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If You Can’t Say Anything Nice…

I’m sure you all know someone who just can’t resist spouting off a hateful or degrading comment about almost every single person they see. It doesn’t matter who it is; it could be some stranger they just passed on the street, an actress or actor on television, or even a family member; the criticizer just can’t resist saying some mean or negative comment about them. Nothing is off limits; their clothes, hair, the type of car they drive, or even the size of their feet are open to ridicule in the eyes of the criticizer. You may laugh as a bystander, but it’s a nervous laugh and you don’t quite know how to react because the last thing you want is for the criticizer to turn on you.

I know all too well what it is like to be around someone who is utterly incapable of saying something nice about anyone. I know what it is like to hear a person go on and on about an individual they don’t know and pick apart every physical feature they have. I know what it is like to nervously laugh and act like I agree with every cruel thing that they say because of the fear of having the criticizer turn on you.

My mother didn’t go a day in her life without cutting someone down or making fun of them behind their back. I truly believed as a child that she hated every single person in the world because of the horrible ways she would talk about them. We couldn’t go to a restaurant without Mom whispering the entire night about how ugly the waitress was and how she couldn’t believe how slutty her skirt made her look. We couldn’t watch a television show without Mom ripping apart every actress and pointing out every single flaw that she could find. And if there was ever a school function that she had to attend; I could guarantee that the rest of the night would be spent hearing her go on and on about how disgusting everyone there was and bringing up idle gossip about them to try and prove her point.

Not only did Mom make fun of other people or have some snarky comment about everyone she saw on a daily basis, she also drew great enjoyment out of pointing out everything she found flawed about her own daughter. She made fun of every physical feature I had from the top of my head to the tip of my toes and not a day went by that I didn’t go to bed believing that everything about me was ugly.

It seemed that Mom’s goal in life was to crush the self-esteem of her own daughter and everyone else around her.

Some people may call her vain and “uppity”; they might assume that she acted the way she did and criticized others because she truly thinks that she is better than other people. Maybe it was because of the way that she was raised, maybe she was trying to live in a fantasy world; but maybe Mom was so critical of others because she put herself on a pedestal.

I tend to disagree with that assessment.

You see, I believe that Mom is probably the most insecure person I have ever met. I believe that Mom felt so poorly about herself that she found it necessary to knock other people down in order to make herself look and feel better. I believe that every single person I heard made Mom make fun of during my childhood exhibited some trait that made her feel insecure and jealous.

Why make fun of a pretty waitress who is wearing the same work skirt as everyone else serving in the restaurant? Maybe Mom was jealous of this woman working and being independent. Maybe seeing a woman working made Mom feel insecure about her decision in life to not work and choosing a career of a housewife. Maybe she was jealous because the girl was taller than her or had longer hair than her; Mom always lamented about her short stature and her inability to grow long hair; maybe it made her feel better to pick on someone who exhibited the traits she desperately desired.

I truly believe that criticism as I described above stems from insecurity and doubt about one self. I believe that people who constantly choose to pick viciously on others are doing because of their own self-perceived shortcomings. Something or someone has made them feel bad about themselves, bad about themselves to the point that they refuse to see the good in others. They refuse to see the beauty in everyone around them and would rather relish on pointing out people’s flaws.

So how do we help criticizers see the beauty in others? How do we help them realize how unique and special we all are? How do we open their eyes to the fact that no one is perfect and it’s our differences that make us so extraordinary?

We help criticizers by not engaging or participating in their bullying when we are around them. We help by letting them know that negative talk like that will not be tolerated while they are around you. We help by demonstrating kindness to everyone and expecting the same from the criticizer. And all we can do is hope that one day, the criticizer will see the same beauty in everyone (including themselves) that we do.

If You Can’t Say Anything Nice…

Sarah Burleton NY Times bestselling author

Victoria Gigante Writes For Psych CentralSarah Burleton was born in a little town in Illinois to a very emotionally disturbed woman. Her first book, her child abuse memoir "Why Me," spent 26 weeks on the New York Times and the print version is endorsed by David Pelzer, author of "A Child Called It." Sarah is now realizing her goal in becoming an ambassador for abused children and adult survivors and is currently conducting workshops and seminars throughout the state. Her message of strength over adversity and her story will help counselors, teachers, and other professionals identify signs of abuse and learn ways to establish trust with an abused child.

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APA Reference
, . (2016). If You Can’t Say Anything Nice…. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 9, 2020, from


Last updated: 7 Dec 2016
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