In this brief article I will explain the reason we respond to constructive criticism differently. By its very definition, constructive criticism is meant to improve our actions and performance, but even when we know it we sometimes become defensive when we receive such criticisms of our work or our selves.

You might have noticed that there are usually two kinds of responses to any form of constructive criticism: One, some people would take it positively and thank you for taking the time to help them improve; two, some people might take offense at your suggestions and might take any kind of constructive criticism as an affront to their very identities.

Trus me, there are deep psychological reasons for these responses. John Tag, a renowned scholar on education, discusses it at length in one of his books.1 According to Tag, we all inhabit either an entity identity or an identity in flux. Those of us who have internalized an entity theory of identity think of ourselves a complete and our work, thus, being an extension of ourselves, also comes across to us as perfect and complete. Thus, when someone offers even a little bit of criticism of our work, we feel it as an attack on our selves and respond defensively to it.

On the other hand, those who inhabit an identity in flux model, always see themselves and their work as a project in improvement. So, whenever someone offers some positive criticism of them or their work, they see it as a favor and often thank the person for taking the time to improve their work or their person.

So, roughly speaking, our responses to criticism, even positive criticism, are deeply connected to our identities and depending on what side of the spectrum we inhabit, we respond accordingly. Have you ever received criticism of your work or conduct from a teacher or a superior? If so, how did you receive it and respond to it? These two brief ideas about identity should help you understand your own response!

Note: I have a full course on Transformative Teaching that discusses these aspects of identity more extensively. Please also check my Courses page for other such courses.


  1. Jon Tag. The Learning Pardigm College.[]