Why do we criticize others

What's Wrong with Criticism | Psychology Today

As Oscar Wilde once said, “Criticism is the only reliable form of autobiography." It tells you more about the psychology of the critic than the people he or she criticizes. Astute professionals can formulate a viable diagnostic hypothesis just from hearing someone's criticisms.

Criticism is also the first of John Gottman’s famous Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, which he has used to predict divorce with over 90 percent accuracy. It's the most apocryphal, as the other three tend to follow from it—stonewalling, defensive, and contemptuous partners almost invariably feel criticized.

Criticism is destructive to relationships when it is:

  • About personality or character, rather than behavior
  • Filled with blame
  • Not focused on improvement
  • Based on only one “right way” to do things
  • Belittling

Criticism in close relationships starts out on a low key, in most cases, and escalates over time, forming a downward spiral of resentment. The criticized person feels controlled, which frustrates the critical partner, who then steps up the criticism, increasing the other’s sense of being controlled, and so on.

Why Criticism Doesn't Work

At no time in this downward spiral does an obvious fact occur to critical people: Criticism is an utter failure at getting positive behavior change. Any short-term gain you might get from it builds resentment down the line.

Criticism fails because it embodies two of the things that human beings hate the most:

  1. It calls for submission, and we hate to submit.
  2. It devalues, and we hate to feel devalued.

While people hate to submit, though, we actually like to cooperate. Critical people seem oblivious to this key point about human nature: The valued self cooperates; the devalued self resists. If you want behavior change from a partner, child, relative, or friend, first show value for the person. If you want resistance, criticize.

Why We Criticize Anyway

Critical people are certainly smart enough to figure out that criticism doesn’t work. So why do they keep doing it, even in the face of mounting frustration?

It's because criticism is an easy form of ego defense. We don’t criticize because we disagree with a behavior or an attitude. We criticize because we somehow feel devalued by the behavior or attitude. Critical people tend to be easily insulted and especially in need of ego defense.

Critical people were often criticized in early childhood by caretakers, siblings, or peers, at an age when criticism can be especially painful. They cannot distinguish criticism of their behavior from outright rejection, no matter how much we try to make the distinction for them, as in the well-intentioned, “You’re a good boy, but this behavior is bad.” Such a distinction requires a higher prefrontal cortex operation, which is beyond most young children. For a child under seven, anything more than occasional criticism, even if soft-pedaled, means they’re bad and unworthy.

The only thing young children can do to survive is attach emotionally to people who will take care of them. Feeling unworthy of attachment, as criticized young children are apt to feel, can seem like life or death. So they try to control the great pain of criticism by turning it into self-criticismbecause self-inflicted pain is better than unpredictable rejection by loved ones.

By early adolescence, such children begin to “identify with the aggressor”emulating the more powerful criticizer. By late adolescence, their self-criticism expands to criticism of others. By young adulthood, it appears to have shifted entirely to criticism of others. But most critical people remain primarily self-critical—I have never treated one who was not.

As hard as they are on others, most are at least equally hard on themselves.

Are You Critical?

You’re likely to be the last to know whether you’re a critical person. As the joke goes: “I give feedback; you’re critical. I’m firm; you’re stubborn. I’m flexible; you’re wishy-washy; I’m in touch with my feelings; you’re hysterical!”

If someone says you’re critical, you probably are. But there’s a better way to tell: Think of what you automatically say or think to yourself if you drop something or make a mistake. Critical people will typically think, Oh you idiot, or curse or sigh in disgust. If you do that to yourself, you most likely do it to others.

Criticism or "Feedback?"

Critical people often delude themselves into thinking that they merely give others helpful feedback. Here are some ways to tell the two apart.

  • Criticism focuses on what’ s wrong: Why can’t you pay attention to the bills?
  • Feedback focuses on how to improve: Let’s go over the bills together.
  • Criticism implies the worst about the other’s personality: You’re stubborn and lazy.
  • Feedback is about behavior, not personality: Can we start by sorting the bills according to due date?
  • Criticism devalues: I guess you’re just not smart enough to do this.
  • Feedback encourages: I know you have a lot on your plate, but I’m pretty sure we can do this together.
  • Criticism implies blame: It’s your fault we’re in this financial mess.
  • Feedback focuses on the future: We can get out of this mess if we both give up a few things. What do you think?
  • Criticism attempts to control: I know what’s best. I’m smarter and better educated.
  • Feedback respects autonomy: I respect your right to make that choice, even though I don’t agree with it.
  • Criticism is coercive: You’re going to do what I want, or else I . .. (won’t connect with you or will punish you in some way).
  • Feedback is not coercive: I know we can find a solution that works for both of us.

