Once a student asked me, “Should I start a blog? Do you think I’ll be judged?”
Without hesitation, I blurted out, “Yes, you will be judged.”
And the student stared at me like I’m the most discouraging teacher ever.
I laughed out loud and explained, “I’m just telling the truth. You’ll definitely be judged when you share your writing in the public regardless if your work is good or bad.”
And we both laughed.
We can’t avoid criticism.
The human mind loves to judge. It’s constantly forming opinion and conclusion about things. This is tall, that is short. This is good, that is bad, and etc. Whether you are judged positively or negatively, you are still being judged. We can’t avoid judgment, especially when we share our work publicly. There’s bound to be criticism.
Even though 99% of the comments I received are positive and I’m grateful for them, there’s still that 1% that disapproves me and my work. These criticisms come in the form of:
- Personal Attacks: “You are a f*cking idiot and lazy.”, “You are an Asian. English isn’t your first language. Why do you think you can be a writer?”
- Disapproval of My Writing Style: “Neither is this book good literature nor does it contain particularly inspired or scientifically valid information… the book is somewhat embarrassing.”
- Disagreement with What I Had Written: “I don’t know why you need to include this point. It’s so basic. It’s like someone telling everyone that 2 + 2 = 4. If you have found this site, I would hope you know something so basic.”
- Doubts About My Personality Type: “You’re definitely an INTJ, not INFJ.”, “This is a description of an INFP, not an INFJ.”
Whenever I received criticism like the above, my heart sank a little. But somehow, I managed to continue writing and not get discouraged by them. After writing for 5 years, I have learned how to handle and manage criticism better despite being a sensitive INFJs.
But before I share how I do it, let’s understand why INFJs are so sensitive to criticism.
Why Is INFJ Sensitive to Criticism?
First of all, INFJs are not the only ones who dislike criticism. Most personality types (if not all) don’t like to be criticized. The difference is how we react to it.
A feeling type might take criticism personally and feel hurt, while a thinking type might be quick to deflect the criticisms back to the critics and argue with them rationally. It doesn’t mean that the latter enjoy being criticized. Their way of reacting to criticism is by proving that they are right.
It’s challenging for any person to accept criticism, not only INFJs.
Our ego gets injured when other people have opinions that oppose our belief system. So it’s not a personal flaw that INFJs have. We don’t have to grow a stronger heart or thicker skin or be like the other personality types.
However, INFJs are indeed more sensitive to criticism than most others. Here’s why.
INFJs Pick Up on Subtle Tones and Signals Easily
INFJs have this extraverted feeling (Fe) gift which allows us to have a good sense of other people’s moods. We are able to reflect and mirror their feeling back to others with empathy and make them feel understood.
However, this ability to recognize subtleties in others also make us rather sensitive to criticism.
When INFJs are criticized, we don’t only hear the words.
We also pick up on the person facial expression, the tone of their voice, their body languages, eye contact, and etc. Together with our dominant introverted intuition (Ni) function, we interpret what the other person actually means when they criticize us.
Not only do we have a highly sensitive sensory system, but we also hear the meaning behind the words.
So if someone were to give us constructive criticism but their delivery is poor (i.e. they show contempt in their face or the language they use is harsh and rude), then it’s difficult for us to receive the criticism. It’s difficult for us to focus on the criticism because of all the signals that our Fe picks up.
Criticism Make INFJs Feel Invalidated
Our dominant function, introverted intuition (Ni), is something we trust and identify the most with but not something that other types can understand easily.
Often times, INFJs are criticized for our insights and intuition.
Sometimes, it’s because we didn’t organize our thoughts coherently in a way that is easy for others to understand. Other times, the other personality types just don’t see what we see and there is no way to explain our intuition to them in a manner that makes sense to them.
For example, my dad (probably an ISTJ) used to criticize me for being silly and stupid because of what I do or how I do things. In his mind, I’m crazy to have left my accounting job. Our worldviews are so different (my Ni vs his Si and my Fe vs his Te). He’s not able to accept what I intuitively know is right for me.
