Destructive Criticism: No One Wins

· November 16, 2017

Occasionally, criticism and judgement can be constructive and helpful. However, more often than not there is no constructive intention and it is harmful. For some reason, there are always people who project their negativity and insecurities on others by judging or criticizing. People who make it their goal to point out all the “defects” they see in others.

We have all been victims of these people at some point. Sometimes, we have been these people. In fact, the act of criticizing someone has become so commonplace that it is a focus of many TV and radio programs. It is a common joke or plot. Plenty of people watch these programs, but why? Why do we criticize in this way?

Understanding the mechanism of criticism can help us become aware of how this pattern of behavior works. That is why we have included some of the main reasons that people criticize and judge others.

Everything can be criticized, it is just a matter of using the imagination.

1. Feelings of inferiority

Feeling inferior can motivate people to criticize others. Other times, feelings of superiority are the motivating factor. For many, acting superior is only a disguise for feelings of inferiority. They are trying to make themselves feel more secure.

So, they try to satisfy the need to feel powerful and superior by criticizing others or watching television programs that focus on the faults of others.

“When people lack muscles in their arms, they make up for it with muscles in their tongues.”

-Migel Delibes

destructive criticism sad

2. Dissatisfaction with yourself

Sometimes we criticize others because they reflect our own shortcomings. When we criticize others, we trick ourselves into thinking that the problem is with other people and not us. We criticize when we want to convince ourselves that others also have defects and that they are worse than our own.

So, by criticizing the same thing over and over we are reflecting what we dislike about ourselves. We project our fears and insecurities. In fact, when we do not accept our flaws and instead look for them in others, we generate rejection and activate criticism. This phenomenon is known as “self-disowning.”


Jealous and envious people are the biggest generators of criticismWhen they feel inferior to someone they use criticism as a defense. They lower the qualities of the other person and magnify their defects, either real or imagined.

These people do not tend to perform self-criticism, their energies are directed at persecuting others. They look away from themselves because they are afraid of what they might see.

3. Needing to be part of the group

Sometimes, people criticize others because of social relationships. Studies show us that, in order make ourselves part of a group, we criticize those from a different group. Criticism, in this sense, acts to reinforce our sense of belonging and can convince others that we are part of their group.

In cases like this, criticism will be mediated by the group’s attitude towards it. If it is encouraged within the group, it will most likely happen more often and with more intensity. On the other hand, if members of the group make it clear that criticism is frowned upon, the person who wants to feel like part of the group will turn to other behaviors.

Finally, when we think we are experts on something, we can start criticizing others in order to show how much we know and reaffirm our position of authority. This stems from a lack of self-esteem and a desire for the admiration of others.

4. Revenge and cowardice

Criticism can also be based on revenge. There can be situations which were left unresolved or without forgiveness. In these cases, we might turn to criticism as a form of humiliation or punishment. When we are not brave enough to talk face to face with someone who has hurt us, we turn to criticism to relieve our frustration, anger, or hurt.

 “Criticism is, in reality, a place where we put our anger. Then, what do we do? We start to criticize, which is better than sitting there, looking at our own anger.”

– Jorge Cassieri

destructive criticism blame

Criticism as a form of revenge is closely related to using manipulation for revenge. Sometimes we criticize others with the perverse intention of separating them from their friends or making them feel alone.

5. Narcissism and egoism

When we feel like we deserve special treatment but are not receiving it, we might feel that others owe us something. Sometimes, because of a narcissistic feeling, we feel that others should be more helpful. When we feel this is the case, we might use criticism to complain, belittle, and make the other person feel bad.

“Instead of criticizing others, praise them. Within a month, you will see a giant change within yourself.”

–  Alejandro Chaban

Attitude towards criticism

Without question, criticism is unavoidable. It will always pop into our lives in some form. In this sense, as explained by Stamateas, the “law of three thirds” is applied. One third is made up of people who love us, another of people who hate us. The final third is made of people who do not know us but still have an opinion of us.

However, we must not underestimate the negative and destructive power that critics in this third category can have. Winston Churchill compared the pain of criticism to physical pain. Furthermore, a recent study revealed that rejection, criticism, and humiliation are all processed by the same area of the brain that is responsible for processing physical pain. 

“With the stones that critics attempt to throw at you, you can erect a monument.”

Kant

Better from a distance

In order to live within this toxic epidemic of destructive criticism, there is one important guideline we must follow: move away or protect yourself from negative people. These negative beings dedicate themselves to poisoning others.

destructive criticism woman

The most sensible thing to do is maintain your distance, especially when others try to make you an accomplice to their criticism. Don’t forget that interactions with this type of person can damage our emotional and social health.

In short, the key is to not let yourself be contaminated by the negativity of others and not to take things personally when you are the target of criticism. Remember that criticism says more about the person giving it than the person receiving it. It is their problem, not ours.

“In order to avoid criticism, don’t do anything, don’t say anything, don’t be anything.”

–  Elbert Hubbard