If you’re angry or resentful, however, any feedback you offer will be heard as criticism, no matter how you put it. That’s because people respond to emotional tone, not intention. So it’s best to regulate your anger or resentment before you try to give feedback.

To give feedback from your core value:

  • Focus on how to improve.
  • Focus on the behavior you would like to see, not on the personality of your partner or child.
  • Encourage change, instead of undermining confidence.
  • Sincerely offer help.
  • Respect his or her autonomy.
  • Resist the urge to punish or withdraw affection if he or she doesn’t do what you want.

Criticism is to your relationship what smoking is to your health. If you’re a critical person, you must absolutely get a handle on your impulse to criticize, before it ruins your relationship.

This Is Why Silencing Criticism Will Make You Powerful.

Silence the Inner Critic And Boost Your Confidence

“Love brings self-confidence. Anger brings fear.” — Dalai Lama

Self-confidence is like the wind.

Its friendly push can help us reach cruising altitude in our lives.

But when we fly against it, unfavorable winds slow us down.

That’s what happens when we criticize others.

Criticism seeds fear and doubts.

Yet, we can’t stop it.

Why We Love to Criticize Others

“Criticism is the only reliable form of autobiography.” — Oscar Wilde

Our brain is ‘hard-wired’ to be negative according to Psychologist Martin Seligman.

When life was uncertain and dangerous, our ancestors needed to be alert to threats in order to survive.

But modern life is not as dangerous as it used to be.

Yet, when we don’t like something or someone, we react like our ancestors did. Being judgmental is how we protect ourselves from potential attacks.

Criticism is an easy form of ego defense.

We hate in others what we hate about ourselves.

We reject the events or behaviors that expose our uncomfortable zones.

Criticism is an effortless task.

That’s why we cling to it. Even if it makes us weaker.

We expect everyone to be flawless. Our perfectionist syndrome is just an excuse to hide our vulnerable side. And have a hard time accepting our own flaws.

We criticize others because we are impatient. We don’t tolerate those who behave differently or move at a different pace. We expect people to behave like we would.

When we focus on someone else’s flaw, we become blind to everything else. We want to look smarter. But behave foolishly. We stop seeing the person. We just see their mistakes.

By spending our time looking at others, we forget to confront what we need to improve ourselves.

Why Criticizing Others Make Us Feel Better

“Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” — Henry Thomas Buckle

Being social creatures, we pay lots of attention to the opinion of others about us.

Positive or negative assessments are like social currency. They can increase or hurt our chances to move up the social ladder.

Anthropologists believe that throughout human history, gossip has been a way for us to bond with our peers. And to isolate those who don’t fit in our group.

Gossiping plays a key role in society. It spreads reputational information about others we use to either welcome or ostracize individuals.

Some actually say that it helps protect vulnerable individuals of a group.

“Gossip recipients use positive and negative group information to improve, promote, and protect the self,” writes researcher Elena Martinescu of Netherlands University.

“Contrary to lay perceptions,” the researcher explains, “most negative gossip is not intended to hurt the target, but to please the gossiper and receiver.

Negative gossip has self-promotion value because it provides individuals with social comparison information, which results in feelings of pride.

Sadly, we feel better when we make someone look bad.

But, actually, we look ugly when criticizing others.

Regardless of our motivation, gossiping hurts relationships and creates a climate of fear and resentment. Multiple studies show it drives a decline in productivity and it increases both illness and absenteeism.

Constant gossiping creates a toxic environment. Both at work and at home.

Either you become part of the toxic culture.

Or you quit.

How Criticism Hurts You. And Why You Need to Stop It.

“Criticizing others is a dangerous thing, not so much because you may make mistakes about them, but because you may be revealing the truth about yourself.” — Harold Medina

Criticizing others is more harmful than you think. It doesn’t just affect the recipient. It hurts you too.

Criticism is not like feedback. They are related but are not the same.

Feedback helps you grow. Criticizing only gets you stuck on what’s wrong.

