Sensitivity and criticism 

Social phobics, as well as many of your other patients, are likely sensitive to criticism and can therefore be easily hurt by it. Fortunately, like communication in general, there are techniques for both receiving and giving criticism effectively. This is what we will explore today.

We must distinguish between three types of criticism your patient may receive:

  • Justified criticism
  • Unjustified criticism
  • Vague criticism

justified criticism

Listenning to the criticism

When your patient is criticized, it is important that they take the time to listen to the criticism. Just like in conflict management, they should ask themselves: “What exactly am I being criticized for? What is the exact problem? Am I being criticized for being late? For not doing my homework properly? For not being serious? For not submitting my work on time?”

The patient should take the time to listen to the specific issue being criticized. Then, they should apply the same techniques found in chapters 1, 2, and 3 on self-assertion. Even if your patient is sensitive and feels overwhelmed by their emotions, which they should accept as discussed in the chapter on emotion management, they need to decenter themselves. The criticism is not aimed at their personality but at their actions. The patient should allow their emotions to settle before addressing the conflict related to the criticism. They should avoid personal interpretations and stay focused on the subject of the criticism.

The same principles and rules apply to their response to criticism: they should not be aggressive, should try not to be defensive, but should simply state what they think and feel as clearly as possible.

So, the first thing to do is to listen carefully to the criticism. If the criticism is justified, they should acknowledge their mistake without justifying themselves to avoid conflict. Admitting their faults when the criticism is justified can prevent 99% of conflicts. Once the patient has actively listened, they can apply the many techniques of Dr. Malbos.



Your patient should clearly state their position: “I think you’re right, it’s true that I need to pay more attention to arriving on time. From now on, I’ll be more mindful and motivated.”


The patient can, for example, admit that the criticism makes them feel sad or a bit down. Conversely, if the emotion is positive, they can share that they are glad their manager brought up the issue so they can now work better together


In the case of an overly insistent criticism, your patient can use the “broken record” technique: “As I said, it’s true, I made a mistake, but now I’ll move forward and work to correct it.”


Sometimes, your patient might face an interlocutor who criticizes them, but the criticism is not the real issue. Often, the criticism hides something else and is not justified. In this situation, they should perform a negative inquiry: “As I said, I will work on this issue, but I see you keep repeating it. Is there perhaps something else behind your criticism? Are you reproaching me for something else?”

This gives the interlocutor the opportunity to express the real issue behind the facade criticism.



Finally, your patient should always end their response to the criticism warmly: “Thank you for raising this issue with me. It was very useful. I will now work on this.”

This allows the criticism to be resolved without causing suffering.

Unjustified criticism

What about when it is an unjustified criticism? Your patient should not apologize or acknowledge the criticism. However, the patient must understand that the criticism must be objectively unjustified. Nevertheless, the patient should listen to the elements of the criticism to use them later to demonstrate that the criticism is unjustified. Again, active listening is very important: “I understand that this work is important, but I have done my work as necessary.”

If the interlocutor insists, the patient should move into “broken record” mode: “But I already told you. I have done my work.”

The patient can also use the self-disclosure technique: “It hurts me that you think I didn’t do my work.”

Or use the positive emotion disclosure technique: “It’s good that you raised this issue, but it’s not the problem because I really did my work.”

Even in the case of unjustified criticism, the negative inquiry should be used: “I didn’t make this mistake, but I would like to know if there’s something else behind this because I see you insist.”

Always, offer a compromise: “I see there’s an issue, I did my work as expected, but maybe I can help. Let’s try to find a solution together.”


vague criticism

For vague criticism, simply clarify the situation. The patient can say to the interlocutor: “What exactly are you criticizing me for in this situation?” Vague criticism is easy to resolve; just clarify it to determine whether it is justified or unjustified. Once identified, apply Dr. Malbos’s techniques accordingly.


It is also important to warn your patient about manipulation. Social phobic patients often get easily manipulated. For instance, in a conversation about moving, the interlocutor might play on the patient’s fear of losing friendship if they don’t help.

Your patient needs to learn to recognize manipulation and not engage in the interlocutor’s game. Always express emotions clearly: “It’s true, you’re my friend, you are very important to me, and yes, we have known each other for a long time, but I really can’t help you move this Sunday. However, if you leave some things for Monday, I can help then.” The patient should be clear, disclose themselves, and seek a compromise.

Detecting manipulation, even if the interlocutor isn’t always aware of it, is crucial for your patient, as it allows them to respond appropriately.



How can a social phobic defend against mockery or insults ?


The easiest thing to do is self-derision. Your patient should take the insult from the interlocutor and exaggerate it. For example, if the interlocutor says to your patient, “You look like a clown,” the patient can reply: “Yes, it’s true, I’m a clown. Yesterday, I was working at the circus, and it pays well. I’m going to be very famous soon.” The interlocutor then feels trapped. This technique is simple because it just involves repeating what the interlocutor says, regardless of the subject.

Practice with your patient using examples like “Your clothes are horrible, and what’s that handbag?” “You’re completely stupid!” “You’re too weird, you’re an alien,” etc.


Incongruity is the second technique your patient can use against mockery. It involves responding to a mockery with an unrelated comment. If the interlocutor says, “You look ridiculous in your clothes,” your patient can respond: “Yes, yesterday I was walking by the river, and I saw seagulls. It’s beautiful to see seagulls in the landscape.” Again, the interlocutor feels trapped. This “mismatch” technique can be very practical.



This technique is much harder to apply because it requires quick thinking to respond to an insult. It takes some practice before it can be applied effectively.

This technique involves finding a way to mock the interlocutor in return. For example, if the interlocutor says, “You look ridiculous in your clothes,” the patient should analyze the interlocutor’s look. Assuming the interlocutor is a hipster, your patient could respond: “Maybe I look ridiculous, but at least I don’t look like a bourgeois dressed as a bum like you.”

Reciprocity can be combined with self-derision to make it easier to apply. For example, if the interlocutor says, “You’re stupid,” the patient could respond: “Of course I’m stupid, that’s why I’m in the same class as you.”





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