantly in a situation where others are demeaning or mean, it may be time to reevaluate and correct your situation.
3. Ask yourself if you’re basing your self-esteem on approval from others
Mean people aside, many people will receive feedback that the brain processes in ways that judge oneself as “good enough,” “pretty enough,” “smart enough,” and the like. If these messages from others seem to carry undue importance, self-esteem issues may be at play. Seeking approval from others is no substitute for the self-acceptance that only you can give yourself. In the absence of that, there are going to be issues because no one is perfect and again, not everyone wins first place.
4. Take a learning stance in relation to feedback
If the feedback is that something was not what was needed, it can become a point of learning, a challenge to grow and to do better or to learn something new. In this way, “negative” or not-so-glowing feedback can help people work out the kinks in life and sharpen their skills and abilities. If that spreadsheet at work had an error in it, resolving to be more detailed-oriented by editing or reviewing something one more time is a valuable lesson. As carpenters say, “measure twice, cut once.”
5. Recognize an opinion is an opinion
Everyone is entitled to their opinion—we all have one, and it may not align with everyone else’s. If a co-worker would have done it another way, then fine, there are many ways to do something. Accept the feedback as just that, an opinion, and do what you need to do with it or discard it and move on.
6. Realize that others may be giving feedback from a different context
People’s perspectives are a product of where they come from, how they were trained, or what they think is right. Regardless of the situation, recognize that sometimes we come at things with a different perspective. Someone may see something that was missed or point out something new, and the feedback could be useful to hear and receive rather than personalize and get defensive about.
7. Try to avoid judging or responding defensively
Perfection is not the rule–it is the exception. Try to not judge but rather notice and respond non-defensively. The moment will pass. Glean what can be gained from the feedback and let it go. Most of us cannot remember the comment 10 years ago that made Tuesday the 8th so terrible. The hurt goes away. How many people are unhappy today focusing on something that happened 10, 15 or 20 years ago? Nobody can be happy if they spend their life collecting all of the injustices that they have experienced across a lifetime.
8. Take control of the thinking that follows the feedback
You might even write down the thoughts that bubble up in response to the feedback. If the thoughts are destructive, unhelpful, and hurtful, you may benefit from seeing a therapist who specializes in Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a very effective treatment for low self-esteem and anxiety that equips people with tools for managing negative thoughts and emotions. Re-writing the story after the feedback can really make a difference in how we feel.
In the end, it is unfortunate if someone else did not appreciate what we did, but it is what is. Ultimately, you are still behind the steering wheel after the feedback reel has finished. The choice is yours about how to respond and what to take from the experience.
This article was provided by Dr. Beau A. Nelson, DBH, LCSW, who is Chief Clinical Officer at FHE Health, a national provider of addiction and mental health treatment.