How to Accept Constructive Feedback as a Highly Sensitive Person

A highly sensitive person receives constructive feedback

Although HSPs may be more sensitive to constructive feedback, it helps to remember that it’s usually meant to help you succeed.

I was a political science major and a history minor in college. One semester, I was taking a class that I needed for my history minor. One of my first assignments seemed pretty simple: I had to read an academic article related to Ancient Rome and write a review of it. As I always did, I put a lot of effort into the assignment and turned it in with confidence. When I got the assignment back, there was a big D+ at the top of the paper.

I had always been a great student and rarely got grades that low. I thought, if I can barely pass a simple assignment like this, what would the rest of the semester be like with this professor? I was so upset that I went to the registrar’s office to unregister for the class, only to find out that the deadline to do so had passed just a few days earlier.

Using Constructive Feedback as a Learning Experience

I was upset that I would have to continue this class, but looking back now, I’m thankful that I did. I continued to work harder in that class than in any other I was taking, and I ended up with a solid B at the end of the semester. Because I had no choice, I took the feedback that was written on the returned assignment — and there was a lot of it — and used that both as a learning experience and as determination to get better. And it paid off.

As I look back on that experience, I realize that, as a highly sensitive person (HSP), I naturally do not handle feedback well, even if it is intended to be constructive. From my experience, I believe it is because we are perfectionists — we like to make sure we do everything as well as possible. When we fall short of perfection, we’re disappointed in ourselves. (I’ve also learned this is common among HSPs.) I thought my professor was just being a jerk at the time, but I see now that he wanted me to succeed and gave me lots of feedback to ensure that I would later get a good grade that I truly earned.

Today, whether it’s at work, in my marriage, or in any other area of my life, I receive feedback often. I wouldn’t have been able to handle it well had I not had experiences like the one above that helped me grow accustomed to it. Each similar experience has shaped me to be able to handle constructive feedback well — even as an HSP.

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People Give Feedback Because They Want You to Succeed

I hate performance reviews at work. And it seems that there are many other people that do not enjoy them either. Being formally evaluated is not the most pleasant experience, and hearing about what you are doing wrong is not fun, especially when you rely on your job for your livelihood and you are trying your best. Plus, as I already mentioned, we sensitive types tend to be perfectionists, so when we hear we’re not-so-perfect, it can be tough. However, in many cases, performance reviews are a necessary part of the job because it allows us to hear about how we can improve, grow, and become the best employees that we can be.

I’m thankful that, for the most part, I’ve had bosses over the years that at least seem to understand that performance reviews are meant as growth opportunities and not as a chance to just bash employees for what they are doing wrong. That being said, being an HSP, it takes a lot of effort for me to not take the negative parts of my review personally, but instead, to use them as motivation to get better. I had to gain a lot of self-awareness over many years before I realized this.

I believe that the majority of bosses give constructive feedback because they want their employees to be the best that they can be. But perhaps you have a boss that isn’t kind and doesn’t care whether you improve based on your “constructive” feedback or not. In that case, be sure not to take the feedback personally. Rather, allow yourself to grow from the experience. You can’t control someone else’s attitude, but you can control your own.

No One Is Perfect (Even HSPs)

I had little experience dating before I started dating the woman who would become my wife. A few months into our time dating, she sent me an email detailing several things that I wasn’t doing to meet her needs and that I needed to do in order to make our relationship work. For example, I wasn’t taking enough initiative to take her out on dates or to talk to her enough while we were having dinner. (I was too focused on my food!)

As you can imagine, I didn’t take her email well. I was so upset that I told her that I had nothing to say in response, which caused her to get upset — she was really trying to help me and I wasn’t going along with it. I thought she was just being difficult and believed that she would ultimately leave me because of all my faults. However, she stayed with me, and we ended up getting married and have now been together for almost eight years.

Point being, like with a new job, when it comes to dating, all of us have to start somewhere. We will all make lots of mistakes during our first serious relationship because we don’t have the learning experiences that we need to know what to do and what not to do. I beat myself up pretty badly during this experience because I thought that there was something wrong with me.

However, I started to do a lot of the things that my girlfriend wanted me to do — like planning more dates for us and paying more attention to her while we were out to eat — because I loved her and wanted our relationship to work out. After my initial reaction of despair, I decided that I had to make the choice to do certain things differently, not because there was something wrong with me, but because I needed to learn and grow.

Like with my college assignment and performance reviews, my then-girlfriend provided me with constructive feedback not to be mean, but because she believed in me and wanted our relationship to work out. I now believe that she recognizes that I’m not perfect and that, as long as I am trying my best, our relationship can succeed.

We all make mistakes, despite our best intentions. She has made mistakes too; in fact, everyone out there reading this has made mistakes — because we’re all human. Over the years, I’ve kept that in mind before beating myself up too much over a mistake I’ve made. Plus, I’ve seen others (like my wife) forgive me, which drives me to keep working harder.

Being in a romantic relationship as an HSP is difficult because, when someone is in a relationship, they are probably critiqued analyzed on a regular basis. And HSPs especially don’t like that. However, when taken with the right attitude, that feedback can turn into positives for both people involved. It also takes initiative from the non-HSP (if there is one in the relationship) to learn how best to handle such situations when they come up.

HSPs Should Embrace Constructive Feedback, Not Dread It

As sensitive people, it’s our natural inclination to dread any kind of constructive feedback. We don’t want to let other people down. And we certainly don’t want to let ourselves down. Yet the only way we will become better human beings is if we embrace constructive feedback. This is important since other people look at us through a different lens other than our own and tell us what we can do to get better — which will benefit us both.

Believe me, I understand as much as anyone how hard it is. And I still struggle sometimes. Often, I will have to take a walk — which is great for my mental health and a way for HSPs to decompress — or otherwise remove myself from the situation for a while. 

So find a way to cope that works for you, but more importantly, remember that feedback is meant to help us grow, that most people do it to help us, and that no one is perfect. When we remember these things, we can become better partners, family members, friends, and coworkers.

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