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How to Profit from Constructive Criticism with Help from REBT

» Mental Health Library » Treatment Approaches » Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy » Featured Article

By: Walter J. Matweychuk, Ph.D.

Walter J. Matweychuk, Ph.D.

People who develop their potential and enjoy healthy relationships with others are open to negative feedback. Constructive criticism is valuable. Those who listen to it with an open mind and then learn from it tend to grow more fully than those who are closed off and defensive. Rejecting all criticism as invalid is likely a sign of a blinding ego or low discomfort tolerance for making beneficial personal changes. Of course, it is also imprudent to go to the other extreme and assume all negative feedback is valid. The point is to be capable of taking accurate criticism and using it but not disturbing yourself when someone gives you invalid criticism. Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT\cbt) can help you maximally profit from constructive criticism, helping you actualize your potential in your life's personal and professional domains. It also can help you avoid disturbing yourself when someone invalidly criticizes you.

Avoid Ego Defensiveness with REBT

REBT encourages people to abolish their egos. Rather than expending time and energy calculating how much human value you possess, gain, or lose, REBT theory argues that you can only validly evaluate parts of yourself, not your human worth. Some elements of the self that you can validly rate include your attitudes and beliefs, feelings, and behaviors. The components of the self that help you accomplish your goals are valued as good, while those undermining your goals as bad. Humans possess aliveness, are unique, error-prone, and are in a constant state of change. Because it is impossible to perfect yourself (even with REBT) and eliminate all errors, it is logical to assume some criticism of what you do, think, and say will be valid to a greater or lesser degree. Why not open your mind to it and profit from the criticism that has some validity? You will profit from improving your awareness, and the extent to which you make the effort to implement this helpful feedback, you will likely avoid future pain and enjoy greater pleasure. Your relationships with others will be more satisfying, and your work will improve in quality.

Tolerate the Discomfort of Implementing Feedback with REBT

REBT also encourages you to withstand the effort and discomfort required to implement valid criticism. If you avoid taking action on helpful feedback, you will probably enjoy less pleasure in life. REBT encourages long-term hedonism, and when a pattern of behavior undermines your enjoyment, it is best to address that pattern to maximize your long-term happiness or minimize your long-term pain. Holding an attitude that it is too hard to do what it takes to change ultimately proves self-defeating and blocks growth, development, and skill.

Rigid and Extreme Attitudes at the Core of Ego Defensiveness

Below are a few self-defeating rigid and extreme attitudes that will lead to unhealthy negative emotions and defensive reactions when you face constructive criticism. I also provide healthy alternatives that will enable you to profit from constructive criticism or not upset yourself over invalid criticism.

Self-defeating attitude: This criticism suggests I possess undesirable personality traits. I must only have favorable characteristics. I am a lesser of a person.

Growth-promoting attitude: This criticism suggests I possess undesirable personality traits. I wish I only had favorable characteristics, but I will also have some unfavorable ones because I am human. My negative aspects do not make me less of a person; they prove I am a fallible human. I do not have to reject myself because I possess undesirable personality traits.

Self-defeating attitude: It is too hard to tolerate and implement this negative feedback. 

Growth-promoting attitude: It is hard to tolerate and implement this negative, but it is worth considering how it may be harder in the long run to dismiss it. I will continue to trip myself up in the same way if I do not work on implementing valid criticism. I stand to gain pleasure and avoid pain by doing what is challenging to change a part of me that is self-defeating.

Self-defeating attitude: I have always done things correctly. I must not make mistakes. If I do make a mistake, it is awful.

Growth-promoting attitude: I wish I could avoid mistakes but I do not have to. It is unfortunate to make mistakes, but it is not the end of the world or awful. Mistakes are part of the human experience. I can acknowledge a mistake, not awfulize about it and not devalue myself for making it. I will learn to make fewer mistakes by accepting my mistakes and allowing myself to make them.

Self-defeating attitude: I must live up to my high standards of conduct. I cannot acknowledge how far I fell short this time and how painfully obvious it was to all to observe. I am not as good a person as I thought I was. I must hang my head in shame.

Growth-promoting attitude: I want to live up to my high standards of conduct, but sadly, I will sometimes fall short. Although there may be evidence that I have fallen short there is no evidence that makes me lesser as a person or a bad person. It is invalid and arbitrary to define myself in terms of negative performance. It is appropriate to feel disappointed in having fallen short, but I never have to feel shameful because I will choose to accept myself unconditionally.

Self-defeating attitude: I must always exhibit intelligent, mature, and effective behavior. I cannot tolerate acknowledging that I did not conduct myself perfectly well. I am lesser of a person for my display of such bad behavior.

Growth-promoting attitude: As much as I wish I never acted foolishly or stupidly and always exhibited intelligent, mature, and effective behavior, sadly, I will not. It is healthy to see I do not always have to be correct. By holding a flexible attitude to good conduct, I will not be defensive when presented with valid criticism and will be able to profit from it.

