The HSP World Podcast Ep. 10: Dealing With Criticism As A Highly Sensitive Person


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Thomas: Hi and welcome to the HSP World Podcast. With each episode, we invite a guest with the HSP Trait to have a conversation about a burning HSP-related question that they have. We’re not coaches or therapists. We are HSPs holding space with you. And I’m one of your hosts, Thomas. Your other hosts are: 

Robyn: Robyn. 

Rayne: and Rayne.

Robyn: All right, everybody. Welcome back. With us today we have another guest, Parul. Hi, how are you doing? 

Parul: Hi everybody. I’m doing great. How are you? 

Robyn: Pretty good. Thanks for joining us. I’m wondering if you could get us started by saying a little bit how you discovered the HSP Trait for yourself. 

Parul: Um, yeah, so I found out about HSP Trait around two years ago, and I’d always been told that I was very emotional, very sensitive.

I used to overthink a lot and I have always been into self development. So I was, um, I wanted to project a wholesome image, I guess. And I wanted to change those traits about myself. I didn’t want to be very emotional or sensitive. And so I remember one day I was googling how I could change myself and I found, um, HSP Test by Dr. Aron.

I took the test. And I wasn’t feeling very festive to be honest, uh, until I, um, started a research journey on the subject and then I ended up buying the book by Dr. Aron and it made so much sense.

Yeah, so, um, I’ve been learning about it since then. 

Robyn: Wow. Thank you. That’s um, it’s really interesting that it was part of your self development journey.

I think you have a question for us today, right? 

Parul: Alright. So, um, like, um, everyone has their own journey and lessons to learn and everything. Um, but always having guidance system can be a good thing. And like nobody likes criticism and known HSPs can talk about it. So like if known HSPs are criticized, they can easily talk about it.

And they might not have intense emotions about it, but for HSPs, their nervous system is highly developed. Uh, so when it comes to HSPs who, um, may have a known HSP family members or friends, they might feel ashamed, uh, sharing those feelings, uh, due to, um, you know, this fear of being criticized again on the Trait.

So I thought we could discuss ways to help other HSPs or, um, like share our experience, or tips that can be, um, helpful to others to handle criticism in a better way. 

Robyn: Okay. Good question. 

Thomas: Yeah, that’s a great question. 

Parul: Thank you. 

Rayne: So Parul, I’m just trying to get clear. Um, so basically it’s how does an HSP handle criticism when they are sharing their sensitivity with others who may not, um, be open to their sensitivity? Is that, is that-I’m trying to paraphrase to understand what the question is. 

Parul: Yeah, exactly. 

Rayne: Ok, ok good. 

Parul: Yeah. Yeah.

Rayne: Well, what do you think, guys?

Thomas: You know, this, this hits home, right? It’s, it’s something that we all deal with. And we all have dealt with. I know for myself growing up when I was a kid, when I was six and seven, and eight years old, I distinctly remember, um, making a decision, not to share.

I mean the conclusion that I came to at that time when I was that young was that it was better not to share and just to keep my sensitive sensitivity to myself, because I was always being told, you know, don’t feel that don’t be that way, whatever it is.

So criticism is really hard. Um, I think that with the benefit of time and, and growing up and, and becoming an adult and being an adult for a while. 

I’m trying to formulate some thoughts here about it. You know, one way that I can, can put it is that, you know, the first thing that I needed to do was to just develop a really healthy sense of self. A sense of saying to myself, I am sensitive, this is who I am, and I’m not going to apologize for it anymore.

Rayne: Thomas, did you, was you, you had a little bit more to add on to that or?

Thomas: Yeah, I suppose what I could say more about that is, is that it took a long time. Um, it took, it took years and years and years for me to, to be able to get out of my shell and be able to speak my feelings because what had happened to me specifically is, is that I had, I had shut off my feelings so completely as a child, as a kid, that I was not able to access them, you know, by the time I got into college and so forth.

So I was very fortunate in finding a partner, uh, who was willing to work with me, but there were many of times where, you know, she basically said, why can’t you just tell me what’s going on? You know, why can’t you just say what’s up? Um, and she, she was doing that from a very loving space. Um, And so, so it took a lot of practice, I guess is what I’m trying to say here is it took a lot of practice to, to undo the, um, the way that I had shut my feelings down inside.

