Constant criticism a form of abuse
Criticism hurts. In fact, criticism, sarcasm, and other forms of put-down statements are potentially devastating to almost everyone.
When subjected to prolonged criticism, children especially are likely to internalize the statements and develop a belief system that incorporates them into their self-concept. Criticism that is constant, prolonged, and intense is often seen as a form of emotional abuse, and like physical and sexual abuse, often follows the pattern of abuse begetting abuse. Breaking the cycle is frequently difficult where insight and motivation to change are lacking. Depressed individuals who continue to be criticized become increasingly depressed and feel self-defeated.
Individuals prone to criticizing others are often found to have been criticized themselves during early periods of their lives.
Criticism, however, can be construed as a critique, or informational feedback for positive change. Many complex factors determine whether communication is perceived as harmful and negative or beneficial and positive. Numerous ways can be used to minimize the effects of criticism.
Some suggestions from Dr. Allan G. Hedberg, author of "Depression: Positive Strategies for Change," are as follows:
• Criticism is often an exaggerated statement offered by someone for purpose of directing attention to some specific area of our life or behavior patterns. The receiver should try to avoid concern with the entire exaggerated comment, and instead look for the "nugget of truth." Then, let it direct attention to specific points of concern,
• When the criticism is given in very general, non-specific terms, it may be helpful to ask the person to be more specific, to give examples which illustrate what they mean, and then to back these up with direct observations.
• Sometimes criticism has another agenda, that of initiating argument and debate. Direct the criticizer to avoid or at least be aware of this agenda which may include their desire for a broader discussion such as argument and debate.
• Persistent criticism can have a destructive effect. To neutralize the negative effect, the receiver can respond in a neutral fashion and allow some response instead of merely passively receiving the barrage. For example, the receiver might respond in a repetitious manner, "I hear what you are saying." This may be a better response than a defense or an argument of correctness.
• Criticism about one particular aspect of your behavior pattern does not imply that you are totally inept or incompetent in other areas of your life. It is important to separate the specific point of reference from other areas of your life which are functioning well and are not it need of change.
• Two important points to remember are that criticism is often made at a time when a person is angry, hostile, or upset. At other times it occurs when an individual has been reminded of something in their own life which represents an area of weakness, inadequacy, or basic fear. Rather than admit this to themselves, they often project their fears or inadequacies on others in the form of derogatory remarks, sarcasm, or critical comments. Understanding this motivation, the receiver can see there is not real basis for the criticism.
• Criticism can be constructive and the basis for personal growth if the receiver will ask for specific suggestions and not argue over global issues. Then the criticism may generate positive specific actions that can be utilized to improve a situation in need of correction.
Hopefully these comments can help provide a basis for dealing more effectively with criticism and can help but it in its proper perspective in life situations.
Copyright c 1995 Harold H. LeCrone, Jr., Ph.D.