Self-defeating attitude: I must always act morally. 

Growth-promoting attitude: Although I always want to act morally, many factors make demanding this self-defeating. Life is messy and complex; sometimes, the course to take is unclear. It is also unrealistic to require this in an absolute way because I am a fallible human. By demanding moral behavior, I set myself up for guilt rooted in self-condemnation. It would be better for me to strive to identify the morally sound path and accept myself when I fail to go down that path. I can feel remorse for my transgressions and learn from them. Self-condemning guilt may lead me to want to deny my unscrupulous behavior. With this said, I do not wish to glibly excuse my misdeeds, as this, too, is self-defeating in the long run.

Self-defeating attitude: I need the approval of others. I must not acknowledge I am wrong.

Growth-promoting attitude: I want the approval of others but do not need, in an absolute sense, their approval. By having a healthy stance towards having others approve or disapprove of what I do, I can healthily tolerate disapproval and thereby admit when I am wrong and learn from the critical feedback they convey. Learning from their disapproval and profiting from it rests on unconditionally accepting myself whether or not I act well or poorly.

Self-defeating attitude: It is too hard to change. If I deny the validity of the feedback, I do not have to feel bad about myself for failing to change.

Growth-promoting attitude: Implementing constructive feedback can be challenging and uncomfortable but not impossible or unbearable. I do not have to implement valid feedback, but I may want to consider the benefits I will reap if I do. I do not have to devalue myself if I cannot or choose not to implement this feedback. By unconditionally accepting myself, I may be more objective in weighing the benefits of doing the hard work to implement the constructive criticism others give to me. Appreciating the benefits of working at change will assist in having the motivation to change.

Self-defeating attitude: I have to perfect myself. Others can be imperfect, but I will not tolerate my imperfections.

Growth-promoting attitude: I wish I could perfect myself, but unfortunately, this is impossible for any human to do. My nature is to be prone to errors and possess strengths and weaknesses. Demanding perfection leads to feelings of depression, guilt, and shame. It can also lead to procrastination or not trying things I could fail at doing perfectly well. It is more beneficial to strive to improve how well I do something, enabling me to appreciate negative feedback from others and profit from it. I will make my motto, "Better is better."

Self-defeating attitude: I must down myself if I exhibit undesirable behavior and possess negative characteristics.

Growth-promoting attitude: I do not have to down, devalue, or condemn my total self for exhibiting undesirable behaviors or possessing undesirable characteristics. I am unique, error-prone, complex, and in constant change, and no negative behavior, set of behaviors, or unwanted elements represents my total self or lessens me as a human. Instead, I can evaluate the parts of me and see which features are in my best interest to work at modifying. Whether I succeed or fail at this endeavor, I can unconditionally accept myself.

Self-defeating attitude: I must accept all feedback as valid and act to implement it.

Growth-promoting attitude: I do not have to accept that all feedback is valid. Learning to think for myself and separate valid criticism from invalid criticism is beneficial. It is imprudent to think all input is correct, just as it is imprudent to think all criticism is invalid. When I dismiss criticism as invalid, I never have to disturb myself for having received such criticism. It would be nice if we all agreed, but that is unrealistic. Life is complex, and in all probability, there are no absolute truths.


  1. Meditate on the reasons someone who does not like you might have for their position. What might they point to that put them off and constitutes valid feedback? What steps can you take to change how you act towards others? Evaluate if it would be in your best interest to do things differently in the future without making yourself feel bad about yourself as a person. What steps can you take to change how you act towards others?

  2. Ask someone to provide you with criticism or feedback. Pick someone whose judgment you respect but who dares to be honest with you. Strive to listen to the input with an open mind.

  3. What rigid and extreme attitudes do you hold that undermine your ability to evaluate objectively constructive criticism? How might you argue against these attitudes to loosen their grip on your mind?

  4. What self-defeating attitudes and feelings maintain the behavior you wish to change? How might you argue against these attitudes to loosen their grip on your mind?

  5. Gather evidence against those defensive attitudes to refute them.

  6. What healthier attitudes will open your mind and drive improved behavior in the future?

  7. Keep urging yourself to accept yourself unconditionally and remain open to negative feedback. 

About the Author...

Dr. Matweychuk is a practicing clinical psychologist in New York City. He treats emotional disorders (anger, anxiety, depression) and behavioral problems like phobias, unassertive behavior, procrastination, and lack of self-discipline. He demonstrates his therapy on Zoom every Saturday at 9 AM in New York. The demonstration is free to attend and helps determine if his short-term, solution-oriented cognitive behavior therapy is the type of focused therapy you have been searching to find.

Click here to contact or learn more about Dr. Walter J. Matweychuk

Last Update: 1/8/2024

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