Destructive Criticism Can Be Good for You

Update: Due to some of the responses I see, I want to say that destructive criticism is not something you should tolerate – it’s an emotionally draining experience and repeated exposure can cause all sorts of mental anguish. For the sake of your health, if the criticizer is someone you know, break your bond with them as soon as possible. This article was written on the premise that everyone has and will experience destructive criticism in their lives. Because of this fact, they should have some perspective about it. This article was written to help gain such perspective.

This is how everyone feels when they get destructive criticism. There is a silver lining though.By Maryam el7aRes. CC BY 2.0

A friend of mine told me that my blog did not have enough personal input from me. To remedy that, I’d like to share something that really affected me personally when I first started in 2012. Several months into my new career, I got some destructive criticism via email:

email: JohnAsmith@hotmail.cmo

message: Seriously your website is childish and unprofessional. I don’t think anyone is gonna hire you. Looks like a kid took a ****, wiped, and flushed, and the end product was your website, a website trying to sell that you are a good designer. Get more professional.

p.s. you’re a ***
name: Johnathan Smith


When I first got that email from John Smith, I was furious. I couldn’t believe that someone had the gall to insult my website like that. And I was hurt too. His words, the words of a total stranger, pierced into my heart and sent my mind exploding in a frenzy. I couldn’t focus on anything at all. I kept reading his email over and over. And it stung me, over and over.

My immediate reaction to John Smith’s destructive criticism was not healthy at all. There’s nothing healthy about obsessing over negative remarks. However, it ultimately benefited me. Here’s why:


Because there might be some truth to the criticism

Ladies and gentleman, here’s how my website looked when I first started:

rons-website-magic-v1 version 1.0

Let’s be honest: my site wasn’t very good. In fact, given my current standard of work, my old site was awful. I had decent technical skills, but I was severely lacking in aesthetic design skills (images, photoshop, color theory, etc).

Feedback is important. We can’t always judge our abilities by ourselves, so we need input from others. Sometimes that input is nice (constructive criticism), sometimes it’s crude (destructive criticism). Input is input though and we should accept it in all forms. We can only improve if we believe that there is room for improvement.

Shortly after I received that email from John Smith, I redesigned my website. I didn’t redesign my website to prove a point to John Smith. Rather, I redesigned my website simply because I knew I could be better – John Smith’s email was simply a reminder of that. version 2.0 version 2.0 (May 2012)


Because our egos interfere with our growth

When I got John Smith’s email, my ego was hurt badly. The initial reaction I had was denial. I did not want to believe that what John Smith said could be true. I wanted to dismiss him as “not knowing what he’s talking about.” However, deep inside, I knew my website wasn’t the greatest.

Our human egos have one goal: preserve our self-esteem (source). When our self-esteem is threatened by criticism, our ego goes into defense mode, like a squadron of Spartan warriors raising their shields in preparation for a rain of enemy arrows. When our egos are in defense mode, we either deny or we start criticizing our criticizer in an effort to regain our ego.

Accept the fact that you are imperfect. There is always room for growth, but only if you can tame your ego. If you refuse to do so and you refuse to acknowledge your imperfections, your ego will lead you to believe that you are much more skilled, smarter, prettier than you actually are. This can lead to embarrassing discoveries later on. A prime example would be American Idol auditions gone bad:


Because we need to develop thick skin – it’s a cruel world out there

By Karin Vlietstra. CC BY 2.0

I used to be a teacher for two years. One thing that I noticed time and time again was that my young students were often rude to each other. Some of the students did not know that their rudeness caused others to be upset. Other students, however, knew that their actions hurt others. In fact, some students enjoyed hurting others and the only reason they stopped was because they feared punishment.

“Kids can be so cruel” is a common saying, but we can actually extend that saying to the entire human population. Some people behave because it’s the right to do, while some people behave only if there is an incentive. Because of the existence of the latter group of people, we need to develop thick skin. It’s a cruel world out there and people will verbally abuse you without feeling guilty at all.

It’s best to get used to all the destructive criticism little by little in your life. Otherwise, in the future, a single insult would crush you.


