Name Calling, Insults and Teasing

A Guide To Anger, Conflict and Respect

Responding to Criticism by Crying: Is it a Sign of Immaturity?

calvin argumentReaders of this blog know that I have put forth a model of how to respond maturely to criticism.  To help readers to rate their own skill level, and that of others, I have, in earlier posts, outlined five levels of maturity. Level 1 is viewed as the most immature level, level 2 is viewed as a little more mature, and so on. Let’s take a quick look at the first four levels:

Four Levels of Responding to Criticism

1.  This level requires displaying one or more of the following:

  • Weeps or sobs with tears or pouts
  • Physically attacks the criticizer
  • Damages property

2.  This level requires displaying one or more of the following:

  • Insults the criticizer (either with words, hand gestures, the sticking out of a tongue, the rolling of the eyes, or smirks)
  • Glares at the criticizer
  • Threatens the criticizer
  • Punches, kicks, or throws an object without physically hurting someone or damaging anything
  • Criticizes the criticizer without first fully addressing the original criticism.

3.  This level requires displaying one or both of the following:

  • Displays defensiveness without directly insulting the criticizer (raising voice’s volume or pitch)
  • Displays a lack of interest either by verbally indicating this, or with nonverbal cues, or complete silence. 

4.  Level 4 individuals listen to the criticizer in a supportive, warm, friendly style, and then make it clear that they fully understand what was said.  Moreover, they put the criticizer at ease by making statements that indicate that the wise learn from criticism.  Some time is spent on showing that they are thinking about the criticism.  If, after thinking about the criticism the criticism is deemed to be correct, they make a statement frankly indicating, “I can see your ideas have merit and I intend to use them in the future.”  If they are not sure if they agree, they make a statement indicating that they are very interested in what was said, plan to think a little more about this over the next few days and then they will be ready to discuss this further.  If, after thinking about the criticism, the criticism is deemed to be incorrect, a statement is made designed to disagree without being disagreeable.  More specifically, a sense of humor, some listening in a caring way and a few smiles help to traverse rough terrain.  As the episode winds down, the criticizer is encouraged to feel comfortable communicating suggestions in the future.

The Most Immature Level

cryingAs you can see from the description of level 1, if you respond to criticism with weeping or sobbing with tears, this is viewed as among the responses viewed as very immature. I have placed this type of response at level 1 for three reasons.

First, I recalled that when I was very young, at times when I was criticized I would start to cry.  As I became older, I didn’t cry as much to such provocations.  And now, even when facing the most harsh levels of criticism, I’m pretty cool with it. From these recollections, it seemed to me that I had gone through some developmental levels as I became at least physically more mature, and part of this involved a reduction in crying when criticized.

Second, as I spoke to others, I found that this developmental change of crying less and less in the face of criticism as they became older is rather typical.

Finally, when I observed people crying in response to criticism, often people said things like the person was a cry baby or acting like a baby.  Since I have argued that one reason to respond to criticism in a manner that matches the more mature levels is because it increases the respect people have for us, it didn’t make sense to put crying into one of the higher level descriptions when it appeared to decrease the respect that people had for the criers.

crying manBut, since I came up with the five levels of maturity, I have met some individuals who seem rather remarkably mature to me in many ways, and yet they have revealed to me that they find themselves crying quite often when they are criticized.  They say that they are very sensitive individuals, that they don’t hurt anyone or anything when they go through this experience, and that I should consider removing crying from the description of the lowest level.

Well, therefore, let me propose a change to you, my readers, and see what you think.

Proposed Change

Weeping, sobbing and crying will only be viewed as the lowest level of maturity if the person responding to criticism does nothing else but that, or if he or she does that along with the other lowest level responses such as physically attacking the criticizer or damaging property.  If, after crying, he or she then begins to display responses consistent with level 4 or 5, crying will no longer be viewed as a sign of immaturity.

Although I could make this change after I get some feedback, I hasten to point out that it won’t change the fact that many people will still consider crying in the face of criticism as a sign of immaturity.  Some will lose respect for those who cry.

Perhaps these sensitive individuals can help to reduce the lack of respect that they might encounter.  They can explain that their sensitivity helps them to more deeply consider the criticism.   Moreover, they might suggest that for people who feel uncomfortable around someone crying, they can provide the criticism at first by email, snail mail or voice mail.  This will allow the sensitive person time to process the criticism. Then, a follow-up meeting to further process the criticism can be arranged.