So. You know, fast forward to now, I’m happy to say, it’s much easier for me to express my feelings and, um… and a part of that is just knowing that, you know, this is who I am. I’ve always been sensitive and I’m okay with it now. So there was, there’s a lot of, there was also a lot of work that went into just, just being okay with who I am.

And I’m fortunate in the sense that I have people around me that let me be who I am rather than insisting I be something else. Right? I’m not that… um, well, the term might be, you know, the knight in shining armor, riding on the horse. And I may or may not be a knight, but, um, you know, I will fall down on my sword quite a bit because I’m sensitive and it’s okay. You know? I just pick myself up and continue.

Robyn:  So, um, what I find interesting is that I think we can actually even generalize the struggle with criticism beyond, um, I guess of course, if we’re facing criticism from people who are, um, well, maybe they’re sensitive maybe they’re not, but people who are criticizing us for being highly sensitive that’s one thing.

And I think we, we did mention that a little bit when we spoke about feeling misunderstood or feeling different in some other podcasts that we, uh, that we’ve done, but I think it even goes beyond that. I’ll put it out to all of you actually, but I have a feeling that any kind of criticism, even if it’s not about our sensitivity, if it’s criticism about anything that we care about, our work, I don’t know, something that we’ve said, any kind of action that we’ve done. I know that, I am quite sensitive to criticism and I’ve actually always been, would you, would you relate to that? You guys? 

Rayne: Yeah, I totally, I totally relate to that. I can remember being, oh gosh, maybe about three or four years old and there was a Christmas tree up and the dog was going under the tree and, um, um, you know, the Christmas balls were falling off.

So my Dad, you know, went to the dog and was like, you know, no, don’t do that, bad, you know, kind of thing. And, um, it was funny because my dad brushed by it and he knocked some balls off. And I went up to him and said, ‘No, don’t do that!’ And just the look he gave me, he didn’t, I mean, there was, you know, didn’t have to be a spanking, not anything. Just the look was enough to, you know, just, it upset me and I cried and I knew I had done something, you know, he didn’t like, you know, that type of thing. So I think it’s just part of, um, you know, part of who we are.

Um, you know, it’s part of who we are, but I will say though, I’ve noticed for myself that I’ve gotten quite a bit better in terms of really looking at the source, um, you know, like who’s criticizing me and, and you know, about what and in what type of vein, you know. If it’s somebody I don’t know, and I can tell their intention is not, you know, it’s, you know, kind of irrelevant.

Um, it doesn’t, I don’t care about the criticism. Whereas I know, you know, when I was young, any criticism I took to heart. You know? I did, I took it quite a bit to heart, but I don’t know if, uh, you know, with age or whatever it is? I got a thicker skin and, just you know, um, because I recognize also to, you know, um, I know, I know a lot of HSPs, um, you know, they’re very hard on themselves, you know, they are very conscientious and try their best and you know, all this type of thing.

So, you know, criticism can, um, you know, whereas somebody who, you know, maybe kind of goes through life and doesn’t really care, um, criticism, maybe, you know, that may be pops up as a, ‘Oh, maybe I should listen to that.’ Whereas for an HSP, a criticism is a kind of full on attack. 

Robyn: Yeah. That’s I think that’s really well said. Um, I think something that helped me, uh, in dealing with criticism in general was, um, understanding that sensitivity to criticism is part of the way that my trait is being expressed. Right? And I think it’s not what we tend to think it is.

We tend to think, ‘Oh, it’s someone who wants to be perfect, it’s someone who wants to please everybody’ or someone who, uh, you know, maybe is arrogant and can’t deal with or is insecure. Right? Like ironically, um, I mean, of course all of those are possible, right? There are moments of insecurity or arrogance or perfectionism that can lead us to be sensitive to criticism.

But there’s actually positive aspects of the Trait that make us more sensitive to it as well. And I think what you’re talking about Rayne, I think that’s exactly it.

So a lot of highly sensitive people show above average conscientiousness, attentiveness, trying to make connections between things that have happened before and things that are happening now, trying to follow guidelines, you know, too, to be not, not people pleasing in the sense of just doing what everyone wants, but trying to, um, sometimes it’s just out of empathy-knowing like, okay, I, I feel for this person, who’s trying to get something done and they’re asking you to putting all these guidelines.