Closing Thoughts

In the end, getting that email from John Smith was important for my development. It was a reminder that my work wasn’t up to par and that I needed to improve. The reminder didn’t come in a courteous form, but I’ll take it anyway. In fact, reading that email now does not faze me at all now, because I know I’ve gotten better.

What about you? Have you ever received destructive criticism in your line of work? Do you think it made you a better person in the end?

10 comments on “Destructive Criticism Can Be Good for You

  1. i have to side with others here… destructive criticism really eats you up. i understand your point, but for some of us, there is nothing coming from the type of destructive criticsm we get.

  2. Funny…I’m the dead opposite when I get destructive criticism. The only time I ever get it is in response to something I’ve said that they can’t argue with. Calling out a spammer or a liar usually results in an answer from “JOHN SUCKAMA***”.

    If that’s the context, I assume if the spammer or liar is too stupid to possibly argue with the valid point I put in front of them and decided to take the time to write something illogical and destructive, I laugh it off and share it with a few of my best friends.

    My personal favorite came earlier this year when I called out a “Google stockholder” who was mad about recent Google algorithm changes.

    He got so mad he sent me this, based on the only site he knows of that I built (and one that I haven’t touched since 2006):

    Tom Forrest has made the following questions/comments/suggestions:

    You are a Major asshole and Dumb-Ass.

    Your web site looks like a first grader built it and you clearly do not have much of a business.

    I have offices all over the world because we have thousands of happy clients all over the world.
    We need the office and there is nothing wrong with leasing or renting office space from good companies like Regus you troll piece of shit.

    Why don’t you come to one of my offices and meet me face to face you stupid asshole?

    If you want to show you have any creditility at all and that you are not an Asshole, you must apologize to me in writing.

    You can’t take that seriously. You just can’t.

    (And if you want to edit this comment to get rid of the swearing, go ahead. I just wanted to post it verbatim).

    1. Hey Adam! Nice to see a fellow WDF member commenting.

      You’re right: for some folks, the destructive criticism that comes out of their mouths is venom: without basis, and possibly fueled by their own insecurities and/or inferiority complex, and without any intention of being helpful.

      That’s why I said that it can be good for you. But the guy in your example was 100% not helpful… it was just something that annoys you, gets you fired up, and makes you want to just start an online flame war and start dropping F bombs.

      Ultimately, this article was just me trying to find a bit of light at the end of the tunnel. And I do want to repeat my last point: repeated exposure to things that irk, fire you up, and makes you tense is good experience, so that we can handle ourselves better later.

  3. It is true though.

    If you can set aside your ego, and listen to feedback, you’re in for the win. Even though sometimes the feedback can be brought like an army drill instructor.

    If you’re self employed you can and should always set your ego aside in business.

    My line is; “They win their ego, I’ll get the money anyway.”

    Nice post, Well written.

    Though a small tip from me. Make your content even easier to read by adding a few more line-breaks.

    “Oh lord,” Daniel said “let’s get the hell away from here, we’re facing a massive wall of text!”


  4. I like your article some good points to ponder. Nevertheless when destructive critism leads to verbal abuse and wounds the persons spirit and confidence, work environment, effectiveness over and over time and time again this happens without a balance of constructive (niceways) as you put it.. what then?

    1. Geraldine,

      This article is regarding destructive criticism on a professional level. If you are experiencing this on a personal level (e.g. with a friend, significant other, parent, sibling), then you’re obviously in a toxic relationship with someone who’s presence in your life negatively impacts it, no matter how much other positive things they bring to it. The best thing to do is to end the relationship. If for some reason someone on a professional level is acting this awfully to you, well, you have to decide whether the assault on your mental well-being is worth the money you’re getting. Me, I’m self-employed, so if I ever found a job where the boss was completely ripping me everyday excessively, I’d report his behavior to his superiors and/or try to set a time where we can talk 1 on 1 about their behavior, or just quit. The overall idea here is that if you regularly connect with someone who does what you described, you end communication with them.

    1. Thanks Jill. I’m not sure everyone will agree with my point of view, but I personally believe this is the best way to approach destructive criticism.

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