Dear Neil: Why am I so critical of other people? I can really get on my boyfriend’s case from time to time, because he angers or disappoints me, because he misses an opportunity to be romantic or endearing, or because he says or does something that hurts me.
I think perhaps I’ve always been like this, only I’m getting more and more critical as I get older. Why am I so critical of other people, and is there anything I can do about it?
Critical in London, Ontario
Dear Critical: Why are you so critical? Below are several possible reasons, taken from Ron Potter-Efron’s book Stop The Anger Now (New Harbinger). Check off the ones that fit you. Being critical of others:
- Helps me feel superior/dominant
- Convinces me I’m right and you’re wrong
- Protects me against criticism by striking first
- Helps me avoid noticing my imperfections and faults
- Keeps me in control by making other appear weak, dumb or bad
- Is similar to what I do to myself. I’m very critical of myself.
- Keeps others from getting too close to me
- Is my way of trying to help, protect or guide others, even if they don’t like it
- Feels good. There’s a great deal of power in watching other people be afraid of me
- Protects my image because what others do reflects on me
- Forces other people to pay attention to me
Too much criticism of others can make you mean-spirited, sharp around the ages and cynical—not to mention extremely difficult to be around. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to become less critical of other people and therefore easier to be around.
First, Potter-Efron suggests you train yourself to look for the good, instead of the bad in others. It sounds simple, doesn’t it? But try it. When did you let yourself see something good about other people in the last 24-hours? Now set a goal for the next 24 hours to notice as many good things about the world and about other people as you can. Do this every day for a month. You’re retraining your brain to think in an entirely different way, so it will take time.
Second, set a goal of noticing the good in others during moments when you would otherwise only see their bad points. The following question may help you: “I could have complained about …., but instead I noticed….” The more you train yourself to look for the good, the more good you will find.
Third, look carefully at your inner critic and what s/he says to you—about you. Your inner critic operates by critiquing, criticizing and correcting your behavior, but frequently does so in a way that really undermines your self-esteem and self-confidence. It can easily make you feel like a mental, intellectual and emotional midget. If you’re pretty critical of others, it’s a fair guess that you’re extremely of yourself.
Try this: Pay attention to the critical things you say and feel about yourself (it’s easier to catch hold of the messages if you record them in a notebook). Then you can lighten up and be easier on yourself. If you succeed, you’ll be easier and less critical towards others as well.
On pages 12-14 and 203-5 of my #1 international bestselling book Love, Sex, and Staying Warm, I go more in depth on this subject, and provide additional recommendations to address this issue.