How to Identify if Your Parents Were Excessively Critical
Much of the way you think, feel, and react today is due to your early experiences with your parents. Indeed, the attachment bond you formed with them and the parenting style with which you grew up have had a great impact on your personality. Moreover, it may not have been particularly positive. For example, if your parents were excessively critical, you probably now suffer from certain limitations and wounds that are difficult to heal.
In fact, living in an invalidating environment that’s focused on mistakes and that doesn’t provide encouragement, security, and love is damaging to your self-esteem. Even though you’re now an adult who takes care of yourself, there may be certain attitudes, thought patterns, and strong emotions that are triggered when you least expect it. These can cause you pain and difficulty.
The first step toward getting rid of them lies in identifying if your parents were excessively critical. We’re going to explain some of the most notable signs.
Signs that indicate that your parents were excessively critical
In your childhood and adolescence, despite the fact that you were a minor, it’s highly likely that you realized that your parents weren’t as flexible, tolerant, and encouraging as you would’ve liked. However, it’s common for many people to minimize or normalize these kinds of parental attitudes out of loyalty to those who gave them life. If today, as an adult, you want to revisit the memories of your childhood, here are some signs that your parents were excessively critical.
They didn’t encourage your independence
When a child is raised in a respectful and child-centered manner, the main objective is to promote their independence. In order to do this, parents offer various opportunities for the child to practice their tasks and skills. On the other hand, extremely critical parents don’t have the necessary patience and tolerance for this. Therefore, they prefer to do everything themselves instead of helping their child learn.
For example, perhaps as a child, you tried to make your bed but when you did it slowly or didn’t achieve the same results as your parent, they insisted on taking over. Or, perhaps they told you “You just can’t do anything right”.
They always focused on negative aspects
One of the keys to building a child’s self-esteem is for their parents to be sensitive and receptive to their achievements, efforts, and progress. In effect, to appreciate and celebrate them, and give them recognition.
However, when parents are excessively critical, they tend to focus on failure or on what could be improved. Or, they simply downplay any success. In effect, nothing is ever enough for them.
Their emotional reactions were intense
All children make mistakes, get into mischief, get dirty, and break things. That’s because they’re learning. Adults should understand this reality and be flexible and empathetic. Moreover, they should be able to teach their child something of value in the situation, rather than losing control.
If your parents were really critical of you, they may have overreacted emotionally to these small age-related failures. Consequently, a broken vase or some spilled milk was reason enough for them to yell, threaten, or excessively blame you.
They made frequent comparisons
They compared you with your brothers, cousins, friends, or schoolmates. Maybe they emphasized their outstanding school grades or best personal qualities or sports abilities.
Whatever the case, you always lost out in the comparison. Consequently, you ended up feeling that you didn’t live up to their expectations.
They offered conditional love
Finally, if your parents were excessively critical, they probably used affection, attention, and approval as bargaining chips. They only offered them to you when you were obedient, well-mannered, and exemplary. However, they withdrew them if you expressed anger, disgust, or sadness or when you were annoying to them in some way.
How you feel today if your parents were excessively critical
Beyond analyzing your parents’ attitudes and behaviors, there’s another foolproof indicator of whether you were raised in an excessively critical environment. That’s the way you feel, think, and react today. Indeed, the way you were treated in your childhood leaves behind certain effects that continue to be visible in adulthood. Among the most common are:
- You have a tendency to be accommodating and seek to please others, even at the cost of your own needs and desires. That’s because you learned that affection was conditional. Therefore, you’re afraid of losing it if you don’t comply with what others expect of you.
- You have a hard time taking risks, trying new challenges, or taking the initiative. Indeed, your fear of failing and of not being capable paralyzes you. This means you tend to lose out on opportunities that are of interest to you.
- You’re really sensitive to criticism. You might come to interpret neutral comments as an attack on you or as morally damaging. In fact, you tend to take any observation extremely personally. Your tendency to be defensive is because you grew up in an environment that required it. Also, you have a higher risk of suffering from social phobia.
- You have low self-confidence. You generally feel weak, incapable, and unworthy of facing your daily challenges. In addition, it’s likely that you’re indecisive and full of doubts. Moreover, you find it difficult to choose and resolve matters in case you don’t do it right.
- You tend to be overly apologetic, even when a problem isn’t your responsibility. You’re also extremely sensitive to changes in others. If you notice that someone is behaving coldly or differently, you assume that it’s because of a mistake you’ve made and you apologize.
- You find it difficult to accept compliments and demonstrations of affection because you’re not used to them. You might even feel that you don’t deserve them. This means you tend to look for a way of diverting these positive attitudes toward you. For example, if someone compliments you on your shirt, you insist that it’s old or that the color doesn’t suit you.
- You’re a self-demanding person and really critical of yourself. In fact, your internal dialogue is constantly negatively judging everything you do and say. As such, you’re incapable of treating yourself with self-compassion.
- You’re a perfectionist and fear making mistakes. For this reason, it can take you too much time to perform any task. You might even procrastinate due to the excessive pressure you feel.
Time to heal your past
As you can see, the damage that’s been done to your self-esteem, confidence, and emotional management is important. However, it doesn’t have to be permanent. It’s possible to unlearn what you’ve learned and acquire new, more functional ways of interpreting situations and acting.
To do this, you must learn to be flexible and tolerant of yourself. Start encouraging yourself as a best friend would. Take on challenges even if you risk being wrong.
Finally, if your wounds are deep and these kinds of reactions are extremely marked in you, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. It’ll help you to integrate your experiences. In addition, you’ll learn how to offer yourself the unconditional love, security, and support that you feel you’ve always been lacking.
All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.
- Madjar, N., Voltsis, M., & Weinstock, M. P. (2015). The roles of perceived parental expectation and criticism in adolescents’ multidimensional perfectionism and achievement goals. Educational Psychology, 35(6), 765-778.
- Schimmenti, A., & Bifulco, A. (2015). Linking lack of care in childhood to anxiety disorders in emerging adulthood: the role of attachment styles. Child and Adolescent Mental Health, 20(1), 41-48.