People Criticize in Others What they Don't Like about Themselves

People Criticize in Others What they Don't Like about Themselves

Last update: 13 July, 2016

Every person is a combination of wonderful virtues and plenty of flaws. Not even you or I can escape that. There’s a genius and a saint inside all of us, as well as a tyrant and a moron. Nobody goes through life without making mistakes or doing something they’re ashamed of. That’s why people who criticize others have no basis for their arguments.

However, many people behave as though this wasn’t the case. Without having any reason or right to, some people relentlessly judge other people. They’re always ready to make an itemized, detailed list of other people’s flaws.

They even go so far as to determine which actions you should follow to stop making those mistakes, or point out the path you should follow to overcome your flaws. They have the luxury of being intolerant of your failures and shortcomings.

“Our criticism revolves around blaming other people for not having the qualities that we think we have.”

-Jules Renard-

When the criticism becomes constant and vicious, that person is probably not making a healthy assessment of your mistakes. It’s probably more like the defense mechanism known as “projection.” They see you as a mirror; they criticize the things in you that they don’t like about themselves.

What people choose to criticize about you

branches in hair

We’re all admirable in some areas and come up short in others. If you look for moral flaws in Saint Francis of Assisi, you’ll certainly find some. If you look for foolish words said by Albert Einstein, you’ll certainly find those, too.

This is the heart of the issue: everybody chooses what they want to see and don’t want to see in other people. Usually, this choice is associated with the way they evaluate and perceive themselves. If they appreciate the good things about themselves, they’ll also see the good in others, and same with the bad.

However, some critical people don’t simply see the bad in everyone around them, but rather they choose one person or group of people to make the target of their scathing assessments. Why does this happen?

What they don’t like about themselves

woman and birds

Projection works in the following way: the person has an opinion of themselves that isn’t quite impartial or objective. There are some features about themselves that they find unacceptable.

For example, maybe they are profoundly selfish in practice, even though they preach about solidarity. So they create false arguments to justify their selfish behavior. This type of person says things like “I feel really bad that you’re lonely, but unfortunately I don’t have any time to visit you.”

They want to see themselves as generous, but their selfishness prevents that from happening. In reality, they’re not aware that they only care about their own interests, or that they’re incapable of making the smallest concessions to other people. They really think that their excuses are valid reasons for acting they way they do.

The problem is that when they see other people behaving selfishly, they raise their voice in protest. They get angry and loudly declare their disapproval of this behavior. It seems unthinkable to them that someone could act this way.

If you ask them about it, they’ll say that their own arguments for being selfish are completely reasonable: “I didn’t want to act that way, but the circumstances forced me to.” But by contrast, the reasons other people give are mere excuses.

What’s happening in the background

woman and balloons

What’s happening in the background is that other people’s faults remind them of their own. They don’t tolerate in others what they don’t tolerate in themselves. In other words, they project their own faults onto other people, so they don’t have to suffer the pain of seeing it in themselves.

Criticism for criticism’s sake almost always comes from projection. It’s common to criticize others for displaying features that we don’t like in ourselves. But we don’t do it intentionally, we just aren’t aware that it happens.

We should pay attention to the things we don’t tolerate in other people. If we sharpen these observations, we’ll probably realize that this intolerance is more directed at ourselves than other people.

Likewise, when we’re criticized, we should take it with a grain of salt. We should think about why that person chose to focus on that particular negative aspect of ourselves. We’ll likely come to the conclusion that their criticism is actually directed at a hidden part of themselves, and not our own behavior.


Images courtesy of Christian Schloe

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.