I hope to hear from readers on this.

My Best


Some people will enjoy reading this blog by beginning with the first post and then moving forward to the next more recent one; then to the next one; and so on. This permits readers to catch up on some ideas that were presented earlier and to move through all of the ideas in a systematic fashion to develop their emotional intelligence. To begin at the very first post you can click HERE.

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9 thoughts on “Responding to Criticism by Crying: Is it a Sign of Immaturity?

  1. Jeff,
    I would think that you need to take into account the type of criticism offered. It could be anywhere from shockingly mean to constructive. It could be offered privately or publicly to humiliate or demean.

    If it is a mean, inappropriate or humiliating criticism, crying might be quite a mature response compared to counter attacking or planning revenge.

    • Thanks for your comment, Dr. Linda Saadin. I see your point about taking into account the type of criticism offered. And I fully agree with you that crying might be quite a mature response compared to counter attacking or revenge. I had tried to put my ideas into some succinct format, and now all of the ifs, ands, and buts are coming to the fore. I guess in the end I’ll have to tweak my wording so it more reflects the solid feedback that I’m getting. My Best.

  2. Robin McKinney on said:

    I would agree with Dr. Saadin with one addition. I find that my sensitivity depends a great deal upon what the relationship of the criticizer is to me. The more important the relationship, i.e. spouse or other loved one vs. complete stranger or mild acquaintance, the more likely the tears will appear.

    • Hi Robin McKinney. Yes, good point! The more important the relationship is to us, the more likely we will respond to negative criticism with deep down feelings that may be expressed with tears. Much thanks for taking the time to let me know how you feel about this. I’m always making important changes to my model because of the valuable comments I get from people like yourself.

  3. Normally I would say that I react to criticism on what you call the Most Mature Level. I try to make the situation easy for all. But sometimes, especially in close relationships, I don’t. Especially if the criticism is offered in a way that there is no room for sober arguments. Sometimes I feel really cornered, and all I want to do is to get out of the situation and come back when emotions have calmed down. I do not react on a mature level, as you put it. But it doesn’t have anything to do with immaturity, just that I know that there is nothing I can do. I may scream and walk away if this happens in a close relationship. If it happens with people I don’t need to interact with vrey often, I just won’t – and I most certrainly won’t let them see me crying. But if I do cry, in my own time and space, it is NOT a ssign of immaturity, but a relief. I rid myself of emotions. I can even get rid of a migraine by crying. I know this, as I am very sensitive and cry easily when watching movies or reading literature when I don’t worry about what people think. Crying is to me noe a sign of weakness or immaturity, but I do control it when it fits the situation. I don’t know if that is a sign of maturity or simply a cultural reaction because our society doens’t approve of emotions…

    • Hi Trude. I very much appreciate your thoughts and feelings on this topic. I think that your actions of getting yourself out of a situation that you don’t feel comfortable in, and then giving yourself sometime to calm down before returning to work on moving forward makes a great deal of sense. I’m not so sure about the screaming first part of your strategy before you walk away. But over the years I’ve come to know some people that I came to love dearly who act that way. Still, for me, I think it would be wiser to learn to respectfully say to the person that you are feeling uncomfortable with, “I’m going take a little time to think things over. Please excuse me.” By rehearsing in your imagination reacting in this way to someone you recall who had acted in a way that made you feel particularly uncomfortable, in time you may come to find that you can avoid the screaming part of your otherwise excellent strategy just long enough for you to get to a place where any screams won’t be heard by others. My Best.

      • I only mentioned the screaming to illustrate that one can be both rational and irrational. I only scream if I can’t get a word inn edgewise. I would have dine ; exactly as you suggest if I could, but some people have really loud voices and never stop yelling. That’s when I feel trapped and need a way out. I think some people cry for the same reason, it’s merely a reaction.
        For my part it only happens once or twice a year and it really means “stop yelling, I am never going to accept that kind of behaviour.” The resultat being that they daren’t hell anymore. It works, but it isn’t the sensible strategy. Sensible doesn’t always work, because other people aren’t always sensible.

  4. Thanks for clarifying your position, Trude. By the way, although I seek to be “sensible,” from time to time I’ve had a few lapses of my own. My Best, Jeff

  5. Pingback: My Answer to the Question, Are People Who Cry When Criticized Immature? | Name Calling, Insults and Teasing

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