So I’m going to try to follow the guidelines to make this person’s life easier, because I genuinely feel for that person. Right? So, I think there are a lot of positive reasons why we might already be self-criticizing. And I think what was always difficult for me is if the criticism is delivered as though I weren’t already critical of myself.

That’s what I find extra hard. I’vem I’ve noticed, I’ve seen it in action. If someone gives me feedback, we don’t even have to call it, we don’t even have to call it criticism-if someone gives me feedback in a way that acknowledges that I’ve probably already thought about, um, what I’ve done. Okay. So if someone says, Oh, I, you know, I don’t know, let’s say it’s on, on something I’ve done at work.

And someone says, ‘Okay, I see that you’ve attempted to do this. I’m sure you’ve thought about that. Um, what do you think about this?’ Anything that really engages me as a self editor or self critic? I tend to respond very well to that criticism. It still occasionally elicits a panic in me where I try to, you know, defensively say, ‘Oh, yes, I did think about this, and no, no, no, no, no, no.’

But if, the more that there is a kind of respectful appreciation of my own self criticism, the more open I am to receiving feedback, even negative feedback. Right? Because then it makes it, cause then it makes it okay. It makes it okay. And they’re not saying, ‘Oh, well, you know, you, you, you did this in a way that I didn’t like, and you didn’t think about it.’

It’s acknowledging that perhaps you have considered it already. Yeah?

Rayne: Well said Robyn. 

Thomas: There’s, there’s a couple of things that I’ve also learned and  incorporated. And one is the distinction between shame and guilt. So shame is like, I’m, I’m a bad person and guilt is, I did a bad thing.

And so I try more and more to frame when I am thinking about you know, things that I, that I’m criticized about or whatever, I try to make sure that I separate the, you know, the guilt, the shame.

So I don’t, I try to make sure that I’m, that I don’t say that I’m a bad person. I might say, ‘Oh, okay. I did a bad thing. All right, this is how I’m gonna fix it.’ And so that helps quite a bit in releasing some of that negative energy that you get from from criticism.

Um, the other thing is that I’m also far more, um, choosy, I guess, is a good way to put it.

So I’m far more choosy in what criticism I accept. So if I am working on, on an art piece, I’m far less likely to accept criticism from any casual observer than I am from another artist. Because I’m actually more interested in hearing from other artists so that I can learn.

Right? Whereas if it’s just somebody who, who is not an artist, who’s just says, ‘Oh, well, that’s whatever.’ Right? Then it’s like, ‘Well, okay, that’s fine. But you’re not, you’re not in the same space that I am. You’re not in the, you know what I say, I call it, um, they’re not in the, in the same arena.’

Right? They’re just sitting up there in the seats, but they’re not down here doing the work. So, um, so that’s another aspect of, of how I’ve changed. Um, if, if I even accept the criticism, because if the criticism, it is just something that comes from, you know, social media and I don’t know the person and I don’t know if they’re even doing the work, then it’s like, okay, fine, I can ignore it a little bit more effectively. 

Robyn: And I think even Rayne, you may have mentioned timing. I think timing is important too. Right? I know there’s some moments when I’m actually, there are moments when I’m not ready to receive feedback on something and that’s okay. I think you have to, you have to tell yourself that, right?

You have to tell yourself, ‘Oh, this is not going to be a moment when I’m not going to be open right now.’ And I think if you acknowledge that, if you, you know, you can even stop people if they start, you know, giving you feedback and you could say, ‘Hey, you know, thank you so much, but, I just, I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed right now, and can we have this conversation another time’ or ‘Can I just save your comments and I’ll come back to them when I’ve got a, you know, a fresher mind?’

Um, and I think that’s, it’s better to do that than to try to take on something you’re not really ready to deal with. Cause I know whenever from experience, whenever I’ve tried to take on criticism um, that I wasn’t ready for, uh, you know, you just get defensive, you get resentful or you just start crying or I don’t, or whatever, you, just something, you know, you can’t, you can’t, you can’t deal with the task at hand. And I mean, it’s just the fact that we all have to deal with feedback and criticism some of the time. Right?

So, um, yeah, I think being, being honest with yourself about how ready you are to receive something or not. And, and you can also modify if you, if you’re in a position where you need it to receive feedback or you can,  you’re asking for feedback. I think again, going back to engaging your inner, your inner critic and respecting your inner critic and putting your yourself back in the dialogue.