And it’s not just him. Some of my ex-manager and ex-colleague also told me that I don’t know how to think about the future or ask me when I would settle down and have a stable job.
Listening to these criticisms feel invalidating to INFJs because we operate mostly from our Ni function. To get criticize for our intuitive knowing (our most natural way of functioning), it doesn’t feel good to our sense of self. So most of us choose not to share our insights or deepest thoughts to random people. We don’t want to risk being criticized, judged or attacked by others.
INFJs Have a Tendency to Be Perfect and People-Please
To prevent being criticized by others, we INFJs criticize ourselves first. Our introverted thinking (Ti) function will run through our insights multiple times and organize them in such a way that is impeccable. So that when we present our ideas and work to others, it will be perfect and make sense to them.
When someone criticizes our work, it’s devastating to us because being perfectionists, we have already gone through rounds and rounds of internal editing before we have the courage to share our work. People aren’t just criticizing our work, they are also discrediting the time, effort and energy we put into perfecting our work.
Part of being perfect is also the hidden desire of not wanting to disappoint others.
Furthermore, due to our extraverted feeling (Fe) function, INFJs have a desire to please others and meet their expectations. We want to be perfect in other people’s eyes and not let anyone down. Being criticized means that we have failed in that aspect.
Many times, when people criticize me, I feel uncomfortable because I feel a need to do what they ask of me even though deep down inside, I know I don’t want to. Take my career path as an example. As much as I am adamant about what I want to do, there is also a part of me that wants my parents’ approval and disregard my own desire.
This external desire to create harmony causes internal conflict. It requires a lot of effort from the INFJ to calm down the Fe function and not take care of the other person’s feelings. That’s why INFJs are so sensitive to criticism.
How to Take Criticism Better As a Sensitive INFJ?
1. Pause and be present.
The most popular advice to deal with and manage criticism is to not take things personally. But how do you actually do it?
Whenever I receive a comment, the first thing I would do is to pause. I have to go within and make sure that I’m present enough before I read the comments. If not, it would be easy for me to get affected by the comments and become reactive.
As you read the comment, continue to stay mindful.
Be aware of any feelings of discomfort or anger that is rising. Pay attention to how your body or mind want to react to the criticism. Perhaps you feel that your ego is shrinking and you want to defend yourself. Or maybe you feel a cold pang around your chest as though your heart is sinking.
Being mindful provides you a space between the criticism and your reaction so that you can choose your words and action with intent rather than react unconsciously. This cuts down unnecessary conflicts and regrets that you might experience later. As you are reading the criticism, you might even want to pause and amp up your presence before coming back to read the criticism.
Of course, text criticism is easier to deal with than verbal criticism. But turning inward and be present helps in a face-to-face situation too. Most of the time, when INFJs talk to others, our attention naturally flows to the other person and how they feel because of our Fe. But you want to be aware of how you feel too so that you know how the criticism is affecting you and your actions.
2. Examine the intention of the critic.
Criticism can be split into three parts:
- the intention of the critic,
- the execution of the criticism, and
- the content of the criticism.
When someone criticizes you, you must understand the intention of the critic. Most of the time, their criticism is not about you. It’s about them.
People criticize based on their own projections and assumptions.
Previously, I was attacked by a couple of animators because I wrote a post on why I quit my animation job. They called me an idiot and dissed me for wanting to be a writer.
Knowing the intention of the critic helps me to not take the criticism personally. I know the critics had misinterpreted what I had written because they held on too strongly to their identities as animators. They think that I’m attacking them and the animation industry, but that’s not the case. I wrote the post to help me sort out my decision to quit.
Understanding that they were projecting their own issues of being animators onto me and protecting their ego, I was able to get over the criticism quickly and not react to their attacks. I just simply removed the blog post.
Knowing the intention of the critic also helps you decide if you want to pay attention to the criticism at all. If their intention is not to help but to hurt you, then forget about what they say. Nowadays, when I notice that people are venting, I just ignore and don’t pay any attention to their comments.
