Why do I get angry or embarrassed while receiving criticism?

I often get upset over things that shouldn't make me angry. Often, I feel it's when I'm being criticized in some way or being told something I don't want to hear.
Asked by Sabrina


This is a great question. Thank you for writing about your concerns. Maybe it will help to first understand your anger. Anger is often a secondary emotion. It often comes after something else, like hurt, sadness, or disappointment. When these things are not dealt with, the accumulate. Your feelings may stack on top of each other. Anger eventually comes out as a way to regain control. It's not a conscious decision. It happens involuntarily. 

When I hear someone say little things are getting on their nerves, it makes me think there are other things that have built up over time. Your anger may be a defense mechanism designed to keep you from receiving information you may not like or may not agree with. You may first want to evaluate where the anger is coming from. Is there something underneath it that needs to be addressed? Are there things going on in your life that have led you to feel overwhelmed? Are there certain triggers that seem to repeat over time? If you can get to the root of the anger, you may be able to diffuse it. 

When exploring feelings you can go through this acronym: RAIN

R - Recognize the feeling

A - Accept the feeling

I - Investigate the feeling

N - Nurture yourself

Step one: What emotions are lying underneath the anger? What are the feelings that you may have dismissed or put aside?

Step two: Accept the feelings for what they are. Do not judge yourself for having them. They are feelings. Feelings are normal. It's ok to have them. Make a statement of acceptance. For example, you could say, "It's ok for me to feel hurt over my recent break up." 

Step three: Why do you feel this way? Has this happened before? Is there trauma in your past that may be contributing to the intensity of these feelings. For example, you may say, "Rejection is hard for me. It reminds me of when my parents divorced and my dad moved out."

Step four: How can you cope? What is something that lifts your spirits? What are some healthy coping skills for you? 

Here are some examples of healthy coping skills:

Going for a walk

Spending time with a pet



Talking to a friend or loved one

Being creative


Watching your favorite show or movie


Doing Yoga

Enjoying nature

Learning something new




Once you have a good understanding of you feelings, you can utilize your favorite copings skills to get control over your emotions. Next, you can work on finding ways to deal with criticism in a healthy way. Here are some tips:

1) Don't react immediately. Give yourself time to think and process what has been said. Allow yourself to think rationally about your response. Take your time. 

2) Assess the criticism. Take a step back: Who said it and Why? Are they trying to help you, but did not communicate their point of view nicely? Or are they trying to be mean? Taking a step back allows you to determine if perhaps the criticism has some real value that maybe you had not seen before. Could it help you in some way? Or if it's not helpful, brush it off.

3) Don't take it personally. Whether the criticism is intended to be helpful or not, you can't always be sure. You can always be in control though. Remember, sometimes people do things not to attack you, but to vent our anger or frustration. You have control over your response. You can choose to consider the source and move on if needed. 

4) Use it to your advantage. If the criticism has some truth to it, then the best thing you can do is to figure out how you can apply it to improve. If you have assessed the situation and the criticism is invalid, simply smile, walk away, and don't let it dent your self-confidence. Take a deep breath and blow it off. Life is too short to be angry. 

"You can't shake hands with a clenched fist" said Indira Gandhi during negotiations over a border dispute in the early 1970's. Some people think that being tough and coming in with a clenched fist is the way to get what you want from people. You're expecting them to do the same, but often you have to be open and trust other people to get things accomplished. 

(M.Ed, L.P.C.)