Q: Someone could tell me 99 positive things about me and one negative, and I will dwell on that one thing. Why do I do this?
We humans are really good at dwelling on stuff that makes us feel bad. This negativity bias was helpful to our ancestors when survival depended on avoiding distress, danger, and discomfort. It helps explain why criticism stings so much and why a negative comment eclipses anything positive. Just because we are hardwired to be sensitive doesn’t mean that we must take everything so personally.
One of the best strategies to defang the sting of criticism is to dissect it. Recognize that the negative comment is about something specific and not an indictment of you as a human being. If your manager thought your presentation wasn’t good enough, it does not mean that you are not enough. You are not your presentation. When you separate the comment from yourself, you gain perspective and will be more open to hearing what the other person has to say.
Dr. Samantha Boardman is a clinical instructor in psychiatry and an assistant attending psychiatrist at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York and the founder of positiveprescription.com.
This article originally appeared in the August 2018 issue of Marie Claire.