Don’t Let Criticism Turn to Abuse
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Highly critical people come in many forms: the gossip, the executioner, the bully, and the narcissist. It seems as if their sole purpose is to find a flaw and rub your face in it. Some criticism is understandable; your boss demands near-perfection and your performance has been sub-par. After rebuking your inadequacies, mistakes, and shortcomings, you learn (after licking your wounds) what to do next time. However, when the criticism turns to constant castigation, this behavior turns to emotional abuse. Humans can only receive so much negative feedback before it becomes damaging to their personal growth and potential.
Why Are Some People So Critical?
You may have someone in your life who is highly critical. These people judge others easily, quickly, and shamelessly. Their criticism, like their personalities and motives, come in many forms. Their fixation on flaws and correcting them stems from two major factors: a lack of empathy or internal shame.
Lack of Empathy
Some people are simply all business. Their drive for success cares little for feelings. They have high expectations, almost impossible to meet, and they lack socially appropriate filters. People with narcissistic personality disorder, obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, and antisocial personality disorder may demonstrate poor empathy. It’s not personal; their traits drive them to find flaws and remedies through insensitive and callous remarks.
Some people who seem on a constant fault-finding mission may be afflicted with the fault themselves. Identified by members of the self-help community, “if you spot it, you got it” or IYSIYGI, is a non-clinical dysfunction that clearly calls out certain hypocritical critiquing. For instance, a former student of mine criticized gay people often. I was very careful in my approach, but I reminded him that I would not tolerate bullying and that he should be more accepting. Years later, I learned that he is gay, and now, proud of it.
This behavior seems common. Self-righteous religious or political leaders claim moral superiority, only to be caught having an affair or embezzling money from their coffers. Those who gossip and pass judgment on others often feel deeply insecure about themselves. Bullying is a perfect example of how internal hate and disgust can be projected onto someone else. By inflicting pain and masking shame, the moral authority of the critic is nothing more than a maneuver to conceal their own flaws.
How to Handle an Overly Critical Person
It’s not easy to deal with overly critical people. Their remarks are hurtful, and their lack of compassion and empathy is difficult to understand. But for your psychological wellness, you must limit the critic’s impact. You cannot control their personality or actions, but you can control how you react as a means to buffer the negativity.
· Be the change you want to see.
Gandhi said it best. In order to see change, we have to be it. It may be impossible for you to alter a critic’s behavior, but you can transform your mind to grow as you would like to see theirs grow. One thing an overly critical person lacks is empathy. By trying to put yourself in his or her shoes and understand the motives behind their criticism, you will become more empathetic. This won’t necessary change them, but it will change you.
· Stand up for yourself.
Whenever you can, be assertive. Tell your critic how their words and actions make you feel. Do not cast blame, but approach the subject by focusing on you and your feelings. Use “I” statements. Even if the person is your boss, you still have dignity and need to demand respect for yourself.
· Take it for what it is.
Most harsh criticism is a reflection of the person doing the criticizing. Their approach makes the words more biting. Don’t let those words haunt you and replay over and over in your mind. However, this doesn’t mean that the message behind the criticism doesn’t bare some weight. Think about the root of the message without the words. Is there something you need to change about yourself? This may be the perfect opportunity for personal growth. It might not be constructive criticism but that doesn’t mean you can’t find a constructive message.
· Don’t embrace their negativity.
It can be easy to get caught up in gossip. The bystanders of bullying, who do nothing, are also to blame for allowing such behavior to exist. Don’t feed the beast. Stand up to the gossip or bully. Don’t belittle others. Demonstrate through actions that constant criticism is not okay.
· Keep your distance.
This is nearly impossible, because most likely, you’re dealing with someone you have to be around (if you didn’t have to, you’d probably choose not to). A boss or co-worker is even harder to stay away from, but you can limit your meetings. Regarding personal relationships, set expectations and boundaries. If they cross a line, maintain distance. It’s okay to leave the room, walk away, or hang up the phone. Of course, preface each action with a simple explanation, such as “Those types of comments are hurtful, I have to go now.” It is scary to have to respond this way, but the courage you demonstrate will send a clear message and protect your worth.
- Melissa Lavery, M.S.
Berglas, S. (2014, March 6). Why Are Some People So Critical? Retrieved March 18, 2015, from https://hbr.org/2014/03/why-are-some-people-so-critical/
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Linaman, T. (n.d.). Getting Along With Critical People. Retrieved March 18, 2015, from http://www.relationaladvantage.com/article_getting-along-with-critical-people
Tartakovsky, M. (n.d.). How to Deal with Critical People. Retrieved March 18, 2015, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2015/03/16/how-to-deal-with-critical-people/