The more we criticize others, the more prone we are to judge ourselves. And self-judgment often becomes an addiction.

Being judgmental is like the chicken or the egg dilemma. We don’t know which came first, self-judgment or judging others, but they both exist now.

Being addictive to criticism leads to a vicious cycle that gets us stuck. Here’s why:

  • It puts everyone on the defensive: When you criticize someone, you get hurt too. Negative behaviors feed everyone’s brain to be alert to potential attacks.
  • It focuses on what’s wrong: We are not our mistakes. We can learn and improve from them. When we criticize others, we are not helping but embarrassing them. A judgmental mindset damages our ability to appreciate things too.
  • It implies blame: When something goes wrong, criticizing is an easy way out. We use someone’s flaw to blame him/her for events that are out of everyone’s control. Instead of accepting that life is unexpected.
  • It’s unidimensional: When we judge people, we focus on one behavior or flaw. But people are more than just one label. When we do so, we narrow our perspective. When we label people is because we label ourselves too.
  • It’s a projection of our frustrations: what we criticize in others reminds us what we don’t like in ourselves. Not only we are blaming others for our own flaws. But criticizing them is a way to hide what we don’t want to see about ourselves.

Criticizing others is a waste of energy and focus.

The time spent on it derails you from achieving your personal goals.

Instead of looking at other’s flaws, focus on improving yours.

Silence the Inner Critic to Boost Your Confidence

1. Turn self-improvement into a daily discipline:

“Be so busy improving yourself that you have no time to criticize others. ” — Chetan Bhagat

The road towards self-development has no room for shortcuts. It’s a lifetime journey that requires daily practice. It’s a bumpy road too. Like most difficult roads, it leads to beautiful destinations.

Practice builds proficiency. It also helps you focus on building your foundation rather than destroying someone else’s.

2. Shut up you ‘inner critic’:

“All cruelty springs from weakness.” — Lucius Annaeus Seneca

Silencing our inner voice is not easy. Rumination, the habit of repeatedly chewing sad experiences or conversations, is like getting stuck in the sand.

Our inner critic defaults to the past. We must delete those memories to move on to the “critic-free zone”.

The inner critic acts on inertia. The most comfortable road will take you nowhere. Don’t listen to the voice of laziness.

3. Stop guessing other people’s intention:

“Before you criticize others, remember, they may not have had the same opportunities in life as you have had. ” — F. Scott Fitzgerald

We judge what we don’t know. If we were to use our experience, we would stay in silence most of the time. When we rush into conclusions, we make mistakes.

Train your brain to ask more questions. Especially when someone’s behavior feels awkward or uneasy to digest.

Tension is always a good sign that something good is about to happen.

4. Turn off your fight or flight response mode:

“It is not necessary to react to everything you notice.” — Unknown

When we play on defense, we are at war with reality. Rather than listening to what’s going on, we are ready to defend ourselves from a threat that has yet to happen.

Adapt instead. Turn off your fight or flight mode. Everyone is different and they are not here to hurt you.

Give people a chance before you label them as potential enemies.

5. Purposefully avoid gossiping:

“Gossip dies when it enters the ear of the wise.” — Anonymous

It’s easy and fun to mock others. Being mindful to avoid falling into the trap of gossip.

Pay more attention. Are you acting on a judgmental or on an open mode? Becoming more mindful about it will help you call out that behavior. Especially when you are being part of it.

Remember: life is about choosing sides. Do you wish to be the ear of the gossiper or of the wise?

6. Don’t use past behaviors to predict future ones:

“No matter how hard past is, you can always begin again.” — Jack Kornfield

That someone hurt you yesterday, doesn’t mean it will hurt you again. If someone made a mistake, that person can learn and improve.

Don’t get stuck in people’s past behaviors. Everyone has a first chance to make a second impression. Give them that chance.

The same applies to you. Your past mistakes can limit you. Or become a springboard to improve. Criticism gets everyone stuck in the past. But life is about being in the present.

Appreciate what happens now, get rid of your memories.

7. Reclaim your value:

“Criticism is the art of appraising others at one’s own value.” — George Jean Nathan

We are how we judge others.

Being kind and compassionate with ourselves is only the beginning. The way we appreciate ourselves will reflect in the way we value others.

