Why Am I So Critical of Others?

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.

18 comments on “Why Am I So Critical of Others?

  1. Not to be critical 🙂 but it’s not “you’re extremely of yourself” but “you’re extremely critical of yourself”.

  2. This is a good article especially for the advice it gives on how to not be so critical. I had such a big problem with anger and was highly critical of most people around me. I have found that it really does help me if I focus on the good in people. I think it’s better to keep a diary and write it down. It seems to have more of a benefit for me to do this. It just helps me soften out a but more. Thanks for the article.

  3. I grew up in a very critical home, so critizing myself and others (even if only in my thoughts) happens very easily. And having gone through some very demoralizing situations recently has made it much worse.

    Thank you for the tips on how to turn this behavior around!

    • I am a hypercritical person. I am not crazy or unstable, but I did grow up in a home where I was at best benignly neglected and at worst often criticized for failing to be whatever I was supposed to be at the moment. I never performed well enough at anything. When I brought home all As and a single B+ on report cards, I was asked why I hadn’t worked harder in that subject. I grew up with an understanding that I was grossly lacking in a multitude of ways and that I would never be any better. What was strange is that most of my siblings received very different treatment, which just reinforced how I didn’t measure up.

      I raised my son critically. I didn’t do so because I wanted to harm him, make myself feel better, or to feel superior. I was sincerely trying to help him avoid being like me and making the same mistakes I made. Unfortunately, he was irreparably damaged by my parenting and despite all my attempts to change our relationship and improve the way I relate with him, at some point people just refuse to change the category they’ve placed one in. I love my son to the moon and back and always have, but will never be able to communicate that to him in a way that makes a difference in how he views me. This situation has further cemented my belief that I am deeply flawed and unworthy. And my shame is enormous.

      It’s so easy to be critical of the critical. Absolutely no one sees the irony of that as critical people are obviously worthy of scorn and their negativity is ample justification for effectively banishing them from society. I am not able to see how that helps them or makes the world a better place since those actions will simply solidify a hypercritical person’s behaviors since a steady diet of being criticized is what created the issue in the first place. Criticizing the critical simply feeds the problem and allows it to become even more problematical.

      It’s so very easy to be dismissive and throw out ideas like hypercritical people just want to feel important, etc. And most of the time these people are not projecting and criticizing what they see in others because they believe it is in themselves. Instead, they’re begging for help. Few people seem to remember the adage that those who deserve love the least need it the most, but that’s what is needed here.

      As for me, I have withdrawn from the world as my energy doesn’t benefit anyone most of the time. It’s funny, but people who don’t know me believe that I am a gentle and sweet person. For some reason I cannot seem to get control of, I only harm those I love. So I stay away from them so I cannot hurt them which is the only way I have found to protect them from myself.

      The programming we receive as children is almost hardwired into us. A lifetime spent working on the problem from every conceivable angle has yielded minimal and inconsistent results.

      Before judging the judgemental, please stop and realize that there’s no criticism you can level at the individual that they haven’t leveled at themselves already. Self criticism is what they know so as within, so without. Compassion and kindness would go farther with hypercritical people than most realize.

      • Hi…I am sad for your situation…IF you are interested in reading, I have JUST finished a book called “The Courage To Be Disliked”…an eye opener, though takes a bit to absorb, so much so that I may read it again. There is a follow-up book called “The Courage To Be Happy”. These are not your everyday books and won’t suit everyone; for me, it depends on where you are in your life and things happen to guide you towards the next step…anyway, all the best to you and I do hope you can find contentment…

  4. Face it if you are critical (of others) you are without a doubt an *sshole or a b*tch, know you are and stop being an *sshole or a b*tch others do not enjoy being around you or hearing from you. You are doomed to a life of others seeking solitude away from you because they do not like you even if they love you.

    • Sandie you are 100 percent correct. Hypercritical people are hated. All of co-workers in my past job at a grocery store hated our assistant manager. Why might you ask? She was hypercritical of every co worker and every customer. My manager was so hypercritical that customers told me “We hate your manager. Your nice. She’s evil.”
      My coworkers also called her the “Most vile person ever born.”

      You nailed it. Sadly they will not change.

    • Geesh Sandie, You may be right but what a harsh and dare I say mean way to state it (or overstate it). Yes, critical people suck but so do mean people.

  5. I have a neighbor who won’t fix a sewage problem and the smell drives me nuts! How in hell can I see the good in him when he could careless about me. I am praying about the situation. That’s all the good I can muster.

  6. It’s great that all those who searched this cared enought to do so and recognized their problem 🙂

  7. First of all, I hit tons on your checklist. I strongly dislike how critical I am of others. I notice all these little annoyances (that aren’t really annoyances, I just look for things I could label as) and I struggle to forget them or let them go. How they eat, how they talk, how they dress, them being lazy (or maybe they’re just relaxing?? Huh, who does that). Basically, I need to chill the f out. But HOW do I change how I look at others?
    Your simple advice of looking for good things helps tons (especially because I love them, and there are so many cute and good things about these people). This reframes how I was approaching this- of course look for the good! I should have thought of this:/



    Perhaps, armed with my new appreciation weapon, my Plan A: Cat Person Alone and Bitter can now be a plan of choice and not just my only option.

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