I took a creative writing class in college that was made up of 25 writers. Each week a couple of us passed out a chapter of our work to everyone else. The next week we took turns getting feedback.
“Feedback” meant 24 other people sitting and staring at you and telling you about all of the problems they found in your writing.
I hated that class so much.
Whenever it was my turn my stomach dropped, I started sweating, my throat locked up, and I wanted to crawl under the table.
For years I thought that apparently I was not cut out to be a writer. Because writers have to learn how to grow a thick skin, right? If you can’t take critique then how can you ever improve, right? And if my skin seemed to be inherently as thin as tissue paper, and the only way I could receive criticism was by hiding under a table first, it stood to reason that maybe this whole writing thing just wasn’t for me.
But then I found out I’m an INFJ. And that my difficulty with criticism wasn’t about criticism at all. It was actually part of my ongoing struggle with my intense emotions, and my nonstop imagination.
INFJs and INFPs are highly sensitive, empathetic, naturally compassionate and emotional creatures. We can negotiate conflict if we have to, but we have a low tolerance for it. Ongoing conflict withers our immune systems and shuts our spirit down. Because of our unique blend of personality traits we are born peacemakers, and we almost always end up fulfilling this role in our own family or circle of friends.
We also find it challenging sometimes to separate another person’s emotions from our own. If the emotion is a strong one—like anger or fear—and it’s experienced by someone we’re close to, then holding a boundary in that area becomes incredibly challenging.
And so, most INFJs and INFPs take it upon themselves to keep everyone happy. We are the classic definition of “people-pleaser.” As irrational as it may be, when someone around us is not happy with us—in any way—it affects us. At the worst, we feel like we’ve done something horribly wrong and at the best, we feel mildly anxious for the next hour or so.
Now here’s the next step: When INFJs and INFPs feel anxious, we retreat inside our mind. Our inner world is our refuge, but it can also be a total nightmare. Our minds move at the speed of lightning and our imaginations are on a constant acid trip. On a normal day while commuting to work, I’m actually inside my head zooming along at 200mph in a rocket shaped like a teacup with a talking giraffe. When I get stressed or anxious, my crazy brain bottoms out and everything gets even more extreme. Everything seems hopeless. Because my imagination is one of my best strengths, I can easily imagine all the worst case scenarios.
If you’re an INFJ or an INFP, criticism will be more challenging for you. You are just never going to be the type of writer who has that “water off a duck’s back” thing going on. That’s okay. The goal of this post is not to make you change. It’s to help you embrace what you are and work with it. Your emotional sensitivity and overactive imagination are your strengths. Like all true superpowers, they come with strings attached.
This is your game plan on how to use those superpowers to receive criticism on your writing in the most effective way you can.
Find the Emotional Boundary
Ask yourself these questions: Is the person delivering the criticism coming from a well-intentioned place? Do they have an agenda? Are you possibly triggered by a situation in your past that the current criticism reminds you of? Determine if the person giving criticism is authentic and the criticism itself accurate (although you may have to hold off on the latter until your emotions cool down). If the answer is no, disregard the criticism altogether. If it’s yes, move forward with the next step.
Hold the Emotional Boundary
Recognize that it is not you as a person that’s being criticized. Although our writing feels like an extension of ourselves, the criticism it receives has nothing to do with our essence or value as a human being. That never changes. Also, recognize that criticism of your writing is not a permanent judgment on your talent as a writer. It’s a suggestion for improvement on one thing you’ve written.
Use Your Imagination
Yes, you’re going to retreat inside your head just like before, but this time you’re going to call up situations in the past where you received a piece of criticism that actually turned out to be very helpful for you. It doesn’t have to be about writing. Maybe as a teenager your dad told you that you were changing the oil in the car the wrong way and you avoided blowing up your engine. Or a friend tactfully told you that the outfit you planned to wear on a first date wasn’t the most flattering. The important thing is to pick a memory in which the person had your best interest at heart and their observation helped you in the long run.
Take a Few Days to Cool Off
This step is absolutely essential. INFJs and INFPs experience intense emotions. The same is true of ENFJs and ENFPs, but those extroverted personalities are way more likely to talk about their experience and connect with others to get perspective. INFJs and INFPs must turn inward to integrate new information. It’s crucial to give yourself a few days to let your emotions cool down and your brain process the criticism.
Revisit the Criticism
You’ve located your boundaries and you’re holding them in place. You’ve reminded yourself of all the helpful criticism you’ve received in the past. You’ve taken the time and space you need to move forward calmly. Now you’re going to examine the most recent criticism, and you’re going to look for the silver linings. You’re going to be a bloodhound detective and sniff out the tiniest details of how this criticism can be of benefit to you. Make a note of these benefits and use your observations to improve the work.
It’s okay to have a thin skin. Even if you’re not an INFJ or an INFP, if you’re reading this you’re a writer and an artist. Your work is your soul’s purpose and your meaning in life. Hearing criticism about it is hard. But criticism is also the most valuable thing you could ask for. Like most challenging situations, it pushes you to grow and learn. If you know your type it can help you zero in on the most effective means of negotiating critical waters.
Just be sure to show yourself a little compassion and know that it’s okay to have a hard time with it.
And if you’re interested in learning more about INFJ and INFP writers and how we work check out my book: