When criticism causes damage

Research shows that criticism takes a toll on the recipient, causing anger, anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, avoidance, poor performance, and self-harm.

Published: 23rd February 2022 02:36 AM  |   Last Updated: 23rd February 2022 02:36 AM   |  A+A-

Image used for representational purposes (Express Illustrations)

Image used for representational purposes (Express Illustrations)

Express News Service

HYDERABAD:  Why is criticism is so hard to swallow? A young adolescent came to me in tears, saying: “I’m useless. My parents tell me that all the time.” During couple therapy, a husband complained that his wife could find nothing right about him. His wife’s retort was, “I’m helping him get better.”

An elderly couple, married for 45 years, wanted help. The wife wanted to leave her husband because she was fed up with his constant negative comments and criticism.

The common factor in all these cases is criticism. The need to correct, guide and alter people’s behaviour, with the idea that one is helping and facilitating improvement, rules the ideology of the critic. Many call it constructive criticism, but when one is tearing down the very foundation of another’s psyche, when suggestions sound ominous, threatening and demeaning, can it even be called constructive? 

Research shows that criticism takes a toll on the recipient, causing anger, anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, avoidance, poor performance and self-harm. The critic, however, is unaware of the damage and feels that it is the best form of help.

Why do people criticise?

  • Growing up in extremely orthodox, strict and critical families where correction is more than construction. This creates a cycle of abuse and low self-esteem that transfers to the next generation. 
  • Many people are found to cope with their own anxiety by controlling and criticising others. For example, a mother, who has had weight and body image issues, will body shame and control her daughter’s eating.
  • People, who have been suppressed, develop controlling behaviour and oppressive criticism. A mother-in-law, who was never appreciated or treated right, might end up behaving in the same way with her daughter-in-law.
  • Childhood traumatic experiences can spill into adulthood, causing anxiety, control and constant micro-management. 
  • Some people with borderline narcissistic, passive-aggressive, psychopathic or histrionic personality disorders can sometimes display critical behaviour, controlling behaviour, fearfulness and anxiety.
  • Living with caregivers or partners who are obsessed with order, perfectionism, punctuality and control. 
  • If angry with circumstances faced in the past or with how life has treated them, they feel resentful of others and become extremely critical. 
  • Sometimes, criticism is used as a means to ward off one's own insecurities.

Save yourself 

  • Are you overly sensitive to minor criticism? Are you dealing with other issues that are making you feel oppressed?
  • Are your own past experiences and self-esteem issues causing you this pain? If so, work on your emotional intelligence, self-esteem. Seek help 
  • Talk about this with people whom you trust and who will support you 
  • Don’t resort to self-harm or self-sabotaging behaviours
  • Journal, practise breathing and mindfulness to help you see things as they are
  • Never let people convince you that ‘it’s for your own good’
  • Lastly, seek professional help 
  • Remember, there’s no such thing as ‘not good enough.’ You are you!! And that’s pretty good.

(The author is a mental health professional and psychotherapist at Dhrithi Wellness Clinic)



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