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Toxic Criticism and Developing Creativity

Healthy criticism can help refine our creative talents and projects, enabling our pursuit of excellence.

But when criticism is based on excessive perfectionism or an unrealistic self concept, it can be destructive and self-limiting, eroding our creative assurance and vitality.

In one of his podcast series, creativity coach and psychologist Eric Maisel declares, “Criticism is a real crippler. I’m sure that you know that.

“But you may not be aware just how powerful a negative force criticism can be, how much damage it can do to your self-confidence, or how seriously it can deflect you from your path.”

He adds, “Almost nothing does more psychological damage than criticism.

“Criticism comes at us from the past, as bad memories and as our own introjected ‘inner critic.’ It comes at us every day, at work and at home. Some of it is minor and only ruffles our feathers a little bit. But a surprising amount of it is toxic, as bad for our system as any poison.”

Continued in his article Introducing Toxic Criticism, adapted from his book Toxic Criticism: Break the Cycle with Friends, Family, Coworkers and Yourself.

In another article – Silencing Self-Criticism – Dr. Maisel writes, “You eliminate self-criticism by not turning thoughts and feelings into self-criticism. No matter how accusatory the thought, no matter how dreadful the feeling, you do not allow that thought or that feeling to glide into self-criticism.”

One of the main reasons to refrain from criticizing yourself, he says, is “because you understand that self-criticism is not a motivator but a disincentive to act.”

He notes that “It is hard, verging on impossible, to effectively handle criticism if you regularly turn information from the world into self-criticism.”

Self-criticism just as toxic

But it isn’t just information from “out there” – this sort of “poison” can also come from our own minds.

Highly creative and talented people are often susceptible to perfectionism and unreasonably high standards and expectations that can lead to this exaggerated criticism.

Lesley Sword, director of Gifted and Creative Services, in Australia, finds that gifted children are “highly self critical and over reactive to the criticism of others. They express dissatisfaction with themselves; they see what ‘ought to be’ in themselves… They have a vision of perfectionism that they measure themselves against and they can become despondent sometimes even depressed, at their perceived failure.”

From my article Being Creative and Self-critical.

As a creative adult, we may still hold on to many of those dissatisfactions, and we can benefit from being more aware of how we generate or respond to criticism. Wouldn’t more self-praise benefit our creative life?

Image: Anton Ego, the food critic in the movie “Ratatouille.”

Toxic Criticism and Developing Creativity

Douglas Eby

Douglas EbyDouglas Eby, MA/Psychology, is a writer and researcher on psychology and personal development related to creativity; creator of the , and author of books including [link to book site with excerpts.]
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APA Reference
Eby, D. (2011). Toxic Criticism and Developing Creativity. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 27, 2020, from


Last updated: 5 Jan 2011
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