I’ve found that, you know, so for example, one thing I’ll do in a teaching context, if I’m, if I’m a student, cause this would often bug me, if I was a student and if a teacher made, um, a criticism or a correction that really didn’t take into account what I was already trying to do, you know, teachers aren’t perfect, they can’t always see exactly where you’re at moment to moment.

But what I try to do now to diffuse my own stress, in response is to, if I can either in the moment or after the class, um, engage them in a conversation and say, ‘Okay, listen, this is what I was trying to do, or you gave me this correction and this is what it looked like to me, but that doesn’t really make sense to my perspective can we talk about it?’

You know, and then kind of doing the, it brings, it brings back, it brings me back into a position of not necessarily power, but it brings me back into the position where I don’t feel … where I don’t feel powerless, you know, whereas I, I sometimes feel powerless if I just receive the criticism wholesale, yeah. 

Rayne: Parul, I’m I’m curious. What, what are you, uh, how are you feeling? What are you thinking right now? 

Parul: Well, I could actually, um, click with a lot, a lot of points that have been mentioned so far because I’m also an introvert. And I remember growing up, I really had, like, I was very shy and I couldn’t make friends very easily.

So like I had this tendency to kind of shut down my feelings when I feel embarrassed or when I feel, or when I felt left out in certain situations. And I do believe that, uh, as you grow up and as you learn more about these things, it becomes, it is very easy to handle it now, um, because I don’t subscribe to those, uh, thoughts, you know?

Because I, I can actually relate now. I was, I have always been very self critical as well. So I remember at work  somebody, you know, um, pointed out something about my personality that even. And I even, I didn’t like that aspect of my personality. So obviously, I mean, I was already criticizing myself. Um, and then somebody is pointing it out to you, so yeah.

And I think it is very important too. I mean, it can be hard to discount those feelings, but, uh, like it is arduous journey and, um, yeah, self-awareness is very important I think. 

Rayne: Yeah. It’s almost to me it feels like, um, you know, an HSP, um, who grows up in a supportive environment. You know, which, which is not the majority of us, that’s the way it is. 

I mean our parents didn’t know or whatever the reason is. Um, so I think it’s, you know, I feel like it’s pretty safe to say that, you know, we should be giving ourselves as many pats on the back and being as compassionate with ourselves as possible.

And, um, you know, holding ourselves up because, um, you know, we’re, we’re more inclined to be harder on ourselves. So it’s almost like we need to double down on the, you know, going easy on ourselves, you know?

Parul: I also think being more open about these things because, uh, because of my, I guess, um, introverted nature, I never really felt like sharing those kind of feelings or thoughts with somebody. And when I found out, uh, when I found about this HSP Trait and I finally got to read the book.

I shared the points and, or the findings in the book with my parents and with my partner as well, and they were very open to it. Like they actually, like, I was, I was surprised. Because I used to think that even they will start criticizing that. Okay? Like what is it that you’re talking about and all of that, but they were very supportive of me. So I think it was also very important to, uh, be open about these things. 

Thomas: That’s a beautiful example of how vulnerability leads to connection. 

Parul: Exactly. Yeah. 

Thomas: And that’s one of the critical issues here is, is that we, we fear criticism so much that we don’t allow ourselves to be vulnerable.

Or we think that vulnerability itself is a form of weakness, but it’s actually not. Being vulnerable, being open to, to other people and explaining to other people what it is that we’re actually feeling is, is a beautiful thing and, and can really serve to foster, you know, better connections with other people.

So that’s a wonderful example. 

Robyn: Yeah. Yeah. I like that. And I think, um, that’s another way that I could explain what I try to do when I, um, try to engage a critic in, in dialogue, you know, um, like a non-defensive dialogue, right? And you kind of lead with, you lead with a certain vulnerability and, and self-compassion in the sense that you, you know, you tell yourself, you go in with the mindset okay, I’m struggling. Uh, I don’t feel great about getting this criticism and, and I’m having doubts. Right? But then you tell yourself that’s okay. I’m allowed to have doubts, having doubts doesn’t mean that, you know, if it’s my work, that my work is useless or that I’ve done a terrible thing or that I’m an awful person. Right?

Like, so as you were saying, making the difference between, potentially I’ve done a bad thing. Potentially. And not meaning I’m a bad person or I’m incompetent or something like that. So getting very specific, um, reassuring yourself, saying alright, even, even if I did make a mistake, it’s still okay.

