Do You Need Thick Skin to Deal With Critics?


We all want to be liked. The desire to be “liked” runs deep in the human condition.

However, whenever something new is created, whether it be a post, a photograph, a work of art, a new business, even an idea, there also comes the risk of being criticized. It's hard not to take criticism personally, especially the more involved you are with your work. It's hard to draw the line between what you do and who you are.

Can we avoid criticism?

One answer might be to not create anything new. What then? Are we safe from criticism then? No… then comes the criticism of complacency, and the reality that nothing new has been done, and the danger of falling into obscurity.

Another option would be to stick to the tried and true. This could work, we can all do well enough following the path that others had blazed for us. Why reinvent the wheel? Would we be safe from critics then? Possibly. But in an over-saturated market sticking with the herd could be the kiss of death if you have dreams of making it big. Besides who said the “herd” is heading in a good direction?

The truth is, when it comes to criticism, it's a “damned if you do, damned if you don't” situation. Whether we take risks or take it easy, it's not going save us from critics.

If we can't avoid criticism, what do we do?

In article on featuring Seth Godin's new book, The Icarus Deception, Godin talks about criticism and fear:

“Fear of shame is a powerful tool to modify behavior, and those in power have been using it for years. They want to be able to change us by delivering shame and we've been taught to listen it I, believe it, and swallow it.

It's fine to acknowledge that there are those who will seek to shame you. But that doesn't mean you have to accept what’s given. We don't work for the applause, and we'd be foolish to read the anonymous comments on Amazon or the tweets coming from the back of the room. That attempt to quiet you down and make you conform doesn't belong to you unless you want it to.”

Learning when to take criticism or leave it can be a process, especially if you are sensitive.  I am a sensitive person. It's hard not to take things to heart whenever I hear of people dissatisfied with my work.

How do we learn to deal with criticism?

I had always wanted to be a creative person for a living. Going to art school was tough because we'd have to put our work on the wall, drawings, paintings, prints, etc. And the teacher would walk around critiquing everyone's work, and the class would join in. So whatever failures that happened were always public. Sometimes they were great, and sometimes it was brutal. One teacher would rip the drawings off the wall when he felt the student didn't put their “all” into it. It was scary, but it was less scary than receiving a failing grade, and even less scarier still than not  progressing as a creative.

Walking through that fear allowed me to have the creative career I always wanted. It sucked, but nothing bad happened compared to how terrible it would be not living my dreams. As long as people have different opinions, creatives never escape criticism, there will always be someone who doesn't like your work, or doesn't agree with it. Always. Even after years of dealing with a of  people saying “I don't like this” criticism  still stings. I still get mad. But I've gotten better at deciding when to take criticism and when to leave it. Because more often than not, criticism is more about the person dishing it, than it is about the work.

The trick is, not letting critics get in the way of trying our best, and putting everything into what we do (remember the teacher who would tear down the work for not trying hard enough).  They'll be there no matter what, so trying to protect yourself from criticism isn't going to help, we just have to get better at knowing what to take into consideration. Godin acknowledges this by discussing how we should put enough into our work where we are still vulnerable.

“But if we allow shame to be part of our vulnerability, we allow it to destroy our work. It's impossible to do art with stakes that high. You can't say, ‘If it works, fine, but if it fails, I'm shamed.' The only way to be successfully vulnerable is to separate the results of your art from your instinct to feel shamed. And that's possible, because while someone can attempt to shame you, shame must also be accepted to be effected. We can't make you feel shame without your participation”

In the end, it's choice. It's a choice if our fear of failure is greater than our fear of not succeeding. It's a choice of whether we take critics to heart. So why not go for it, take a risk and do our best?


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22 Responses

  1. Kajsa J. Andersen

    If the criticism is constructive I think it can be good. Especially if there is potential to improve. On the other hand criticism, just to criticize is another topic.

    It´s really the tone and setting that allows me to understand the difference.

  2. Eva Tornado

    They say about blogging that 10% people will love you, 10% will hate you and 80% will be neutral to you. Even if you will be torn apart to be perfect, you will always have a criticism from the 10% who don’t like (envy, hate) you. But to conquer the hearts of 80% neutral ones is in your hand. But remember you can’t be perfect for everybody! If you will try to satisfy all, you will lose yourself. Just be yourself, girls, and you will always have your 10-90% of loving hearts=)

    My blog Kisses From Europe

  3. Jezz Dallas

    I agree, constructive criticism should always be welcome as it might help you grow! Trying out new things and well mabye not getting the results you were hoping for, happens! Move on and try something else…we can only learn from mistakes!
    However, sadly most of the time criticism comes in form of hateful and nasty comments. That is pure hate/envy and only ment to hurt you. Best thing in that case: ignore!


    It’s a topic that can be discussed for hours and hours. And I think nowadays especially, we need to learn to deal with criticism. It’s like a must skill:) In an age where we share our personal lives, our work etc with the world, we need to learn how to deal with the reaction to it. And it’s sooo not easy.

    I like your approach to this issue. We need to embrace it and learn from it.

  5. Daria Burkova

    My opinion is that we do not should avoid criticism – every view is counted, and every voice is important. More feedback we get is better for us and for our blogging also.

