Stop Living in a Tunnel

Constructive criticism is an excellent way in which to learn and grow as a person, but when it stops being constructive, criticism becomes damaging.

There are people who take criticism to a new level, nitpicking everything and everyone that isn’t perfect. Since perfection isn’t attainable, these people usually find a lot in life to criticize. Being around them is draining, and it can even cut your self esteem or undermine your performance in areas of your life where you usually function well. If you’re around people who are overly critical, here are some tips for dealing with them. If you are a person who is super critical, here are some steps on how you can tone it down and broaden your focus to more of life’s positive aspects. 

Why Being Critical Is Not Healthy

It’s perfectly normal to be critical sometimes. As mentioned earlier, it’s actually helpful if it’s constructive. However, being overly critical tends to push people away, can lead to defensive behavior, and cause problems in varying relationships. Paul Lohkamp, ACSW, LCSW, is a marriage counselor for St. Louis Psychotherapy. He breaks it down as follows: “Criticism often starts the negative process of failed communication that evolves into a troubled relationship. Repairing a marriage frequently involves teaching a couple to recognize this process and each partner’s part in it.” This isn’t a skill that happens overnight, either. It is often a pattern that is ingrained from a young age. If you’re not married to a critical person, interacting with them on a daily basis can suck the life out of you over time. 

Don’t Let A Critical Person Zap Your Energy

While it’s easier said than done, dealing with critical people in a constructive manner will help you if you have to interact with them on a daily basis. Peter K. Gerlach ,MSW, of SF.org advises that attacking the person’s tendency to criticize tends to result in a loop of ineffective communication. To respond, he recommends, “As with any assertion, expect the person to defend, explain, deny, minimize, explode, whine, play helpless (‘I can’t help it’), criticize you, etc. When they’re done, use empathic listening to validate that you heard them. Then restate your assertive I-message calmly, firmly, with steady eye contact.” The I Message works by stating how someone’s behavior makes you feel rather than starting out with an attacking statement.  

Start Thinking With Compassion

If you’re overly critical, you can break that pattern, and part of it comes when you begin thinking more compassionately. Looking at situations with a more empathetic eye will allow you to overlook mistakes a little more easily. Dr. Brene Brown, a leading expert on empathy and related topics, contributed a blog to the Huffington Post in which she outlined methods for being less critical. In the article, called “How to be Less Critical” she states, “Only when we feel comfortable with our own choices — and embrace our own imperfections — will we stop feeling the driving need to criticize others.” Brown also advises practicing mindfulness, which is the practice of experiencing situations without judging them. By doing so, you can begin to break out of the thought patterns that lead to being overly critical. 

Constant criticism is hard to deal with, and it’s exhausting for everyone involved. If people have accused you of being overly negative or overly critical, try to become more aware of your own patterns. Keep a journal and practice mindfulness to stay aware of situations in which you’re being critical. Also, be empathetic toward those around you so you will be more forgiving of characteristics you perceive as flawed. If you’re dealing with a person who is overly critical, try not to take their criticism personally, because more than likely, it is a thought pattern that has plagued them for life, and they may not be aware of it. Assert yourself without being accusatory, and learn some effective techniques to create a dialogue rather than starting unnecessary arguments.