On a day-to-day basis it is easy to expose ourselves to criticism that can offend, upset or even lead to a state of anxiety. In this article we will see how we can face criticism in an assertive way , without losing our composure and making clear our opinions and point of view.

What is a review?

We understand by criticism the emission of a judgment or assessment that is made of something or someone.

This is an opinion and although there is a tendency to associate criticism with offence, insult or discredit, it will depend on the intention behind it which will determine whether it is constructive (serves to learn or improve) or destructive (aims to harm us).

The goal of constructive criticism is to help someone else. It is expressed with respect and is usually done alone, since far from ridiculing, it is intended to show a possible error in order to improve. The data on which this vision is based are argued so that the person receiving it learns from his own experience, broadening his point of view by handling possible errors or rectifying them.

Destructive criticism, however, is expressed in a harsh tone , hurtful words can be chosen, no arguments are provided and its aim is to harm. Far from helping to improve, it places the one who receives the criticism in an asymmetrical relationship in which the one who emits it grows in the eyes of others.

In this article I will focus on this kind of criticism. They are said in an aggressive way, in a derogatory tone, their main objective is to hurt you, either by ridiculing you or making you doubt yourself.

What is the point of malicious criticism?

I ask you a question. What’s the point of going to work every morning? Among others, most of you will have answered “To make money”. If I go to work I make money. Let’s take an example of a self-employed person who depends on himself. If he works he makes money, if he doesn’t work he doesn’t make money. Will he continue to work? Well, if one of his objectives is to get paid, he will work every day because there is a correlation between working-earning, not going to working-not earning. In the same way I ask you, what have we said is the objective of destructive criticism?

Hurting would be the answer. If the person being criticized attacks back, demonstrating his anger, cries as a result of feeling hurt, and keeps silent by accepting what he is told… Does it show that he has been hurt? The answer is yes, then if the attacker finds a correlation between criticizing and hurting, will he continue to do so? The answer, like the self-employed person who goes to work to get money, is yes.

By this I mean that criticism is not only destructive because of the way it is said but also our way of interpreting the message and how we manage it, since we can experience it as a possibility of improvement or as an offense.

How do we react?

Let us not forget that criticism can help our personal development as long as, once heard, it is accepted and lends itself to reflection .

But focusing on the destructive ones, it is important to defend ourselves in an assertive way, that is to say, to defend our rights without entering into submissive, aggressive or reproachful behaviors. Our way of reacting conditions the final product.

We automatically tend to react to them in three unassertive ways, deteriorating our social relations and self-image:

1. Counterattack

This is answering impulsively with another criticism or disqualifying the interlocutor and if possible with more harsh words. The inevitable result of this strategy is discussion and anger .

Example: You’re a bum.

2. Denial of criticism

A second way of reacting is to deny the criticism outright, regardless of whether we agree with it or not, but this does not make our interpersonal relationships any better either .

Example: “You’re watching football all day”/ “Bullshit”.

3. Passive acceptance

Finally, a third way of facing criticism is to accept it immediately without further analysis , demonstrating a passive attitude.

Example: “That’s quite a mug you’re wearing this morning.”

How do you deal with criticism in an assertive way?

We must respond in a neutral tone , as aseptic as possible, in order not to show that we have been hurt (main objective of this type of criticism), and without attacking, because otherwise the conversation would end up in an argument or a competition of mutual aggressions.

To face a criticism we can use the following techniques:

1. Negative Interrogation

It consists of asking for clarification on what we are told. That is to say , ask what we are being criticized for .


  • “Uncle, you’ve left some hair behind” (What are they criticizing? The hair, we asked about that)
  • Yeah? What do you find weird about my hair?

– “What are you wearing today?”

(In this case they attack our way of dressing)

– What defect do you find in the way I dress?

If they criticize my way of dressing and I show an insecure attitude, looking at my distressed clothing, I comply with the attacker’s objective . On the other hand, if I accept the criticism and keep quiet when in fact I have worn something I like, I show submission, which in a way is usually enough for the attacker.

By returning the criticism by saying something like “You looked at yourself in the mirror before you spoke”, even if it brings us relief in the short term by returning it, we show our weakness . I attack because I have felt offended (let’s not forget that this is the main objective of destructive criticism). And if it has offended me it has fulfilled its purpose so it will continue to do so. As we can see with this technique, we make the person who criticizes us think, thus aborting the final objective of this one (to hurt us).

2. Negative assertion

It would be to acknowledge it without sinking, without relaxing, without adopting defensive attitudes , without justifying and, of course, without getting angry. This technique should be used when we consider, that although it is not in a constructive way, the criticism is true and we agree with it.


– “Uncle I’ve been waiting for you for 20 minutes”

(Let’s assume this is true and I’m late)

– You’re right, it took me a long time.

– “You don’t know anything about football”

(And I really have no idea about football)

  • The truth is, you’re right, and I don’t have much control.

If, when we are told a criticism whose content is true, even if we don’t like the form or feel attacked, we can enter into a discussion and exchange of mutual aggressions (“I’ve been waiting for 20 minutes”/”Well, the other day you were late”/”Of course, you’re always late, and for once it’s me you remind me”/”It’s your fault for not telling me in advance”…).

We also project an image in which it seems that nobody can tell us anything and that we don’t know how to accept criticism. So if their aim was to hurt us, it’s achieved, as we get angry and show that it has hurt us. If we keep quiet and accept it in a submissive way, we will most likely feel that “he has cut us off”, so we hurt ourselves too.

Recognizing it in an assertive way is the best way to project a confident image of ourselves in which we assume our mistakes, in turn, if even though the form is not the right one, there has been no intention of doing harm we favor the dialogue. Let’s take the second example, someone tells his partner that he doesn’t understand football and the other party answers that he is right.

In this situation it’s easier for me to say something like “It’s okay, you know about other things and I don’t,” or “It’s okay, that’s not a penalty for this…” than if you put on the victim’s costume and say something like “I don’t know how I’m going to know anything that way,” or “I don’t have as much free time as you do. This last attitude can trigger anger. Accepting her and keeping quiet can make her get off the couch or go do something else.

3. Fog bank

This technique is often used in the face of malicious criticism, and it is good to use it to get used to receiving it naturally, without feeling embarrassed or angry. It consists in serenely recognizing the possibility that there is some truth in the criticism we receive.


– “What a shirt you’re wearing, it looks like your grandfather’s”

– Yeah? You might not like it, I love it.

  • What an ugly necklace you are wearing
  • You may not like it, I like it.

In the same way as in the previous techniques, responding with another criticism not only shows that the objective of the criticism has been fulfilled but that we enter once again into a chain of possible insults . Taking the first example, it could be by answering: “You look like a grandfather and I’m not telling you anything”.

Accepting it means acknowledging something we don’t agree with, at least for us, which puts us in a submissive position that can eventually affect our self-esteem. To contemplate the possibility that the other may not like something that we do, shows our flexibility to another point of view and security in ourselves.


As you can see, in any case, our way of responding to criticism and our attitude towards it conditions the subsequent result. Criticisms are always different points of view, sometimes they help us to improve or take something into account to work on from our own experience and that of others.

We must be open to any opinion , in some cases admitting that we don’t know everything and in no case accepting what we don’t agree with. Well managed and assertively responded to criticism helps us to grow as a person either by maturing or by affecting as little as possible the intentionality of harming our ego.