Let me go find out about this. And then being honest, you know, trying to explain what it is, that what your perspective was, what your experience was there and then connecting, um, and saying like, look, uh, you know, I, it’s not that I disagree with your criticism it’s just that this is what it looks like to me.

This is what I was trying to accomplish, or this is what I was struggling with in the moment. You know? Sometimes people won’t get it. Sometimes there’ll be a bit, even if you’re being as, um, patient and calm and open as possible they may think that you’re being defensive, but you can hold your ground. You can keep going with it.

And I find that if I, if I keep calm and if I keep saying like, ‘No, no, it’s fine. I just wanted to talk to you about it.’ Usually by the end of that discussion, they’re like, okay, it’s fine. You know, they’re, they’re willing to, and sometimes they in, uh, they in turn will say, ‘Yeah, I struggle with this as well.’ You know? Or. ‘I’ve had doubts about my art or whatever as well.’

Rayne: Yeah. That’s a good, that’s a good way to come, to approach it Robyn, I think that’s a really good idea. Me? Um, I tend to look more at the, um, you know, the source first, my number one, um, sort of thing and, you know, try to get an understanding of what, um, you know what the purpose is behind the criticism, you know, are we trying to solve a problem together? Are we trying to, you know, what are we doing here?

Because to me that that’s going to determine how much time I give it. You know, um, how much time I give the person or the criticism type of thing. So that’s kind of, sort of how I go about it. I don’t know if that’s right or wrong but… 

Robyn: I think you have a, I think you have a good point there.

I mean, I guess like what I was just describing is further along the process. If I’ve already determined, this is a person worth engaging in, in, in a conversation. Right? But like, especially in the age of the internet, you’ll see people making random comments that have nothing to do with anything. And you have to really pause for a moment and ask yourself, is this, is this a criticism that I really need to be concerned about?

Rayne: Yeah. And I think, um, I think why I’m feeling that that’s, um, you know, an important point is that, um, you know, HSPs are critical of themselves anyways. And so that’s an energy that, you know, until they kind of mature out of that, that’s, they’re carrying that with them and, and people pick up on that, you know?

So that’s, and you know, somebody, you know, uh, who maybe doesn’t have great intentions, they might kind of pick up on that and, you know, think that, you know, it’d be okay to criticize, uh, you know, an HSP type of thing.

So that’s, that’s sort of where I’m coming with com that’s where I’m coming from with that is, is in terms of, you know, the source is sort of the most important thing to kind of ascertain, you know, is that source and their criticism, uh, you know, worthy of my time and any effort I’d put into this, you know? Um, kind of how I’m feeling about it, but… 

Robyn:  Yeah. 

Thomas: You know, Parul, this, this was such a great question because I know for myself and, and probably well, everyone who’s here and anyone who’s listening that, that, uh, uh, dealing with criticism is, is one of the hardest things. So, I want to thank you for, for the question and, and for bringing it up today. Uh, I’m curious to know how you feel about the conversation, were there’s some points that resonated with you?

Parul: Um, well, uh, honestly I think, or self-compassion is the key and self-awareness as well. And, uh, overall I think, um, like life is, life is way too valuable to waste it with thoughts, constantly bringing negativity in life, which comes with, you know, being self-critical, having those kind of thoughts.

So they are not needed, obviously. So yeah, nobody should carry that negativity around. And my key takeaway would be self- compassion. Because yeah, I actually think that, yeah, I’ve been very self-critical and I’ve seen other, uh HSPs as well, who are very self-critical and, uh, they take things very personally, but, uh, yeah, I think having a self-awareness and self-compassion can really be helpful. 

Thomas: Yeah. Yeah. I so agree with that. Well, thank you so much for joining us today. 

Parul: Thank you. Thank you for having me. Thank you. 

Rayne: Thank you Parul. I really, um, thank you for having the courage to ask this question and bring this up.

I really enjoyed chatting about it and I know it’s going to be helpful for other HSPs too, and I really appreciate, um, I really appreciate that what stood out for you was having self-compassion. I think that’s a key, key point. So thank you.

Parul: Thank you. 

Robyn: Well, thanks to everybody and to our listeners.

So please join us for our next episode where we’ll be having another interesting HSP conversation and to any highly sensitives out there who have a burning HSP-related question, whether big or small, we invite you to ask it on the HSP World Podcast.

Just email 


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