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  • Writer's pictureSheena Kirkendoll

The Psychological Pain of a Bad Review

We all live in a world that is powered by online reviews. These reviews guide us in making decisions like where to eat, hotels to stay in, services to book, and even very important decisions like choosing a therapist or doctor. While reviews are important to provide guidance, they can also be psychologically painful for business owners, service providers, employees, and others who rely on reviews to make what they are doing successful.
Business owners and employees often put their blood, sweat, and tears into the business they are a part of. They care about what they do, their customers, and the quality of service provided. When someone leaves a bad review, this can be particularly damaging to the business owner and/or employee’s mental health. This is especially true if the review does not have merit or maybe it is just a bad day for the business. Perhaps the business and its employees are close to perfect most days but have made a mistake or fallen on hard times. This may include staffing shortages, a key member losing a loved one, illnesses, lack of supplies, and other significant life circumstances. While the business and employees know what is going on behind the scenes, the world does not. The business will hopefully bounce back from the review, but it is still a constant reminder. This is where the psychological pain of a bad review begins.
In the marketing world they say, “there’s no such thing as a bad review.” That is one way to spin it, but it does not make most people feel better. One negative review often weighs heavier on your mind than the 50 glowing reviews you received before it. When you consider this, it does not seem reasonable or logical to continue looking through a negative lens and being hard on ourselves. Even if you recognize you are having an emotional response to the review, you may find it difficult to change. There are several reasons for our reactions and the good news is there are things within our control.
From a scientific standpoint, there is a reason humans respond this way. It is called “negativity bias.” In the simplest of terms, negativity bias is the tendency to pay more attention to negative information than positive information. According to Clifford Nass of Stanford University, “our brain processes and holds negative and positive information in two separate hemispheres.” The negative experiences are processed in the same hemisphere that controls thought. It takes a lot more time and effort to process something negative that occurs. When more time is spent thinking about something, it is more likely to be remembered. This is partially why it is easy to dwell on a negative experience instead of the positive ones. It is also important to consider that focusing on negative, bad, and dangerous things is part of our biology. Our ancestors were taught to detect danger as a means of survival. While a bad review may not compromise your safety, it is still our brain’s way of protecting us.
Yet another reason these reviews can be so disheartening is because they are often permanent without the option to delete or change them. This can create a powerless feeling. In the therapy world we like to use the term “unmanageable.” Sometimes things happen and we do not have the ability to change them. This is something that is unmanageable. It can be difficult for people to accept that they did what they could and let it go. Accepting there is nothing more that can be done about the review is challenging but it is possible.
A final reason these negative reviews impact mental health is because they feel personal. The review may feel like an attack of the person’s character, threaten revenue, and damage the individual or businesses reputation. When a person experiences a threatening situation, in this case a bad review, it can trigger the body’s natural physiological reaction to want to fight (acting out aggressively/angry response to review), flight (running away from danger/quitting job), or freeze (unable to move or act against a threat/doing nothing). Any of these natural responses have the potential to make the situation worse for various reasons if not handled appropriately.
Now that you know a few reasons why a bad review can be so damaging to your mental health, I will provide suggestions on how to feel better and make the most out of a bad situation.
1. Focus on the positive. Go back and read previous reviews that have great, encouraging things to say about your work and/or business. If you do not have other reviews ask loyal customers or loved ones for feedback.
2. Respond to the review. This does not mean you have to explain the situation or defend yourself. Simply acknowledging the review and offering solutions shows that you care and makes it a little more manageable.
3. Encourage others to share their experiences. Unfortunately, people tend to share negative reviews before positive ones. When something is good it does not get the attention it deserves, simply because it is good.
4. Reframe the situation. Try to find something positive. This may be a lesson learned, bonding with coworkers over the experience, or priding yourself in your response.
5. Give back by leaving positive reviews for some of your favorite businesses. While this does not make your bad review go away, this is a nice way to make others feel appreciated. Think of how good it feels to get positive feedback and pay it forward.
6. Take some time for self-care. Make sure you are taking care of all your basic needs and do something that makes you happy. Go for a walk, take a bath, spend time with family, friends, or a pet, sing a song, or basically anything that supports your mental health.
7. Give yourself some grace. No is one perfect and that is okay! What advice would you give to someone else who received the same review? Perhaps take your own advice and use this to learn and grow.
If you have tried all the suggestions above and are not seeing an improvement, please reach out to a mental health provider to schedule an appointment. There may be something else that is contributing to the distress. We all need a little extra help and support at times.

By: Sheena Kirkendoll
LSCSW, LCAC, LCSW, CRAADC, SAP, CCTP-II
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