Have you seen that comic strip that shows the guy hearing all kinds of praise and one bad thing, and how in the course of the day the praise fades and fades to nothing, 'til when he's lying in bed and all he can think is of that one bad thing?
Here it is:
I think about this comic all the time, because I am very susceptible to
this. In the comic, the one negative thing the guy can't get out of his
head is "you're a jerk," but my negative things range over all types and
categories and can include both comments from other that, for whatever
reasons, hurt my feelings, and also vicious negative self-assessment.
Anyone who teaches students can tell you about experiencing this with course evaluations. You can read one positive comment after another, sheet after sheet where the only negative feedback is "the readings were dry," and then you come upon someone who says you're incompetent or boring or disorganized or behind-the-times and -- WHAM. I promise, that is the comment you'll be thinking about for the next few weeks, or maybe forever.
I discuss this comic strip with people often, because it's important to remember what a widely shared experience it is and to keep in mind that feeling this way doesn't make you weak or weird or over-reacting or anything. It's just human nature.
When I share this comic strip and think about it, my mind often turns to thinking about how crazy it is that as humans hyper-sensitive to negative feedback, we've basically created a system in which people are constantly subjected to it. You'd think if we were people like the guy in the comic strip that we would find a way to create a society in which we are surrounded by praise and positive comments and only hear negative feedback in the gentlest and most constructive way.
But it's not like that at all. It's like the opposite. Most of us are surrounded with critical evaluation from all sides and only hear praise if we're lucky enough to have people around who love and care for us.
Worst of all, the people who are -- or who act -- the most impervious to criticism are often the people who are most successful. They exude positivity, and they prop up their personal brand and likability.
It is one of those strange states of affairs: we have massive human vulnerability, and modern society is set up for massive invulnerability. Like we set up society for people radically unlike ourselves. WTF?
I don't know how you undo any of these complicated systemic things that no one really designed, and that seem to emerge out of the always churning blend of capitalism, the Human Resources industrial complex, and people just needing to lord it over other people. But wouldn't it be nice if we could shift things around a little?