A creative life cannot be sustained by approval any more than it can be destroyed by criticism.

Will Self

In a world that loves to highlight all the positive raves and dares not mention the negative ones, I think it’s high time we bring something out into the light. It’s something not many people talk about because it stirs feelings of fear, shame and unworthiness. Yet, if you’re doing anything that truly tests the limits and makes an impact in the world, I bet you my favorite Christian Louboutins that you’re going to– at some point– experience.

What is it?  The sting of criticism.

Just last week, a woman who signed up for my newsletter chose to respond to a blog post with the following:

“Tonya, this is so unrealistic and silly I simply don’t have the time or interest regarding this world of yours.”

This isn’t my first criticism rodeo.  I occasionally get that one person who loathes everything I have to say (who hates Champagne, Paris and all things beautiful).  Quelle tragique, I know.

Over the years of writing, speaking and running my company, I’ve become quite comfortable with criticism.  In fact, I often think of the beautiful line from Aristotle:

“To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.”

Oftentimes, I ask for it.  After my programs and retreats, I welcome feedback.  I want to always learn how I can improve and provide better value.

I’m also smart enough to know when the criticism isn’t about me.

So, just in case you’re ever confronted with criticism (and, high five when you do, because it tells me you’re actually doing something in the world and not just sitting around and complaining about it), here’s a smorgasbord of elegant responses that I have compiled over the years to deal with negative feedback, both inwardly and outwardly.

Elegant response #1: Consider the source.

I have never received hurtful criticism from someone I admire or who is busy creating something of value in the world.  Those people are too busy to tear others down.

It’s easy to criticize from the sidelines.

Elegant response #2: Don’t take it personally.

This may be the hardest step, but also the most important. Why? Because we all view the world with our own personal filters.

Unless you have hurt someone intentionally, it is not really about you.

As one of my favorite quotes says, “Judging a person doesn’t define who they are, it defines who you are.”

Elegant response #3:  Don’t respond immediately.


Take a day or two– or twenty, for that matter– to allow yourself the time to process the feedback before offering a response.

Elegant response #4:  Be gracious.

Whether or not it is warranted, criticism does give you a chance to step more into who you are. Which is, of course, a lovely and divine being.

For that, be grateful.

Express sincere gratitude for their feedback… and then let it go.

Elegant response #5:  Shine brighter

I once had a woman tell me I was too feminine.  My first reaction was to take off my heels and wipe off my lipstick.

In that moment, I had a choice.  I could dim my light OR I could shine even brighter.  I decided to dial up my femininity about 100 joules. It drove that poor woman mad.  However, by the end of the night, she was asking me for fashion advice.  That’s what happens when you stand in your truth: they’ll either leave your world or meet you where you are.

The brighter you shine, the more criticism you’ll receive.  And, the more people you’ll inspire.  (tweet it)

Elegant response #6:  Be compassionate.

In response to the woman who thinks my world is silly …

A world founded on the belief that each day should be beautiful, full of ease and pleasure and that dreams do come true…

…my heart goes out to her.

Elegant response #7: Uninvite

You’re an intelligent and thoughtful woman. You know when criticism is coming from a vengeful and ugly place and when it is warranted and appreciated.

To the ugly, this probably means that someone needs to be uninvited from your party.

For example, this blog you’re reading?  It’s my virtual home, of sorts. And, just like in my home, I welcome diverse opinions, healthy debates, and lots of varied conversation. Isn’t that what makes us beautiful and unique?

But when you decide to get nasty, you will be uninvited from my living room.

And for those who stick around, I guarantee you a fabulous time.

Elegant response #8:  Listen.

Sometimes, criticism is warranted.  It’s coming from a place of love and support.  There have been times in my life when friends have offered me feedback that held immense truth.

There was no need to respond.  Just a call to listen and process so that I could grow as an individual. It is an extraordinary gift when it is given and received with love.

To my dear friends: Thank you!

Elegant response #9:  Don’t be a praise whore

I almost suggested that you keep a fan file filled with praise to lick your wounds with the love and appreciation that’s around you, but I’ve discovered that criticism stings most to the person who relies on constant praise.  

Of course, we all love to feel appreciated and adored, but depending on one and trying to avoid the other keeps you locked up in needing external validation to feel a certain way.

Wouldn’t it be freeing to not be affected by either?  To just do your thing in the world, unapologetically?  That’s when you can love and serve the best – not needing the accolades or resisting the critics.  Depending on one is just as destructive and avoiding the other.  Juicy thought, isn’t it?

Elegant response #10:  Don’t apologize.

When your intent is good and you’re doing your work in the world, there is NO need to apologize for someone else being offended.

Truly, that’s their issue, darling, not yours.

Elegant response #11:  Welcome criticism.

After putting myself out there in the world for quite some time now, I’ve actually grown very comfortable with criticism.  It doesn’t sting nearly as bad as it used to.

It’s a muscle that must be built, and it can only grow if you’re willing to experience it.

So, welcome the criticism; don’t back down from it.  It’s a sign you’re doing something in the world and people are taking notice.


Elegant response #12:  Examine your response.

The moment words start rolling off the tongue or a negative email is opened, one of the best gifts you can offer yourself is to watch how you respond.

You’ll learn so much about yourself in the process.

Do you get angry and start screaming at the person?

Do you become sad and retreat like a little hurt puppy?

Do you open your heart to see if there’s any loving truth?

What do you make it mean about you?

There’s no right or wrong way to deal with criticism, but perhaps the elegance is in looking at yourself and discovering how you can use whatever comes your way to grow and learn.

Then– always from that place– respond accordingly. That’s elegance! 

And, if you want to be in company, watch this beautiful short documentary about Coco Chanel, who was no stranger to criticism.

As always, I’d love to hear how you handle criticism in the comments below.

Courageously Yours,


Design Your Most Extraordinary Life

Then, start living it