Do you frequently criticize your family, friends, or colleagues? Do you focus on their faults? If you recognize (or someone’s told you) that you’re critical of others, this post is for you.
Some people find it hard to stop themselves from making negative comments about everything and everyone around them. Others hold in their hurt and angry feelings until they can’t take it anymore. Then they burst into a tirade of criticisms. Being highly critical and holding others to exceptionally high standards is also a sign of High Criticism Perfectionists. You can go back and read my post “What is Perfectionism?” for more details on the different types of perfectionists.
Let’s start by reviewing the problems that are motivating you to stop criticizing.
The problems with criticizing:
Nagging, criticizing, and focusing on what your family or friends are doing wrong causes real damage to your relationships. Criticism erodes connection and communication.
It doesn’t work.
Criticism is demotivating. We think it’s going to get our spouse, kids, or employees to change, but it doesn’t. Consider a mother who sees her teenage daughter reach for another cookie and says, “Better watch it. I’m not gonna buy you another pair of jeans if yours don’t fit.” This criticism isn’t going to encourage her to eat more healthfully. She’s likely to feel ashamed and angry not motivated.
The other reason criticism doesn’t work is it doesn’t address the deeper issues in your relationship and inside you. Criticizing others may be a reflection of internal anxiety or pain. It can be a way of trying to feel in control of something or someone that feels out of your control.
The more you criticize, the more unhappy you get.
There’s an interesting phenomenon called the negativity bias. It essentially means that we all tend to look for and focus on the problems more than the positives. This means that I’m biased towards finding my husband’s faults and misdeeds. He is likely doing just as many, if not more, things that please me, but I am prone to over emphasize his faults. So the more I criticize him for leaving dirty socks on the floor, the more I reinforce feeling irritated about the socks on the floor.
You may also be unhappy because you feel ashamed or guilty about your critical behaviors.
Now that you’ve identified the ways that criticism is causing problems for you and your relationships, let’s look at how to change.
How to stop criticizing:
1. Be realistic.
If you are routinely disappointed by someone’s behavior, it’s best to adjust your expectations. If you don’t, you’re bound to be continually frustrated. I can’t make my husband pick up his socks, but I can change my thinking so that I either accept doing it myself or don’t feel irritated when I see them on the floor.
2. Look for the positives.
Go out of your way to look for people doing the “right” thing and then acknowledge it a lot. Research shows it takes five positive interactions to reverse the damage of one negative interaction.
3. Don’t take his/her behavior personally.
People make mistakes, get tired and over committed. There are many reasons for your friend or family member’s behavior that has nothing to do with you. Try to assume the best about someone’s choices instead of the worst.
4. Consider whether you need to say anything at all.
There really is some wisdom in the old saying “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all”. Sometimes staying silent is the best option. Leave the room, take some slow deep breaths, and calm yourself down before deciding if you really want to say something.
5. Ask directly and respectfully for what you want.
You won’t always get what you ask for, but you’re much more likely to have your needs met when you ask in a way that will be heard. Instead of criticizing your wife for leaving dirty dishes, calmly and kindly ask her to wash them and explain why it matters so much to you.
6. Manage your own anxiety and stress.
As I said above, criticism isn’t always about what someone else is doing. You can reduce your criticizing by managing your own anxiety and other feelings through a combination of things such as psychotherapy, meditation, exercise, journaling, nutrition, or medication.
I applaud your desire to change and hope these tips on how to stop criticizing will provide a starting place for you. Thank you for reading! I invite you to join me on Facebook and Twitter for more articles and tips on happiness and mental wellness.
Image “Couple Arguing” by Ambro at freedigitalphotos.net