FEAR OF CRITICISM by Lloyd J. Thomas, Ph.D.
There is no such thing as “constructive criticism.” Criticism never builds anything. It always tears down. It always abrades an idea, a behavior, a feeling, an opinion, or a person. Even when we mentally criticize ourselves, it tears at the target of our critical self-talk.
Most of us fear criticism. This fear originates usually in childhood, if those upon whom we depend are regularly critical of us. As children, we believe what we hear, and imitate what we observe. If what we hear about ourselves is critical, we believe the criticism to be true. We then imitate that criticism in our own attitude and self-talk.
Fear of criticism results in several psychological difficulties. Criticism, and the fear of it, robs us of self-esteem, minimizes our personal initiative, crumbles our sense of adequacy and power, takes away self-reliance, and generates many other negative effects.
Parents who criticize more than praise and encourage, do their children considerable psychological harm.
People who understand the psychology or human nature or the mind of a child, know how destructive criticism is. There are some who would make criticism a “crime,” due to its destructive impact on people. Is it any wonder that most all of us fear criticism?
Symptoms of criticism, now or in your past, include: Shyness. The person who is shy, has no doubt about the “unacceptableness” of his or her behavior. He may even believe that his being (self) is also unacceptable. Timidity in expressing oneself is the result. Who wants to show themselves, thereby exposing themselves to anticipated criticism. “If I stay hidden, then I will do or say nothing which can be criticized,” is the unexpressed belief.
Self-consciousness. People who have been criticized often become painfully aware of every little idea, thought, feeling or action they have. They focus their attention on everything they do. They demonstrate awkward body movement and often have a halting speech pattern, due to continuous self-monitoring.
Absence of poise. If one feels good about herself, she will stand and maintain a posture of relaxed gracefulness. If she has received much criticism, she will show nervousness in voice tone, body control, and posture, especially in the presence of others.
Belief in one’s general inferiority. This used to be called an “inferiority complex.”
If your words, habits, actions, feelings or thoughts have been criticized, you will believe them to be inferior in some way. A subtle form of criticism is the unfavorable comparison of you (or your behavior) to someone else. “Why can’t you behave like your _______?” can lead you to think yourself to be inferior to another.
People who feel inferior often try and compensate by exaggerated words, self-reports, boasting, and giving the appearance of “superiority.”
Lack of ambition and initiative. “Why try anything if it is just going to be criticized,” is the attitude developed by those who have experienced lots of criticism. They do not assert their own ideas, their own desires or preferences, or their own needs. They always wait for others to “make the first move” or express their opinions or desires first, before they risk expressing their own.
The antidotes for criticism are: realistic praise for behavior; encouraging support for the child; and positive suggestions. All of us feel good when others recognize what we do through realistic praise. Acknowledgement of our positive actions helps us to grow.
Encouragement of our skills, talents and characteristics builds self-confidence. Support to try and do new things, builds security for trying new behaviors. It also creates self-confidence and feelings of competence. Positive suggestion of alternatives to that which has been criticized or before criticizing, is the language tool which replaces criticism and its negative effects. Offer yourself positive suggestions in the form of self-talk. Offer acknowledgement to others to increase their awareness of available positive and acceptable alternatives.
Silence that self-critic who lives only inside your head. Replace critical self-talk with positive self-affirmations. Avoid contact with those who are “always criticizing.” Develop a realistic self-image, and positive beliefs about the quality of your behavior and personality. Cease the habit of criticism and you will heal from criticism’s damaging psychological effects.
Dr. Thomas is a licensed psychologist, author, speaker, and life coach. He serves on the faculty of the International University of Professional Studies. He recently co-authored (with Patrick Williams) the book: “Total Life Coaching: 50+ Life Lessons, Skills and Techniques for Enhancing Your Practice…and Your Life!” (W.W. Norton) (reprinted with permission)
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