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Hate and Constructive Criticism: Differentiating Between the Two

I’ve experienced my share of both crude insults and helpful tips for self-improvement. The former took place mostly in grade school and followed me into college—people making fun of my appearance, personality, and quirks, and starting rumors that stemmed from ignorance or jealousy—while I received the latter mainly from my parents and teachers. Criticism and hate alike became far more profitable to me once I learned to tell the difference between them—and know what kind of advice to take.

While outside input can be valuable, there are people who will bash you endlessly with the sole intention of boosting their egos and bringing you down. Distinguishing between veiled hate and constructive comments can be difficult. Here are some questions I learned to ask myself upon receiving advice from someone.

First, ask yourself if this person’s opinion is of value to you. In other words, are they demonstrating possession of a rational and full perspective of you and what they’re criticizing? Do they have knowledge of or personal prowess in the area they’re suggesting you do better in? Are they generally accountable for themselves and their actions (i.e. do they see and admit to their own defects, or do they only insist on pointing out yours)? Do you trust this person’s judgement? Do you feel they have your best interest at heart?

If the answers to most of these questions are no, then feel free to dismiss what they’ve said. If yes, take note of the way they’re communicating. Are they putting forth this criticism in a way that is helpful? Are they speaking evenly and without passive aggression? Are they considering your side of things from an honest and considerate point of view? 

If their criticism seems to be coming from a hard place (hate, jealously, deflection, or projection), then disregard it. If it comes from a place of love, analyze the criticism itself. Is this something you personally think you can improve on? The most important thing here is putting your ego aside. Many people, when confronted with a view that challenges their own (especially when it pertains to them personally) allow their ego to get the best of them and deny accountability. While they may feel they’ve “won” the conversation by exacting their superiority, they are sacrificing an opportunity for growth and possibly even hurting someone who is trying to help. Be honest with yourself.

The most vital step in dealing with and differentiating between hate and constructive criticism is to recognize that you aren’t perfect. There are things that we can all improve on. Part of functioning in relationships with friends, family, peers and coworkers (superiors and subordinates in your field alike) is to acknowledge that for every flaw or shortfall you see in someone else, you have one as well. 

I used to shy away from constructive criticism. I felt upset when someone critiqued work I knew I tried my hardest on, as I have always held myself to a high standard. But as I advanced through grade school and, eventually, college, I realized that we all have room to grow. Nobody is all-knowing, immediately skilled at every task, or completely self-aware at all times. And that’s okay. Sometimes we require an outside perspective to aid us in becoming our best selves. Once I realized this, I began directly seeking the criticism I once feared.

Overall, never hold others to a higher standard than you hold yourself. Be accountable and open to suggestions. Trust your instincts when it comes to what and who you can trust. Use every piece of criticism (even hate) that you personally feel will improve your livelihood and help you become the person you want to be. Love yourself enough to block out the people and comments that insult and disparage the parts of you that you’re proud of—but also love yourself enough to listen to the people who nudge you towards the parts of your ethic, attitude, performance and mindset that need work. Your circle will shrink, but it will become stronger—and so will you.

Savannah is currently a senior at Wells College. She is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in English with a concentration in creative writing.
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