Self-confidence is critical to developing determination, willpower, and optimism. All core traits of successful people.

When you are judgmental, you are playing in defense. As the Dalai Lama says: “If you have a self-centered attitude, then you’ll have more fear, hesitance, distrust.”

Instead, promote acceptance and appreciation. Be a source of positivity rather than one of criticism.

Though our brains are more susceptible to negative thoughts, positive behaviors can be contagious too.

Become favorable wind for others to reach their true potential.

Critics come across as strong. That’s why people listen to them.

Use your self-confidence to become a stronger voice. If you are in control, you will make others calm and relaxed. When people lower their defense mechanisms, they listen more.

Turn your self-confidence into a source of inspiration. A mind that doesn’t judge drives confidence on others.

Silence your inner critic.

When you stop criticism you become more powerful: you influence others to follow your path.

Let the voice of self-confidence speak up.

I criticize everyone | PSYCHOLOGIES

Knowing Yourself A Man Among Men

Some of us are particularly sensitive to the imperfections of the world, because they know so well how things really should be. This knowledge - like a set of rules for every case - they received from their parents and are constantly expanding themselves. When such people see that someone behaves in a wrong way, does not say what (in their opinion) should, they are seized with anxiety and an irresistible desire to speak out sharply about this. nine0003

“At these moments, the world seems to them especially unstable and unstable,” says psychologist Varvara Sidorova. “Such people acutely feel their helplessness and, trying to cope with internal discomfort, begin to resent and condemn everything and everyone.” Shooting at each target, they doom themselves to loneliness. But why do they behave this way?

Fear of criticism

Their categorical judgments about others are like a sentence that is not subject to revision. nine0003

Choosing the position of supreme judge, the harsh critic seeks to feel his own integrity and overcome the unconscious fear of being the target of someone else's criticism.

“We live and act in a system of mutual mirrors, and very often our negative remark about another person is nothing but a reflection—in a figurative sense—of ourselves,” explains Varvara Sidorova. - When we cannot accept some trait of our character, feeling, intention, fantasy or our style of behavior, we endow other people with these qualities. And we criticize them for this, often quite unfairly. nine0003

This unconscious process, called projection, refers to the mechanisms of psychological defense: criticism of the other allows you to avoid meeting with yourself, when psychologically a person is not ready to recognize the unacceptable in himself. He is afraid to feel rejected and unloved again.”

Striving for excellence

Perfectionists are always ready to criticize others. More precisely, those of them who are always dissatisfied with themselves and others.

“There are two types of perfectionism,” explains cognitive psychotherapist Jean Cotrot. - Positive is expressed in the desire to help another person become better, support him; the negative manifests itself in the constant criticism of everything and everything. In the latter case, the victims of the obsessed striving for perfection are both those around him (who are instilled with a sense of guilt) and himself. nine0003

“No man suited me”

Maria, 34 years old, teacher

“I always looked at new acquaintances very critically: one is not smart enough, this one is unsportsmanlike, one is excessively talkative or too dependent, the other is not attentive enough to me or too shy ... And of course, none of them suited me. In the end, I had to admit that the problem was not with others, but with myself.

In the process of psychotherapy, I gradually realized that I was still in captivity of the strict assessments of my parents, who were always ready to criticize me. I was afraid to hear their opinion about my chosen one, because I knew that if they did not like him, I would again feel like a nonentity. nine0003

Low self-esteem

When parents set the bar too high for a child, endlessly complaining to him, this deprives him of self-confidence and reinforces a sense of inferiority.

As children grow up, they can transform this lack of self-love into a lack of love for others. This becomes their key to mastering the world. Now they themselves make claims to others (including parents) - the same as those from which they suffered in childhood.

Midlife crisis

Sometimes excessive criticism towards others appears with age. We are talking about a mid-life crisis, a time to rethink yourself and search for new guidelines.

“Like any age crisis, it helps men and women find contact with themselves, find psychological integrity,” explains Varvara Sidorova. - But, evaluating his achievements, a person often first of all experiences disappointment in himself, his self-esteem falls. At this moment, he begins to notice the shortcomings in others, as if saying to himself: "I'm not the only one." nine0003

What to do?

Dealing with past grievances

It often happens that those who tend to judge others have previously suffered from criticism themselves. Recall when, how, and why you were the target of such remarks. Having dealt with past grievances, you will understand what are the reasons for your current claims against yourself and others.