  6. Bisous Natasha

    I find it rare for people to give constructive critisism these days. You either get the anonymous troll who starts off with “no offense but ” then follows with I hate that look, etc. Those tend to be jealous people anyway so their opinions do not count and one shouldn’t take opinions as facts.

    Also, have any of your noticed how even when important bloggers or people in the fashion industry are wearing or designing something for a lack of constructive critisism “hideous” followers still give them a thumbs up. Most wouldn’t dare to write that something looks bad on someone well-known. Thoughts?

  7. Emily Friday

    Great post!
    I’m also a sensitive person, and criticism is probably the thing I struggle with most. More often than not, I’m actually afraid to give my opinion and submit any work, because I am that afraid of it!
    But reading this article has made me realise that it’s unavoidable – it’s a part of life, and if anything, helps us learn and grow. We have to be vulnerable to get where we want to be, and I’d rather reach my dreams than try to avoid criticism at all.

    Failing beats the hell out of never trying!

  8. Chaucee from Streets and Stripes

    Thank you for writing this post. I’ve been dealing with some negativity lately, and it’s been hard not taking it personal! Thankfully I have some really great people in my life that are keeping me positive and encouraging me to keep doing what I’m doing. But it’s hard to accept that criticism will always be something you can’t avoid.

  9. Spencer

    So long as criticism is constructive and informed it is always a good opportunity to enhance and improve.

  10. Monica

    With blogs we put ourselves in a position where people tend to criticize us. We can notice when its constructive and when it comes out of jealousy.

    We must remember that human beings tend to critizice everything so we have to learn to ignore them and keep reaching for our goal.

  11. Ceri

    An interesting post and I think a fear of criticism can stop us doing many of the things that we want to in life. I think if we let it affect us too much, it can end up paralysing us. The way I like to look at it is the more successful you become, the more critics, you will have. If you are doing well people will always want to criticise you and in a way you could take it as a compliment that people are taking notice of what you are doing. I suppose the alternative is that no one every notices or reads your blog.

  12. Filipa

    I’m also a very sensitive person and I used to take any kind of criticism quite personally and had trouble dealing with it. But with time I managed to calm a little bit down. I know that people have different tastes in everything, some will like what I do and some will hate it.
    I also agree with Jezz and Eva. Constructive criticism can help you grow but you can’t be perfect for everybody. There will always be people who envy or hate you.
    Just keep doing what you love and try to satisfy yourself first.

    Filipa from

  13. Kenneth Jacobs

    I’m with Jeannine, I’m quite a sensitive person and when it comes to my work, I get pretty defensive (if it’s not constructive criticism). When someone’s criticism doesn’t have a direction to help improve my skills and abilities, I find their words useless. In my head I’m like “Thanks, but no thanks”

    As much as I’d love to please everyone, not everyone will be satisfied. A life lesson to be learned by all. <—-coming soon! 😀
    Instagram: @thefashionatefotobug
    Twitter: fashionfotobug

  14. FoxyOxieSupernova

    Based on my experience, the majority of us creative types tend to lean more towards the sensitive side. I believe it is a result of your right side of the brain being more active than the left (since the right side is associated with images, color, music and of course emotions). The upside if this is that you’re obviously the creative type. The downside is that you tend to be more emotional. So my advice is this: when creating, use the right side of the brain, people! When analyzing criticism, use your left. 🙂

  15. Tasha

    People will be critics all they want. It truly boils down to are you open to their opinion about your life, blog, brand or business. People also have a lot to say when they have never done what you are doing. I have to ignore most people who express an opinion on my life and company. If you are not me nor ever ran a business like mine how can you tell me how to do so. You dont need a tough skin just need to limit what you take in from other people. When you allow negative remarks to come into your life it affects you. Why not remove it.

  16. Melanie

    Everyday that you wake up & breath is another day of options & possibilities, the key to failing is knowing that we can always start anew.

  17. Jeanine Marie

    These days it seems like the flood gates have been open to the mean-spirited commenters. On my old blog and I didn’t encounter too many of them but once someone came unglued because I posted a recipe they didn’t like. I didn’t bother to respond.

    I just can’t imagine why anyone would take to the time to leave rude comments. It serves no purpose. I hope bloggers will develop a thicker skin and let the rude comments slide off their back.

  18. LookSharpSconnie

    Such a great point. Knowing what to internalize and knowing to what extent to do so is incredibly valuable.

    I’m an all-or-nothing person, so either I accept a critique for exactly what it is and feel miserable, or I ignore it entirely. This is incredibly self-destructive.

    This post has really opened my eyes to the need to really analyze the crticisms that I receive and choose the aspects of them that I can use to better myself, while discarding those that will only ruin my self confidence and prove counter-productive.

    Great, timeless topic.


  19. Tracy @ Ascending Butterfly

    When I attended the Lucky Magazine Jane Iredale Bloggers Luncheon, she was asked this same question, and I loved her answer:

    Use the criticism to make your product (or service) better, acknowledge it and then move on.

    No one is immune from criticism, what I’d love to see is an article that addresses not so much criticism, but the bad habit of some PR people to actually try to bully bloggers. I think it’s been kept quiet for way too long!