We can’t be perfect in everyone’s eyes. Don’t even try! So why not focus on the 99% that do love what you do instead of the 1% who hates your guts?
3. Let other people know how you want them to give you the feedback.
INFJs can accept feedback as long it is presented in a kind and considerate manner. Some people might have the good intention of helping you but they might think that giving feedback is about being critical.
Some people have this false belief that the harsher their criticism is, the more helpful they are. Not true! It depends on the receiver.
If a person truly wants to help the other person improve, they have to make sure that the other person can receive their feedback clearly. If they use harsh language and it makes the receiver emotional, it reduces the receiver’s ability to hear their feedback. Then, what’s the point of giving feedback in the first place?
Are they just showing off how much they know and how right they are? Or do they truly want to help you?
You almost have to train others how to treat you nicely.
As INFJs, if you don’t feel good about the way you are being criticized, tell the other person. Say something like:
- “I can’t hear you well or receive your criticism well when you use such words or when you raise your voice.”
- “Telling me that my work sucks or is not good enough doesn’t help me at all. Can you give me specific ways to improve my work?”
If the other person resists and says that you are too sensitive or you need to toughen up, then tell them: “Yes, I am sensitive. If you want to communicate with me, that’s the way to do it. If you can’t do that, then I don’t need your feedback.”
This is basically how I train my parents to talk to me. It’ll take several times before the other person get used to it. But people who genuinely care about you will make the effort to change how they communicate with you.
But of course, not everyone will be able to change their communication style. For example, I have an autistic student. Everything he says sounds like an accusation: “You are too soft! You are confusing me!” So I learn not to take it personally.
4. Identify the parts of the criticism that is helpful and discard the rest.
Not all criticism is helpful even when they are well-intended and delivered properly. For example, I received a criticism for my memoir, The Emotional Gift, saying that the book is not scientifically-research and not a good literature. However, that’s not my style of writing, so I directed the person to other depression books that are more technical and have a literary tone.
There is no need to change yourself or your work for the critic.
It’s like you are making a romantic movie and the other person wants to watch a horror movie. Of course, it doesn’t match!
But I did extract something valuable out of the criticism. For all the other books that I wrote, I started telling the readers that my books are based on self-reflection right at the start of my books. This helps to filter away those readers who are looking for scientifically-research books.
Accepting criticism means accepting that another person has a different point of view as you. It doesn’t mean that you have to follow exactly what they have suggested or satisfy their expectation of you.
Moreover, everyone has different opinions about you and your work. One person might love your work while the other person might hate it for the same reason. So who do you listen? If you keep shifting yourself to please others, you will lose yourself and your personal style in the process. Use your own discretion instead and follow your heart.
5. Take yourself less seriously.
If you take yourself too seriously, then you will end up like the animators I mention in point #2. You will be easily offended or hurt by everything that people say. Even if the other person is not saying anything about you, you will take it personally.
In language, we say that we are INFJs. But we are more than our MBTI type, Enneagram type, gender, nationality, occupation, the work we do, and etc, right? If you ever come across an article that criticizes INFJ, there’s no need to get defensive. Because they are talking about their experience with the INFJs they know, they are not talking about you.
And when people criticize your work, they are talking about your work. They are not talking about you as a person. Their criticism might make you feel uncomfortable but don’t interpret that as a personal flaw or rejection.
Hold your identity lightly and no one can hurt you.
People can judge you but you don’t have to judge yourself. When people throw rocks at your ego, you can hold on tightly to your identity and protect or defend your position. But that just makes you a part of their war.
However, if you are able to hold your identity and ego lightly like air, the rocks that are thrown at you will pass through you without hurting you. Then, your critics will have no one to fight with. They will just be throwing rocks at emptiness. So take yourself less seriously.
When you stop judging yourself as good or bad, people’s criticisms of you don’t really matter that much anymore.
To learn more about how to not take things personally, I recommend reading the book, The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz.
If you want to find out more about how to love yourself as an INFJ, be sure to download my free eBook called Self-Acceptance for INFJs.
Featured Photo Credit: nature of the experiment / lauren rushing