Learn to open up to others

Instead of locking yourself in the rejection of others, you should learn to better understand them, sympathize with them. Do not rush to make your verdict - let the interlocutor speak, be able to listen and observe. Such attention will require effort, but gradually you will learn the tolerance necessary for a prosperous life in society. nine0003

Admit your mistakes

The constant readiness to criticize speaks of the desire for power and the desire to always be right in everything. But after all, there are no such people who always have the last word. Passion and categoricalness indicate the immaturity of the individual. If you admit that you may be incompetent in something, your judgments will become more balanced and objective.

Advice to those who are nearby

"Judge" does not spare anyone, even his loved ones. Anyone who is constantly bombarded with such criticism risks losing self-respect, getting instead the ugly duckling syndrome: if I often hear that I am bad, then I really become bad. The “judge” is convinced of the justice of his accusations, but you should not swallow them silently. nine0003

It is better to show him that his reproaches are sometimes groundless, for example, to ask him to provide concrete evidence. In order to keep calm and composure under a hail of accusations, one should not forget that when criticizing others, in reality, the “judge” aims at himself.

Text: Natalya Gridneva Photo source: Getty Images

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Man among men Man and woman

Family life researcher John Gottman called criticism one of the "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" for relationships. Criticism, along with the other three horsemen (defensive aggression, contempt and neglect), gradually destroys the trust and intimacy of partners, often resulting in mutual misfortune and divorce.

If we try to figure out what causes the desire to criticize, we can strengthen relationships instead of weakening them. nine0003

We all get critical sometimes, lose our temper and say all the bad things we think about them to others. If someone offended us or did not do something that we wanted, dissatisfaction accumulates. As a result, instead of taking responsibility for our experiences, we sometimes want to berate and shame others.

Find a reason

I am not advocating to be ashamed of the desire to criticize, although a little shame sometimes does not hurt. If we berate ourselves too much for criticizing others, we become even more nervous. As a result, most likely, we will criticize others even more actively, trying to defuse internal tension. nine0003

It is quite possible that we will begin to say something along the lines of: "You are wrong, you are bad, you always do this and never do that."

We will be able to fight toxic criticism only when we deal with the reasons that cause it

How does a person react if we criticize him as a person or give him a “diagnosis”? Usually our words cause him either anger or shame. As a family therapist, it’s hard for me to see how spouses who come to me for counseling often unconsciously provoke aggression, fear, or stupor in each other instead of establishing safe and sincere communication. nine0003

Criticism is human nature. We can fight toxic criticism only when we deal with the reasons that cause it.

Find Your Hidden Weaknesses

Instead of hurting others with criticism, we can create safer communication by sharing our experiences. Our inner feelings are different from the criticism and condemnation that we say out loud. Often these experiences make us feel our own vulnerability, from which we are trying to protect ourselves. nine0003

It is easy to accuse others of being defensive. It is more difficult to understand when the same thing happens within ourselves. Such aggression means that we are trying to protect ourselves from unpleasant or difficult experiences - pain, shame, fear.

Often, if we do not notice and do not accept these feelings, we suppress them. As a result, we begin to judge others or show them our contempt in order to feel our own superiority. This is how we project our painful experiences onto others—expecting them to bear a burden that we cannot bear. Defensive aggression is an attempt to avoid responsibility for one's own feelings and behavior. nine0003

Think before you speak

Adult relationships involve accepting responsibility. For example, always think before you speak, especially if you feel like saying something offensive.

You will need patience, awareness and courage not to say the first thing that comes to mind, but to pause. The pause will help you look inside yourself and feel how you really feel, even if these experiences are unpleasant for you. Here are some examples:

I want to say: “You are such an egoist! You try to control everyone all the time!” Inner feeling: "It hurts and I get angry when you talk to me like that."

I want to say: “You are acting like a child. I'm not going to be your mommy!" Inner Feeling: “Sometimes I feel lonely and overwhelmed. I really need your help with household chores and taking care of my daughter.”

Realizing your experiences, you will take the first step towards communication on another level

I would like to say: “You are always dissatisfied with me! You will never please!" Inner Feeling: “I’m worried that I didn’t call when I was late. I was afraid that you would be disappointed, and I am always ashamed in such cases.

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