It’s so easy to criticize other people, and so hard to give a single honest compliment. It’s so easy to see yourself in a good light and at the same time focus on imperfections of other people.
But criticizing people is a complete lose-lose situation that only creates distance, spreads negative energies and causes tensions. Criticism is one of the worst kinds of negative thinking, talking and acting.
If positive thoughts are creative thoughts of connecting, including, sharing and loving, then negative thinking is composed of thoughts and words (and consequently actions) that disconnect, exclude and spread hate.
Since it’s impossible to live a positive life with a negative mind, it’s obvious why criticizing others is so unproductive and irrational. So let’s put a stop to it.
Why do you love to criticize people?
On a logical level, we probably all know that criticizing people brings no good to anybody. And yet we still do it. If you do it, that means it must bring you some kind of value or benefit. Well, it does in the short term. The benefits are of emotional nature, and emotions are most often stronger than logic.
That means you must understand criticizing other people on an emotional level, to deal with it once and for all. So let’s analyze the most frequent reasons why we all love to criticize other people so much and have a hard time resisting it.
There is no rational benefits in criticizing other people. But emotional short-term benefits (that quickly backfire) are always present.
You criticize people to create emotional distance
We are often more kind to strangers than we are to our loved ones. Many couples, parents or siblings are very critical towards each other. Most often the emotional reason for that is to create distance in a relationship. Criticism is a great way to emotionally distance yourself from another person.
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Now, why would you want to do that? Well, because on the subconscious level you are afraid to be hurt or disappointed. Kids leave their nests, siblings can be more successful than you, your spouse might break your heart, and so on.
By criticizing others and focusing on their imperfections, you can emotionally protect yourself at least a little bit (they’re sour grapes – more about that later).
Understanding that leads us to only one important conclusion. It’s ridiculous to create distance by criticizing others. By criticizing you are ironically forcing them to hurt you sooner or later.
Nobody likes to be criticized; and obviously nobody can hurt you more than your negative untamed mind can. Thus, there is no need to create distance, only to improve your thoughts, feeling of self-worth and turn critiques into praise.
On the other hand, sometimes we even use criticism to create connections and closeness with other people. That is in cases when we look for a common enemy to consequently find common ground with somebody we like or can benefit from.
But starting a relationship based on hate is absolutely not a good start. We’re only showing off what we are prepared to do to other people, just to get a little bit of attention and love. Negative energies always somehow escalate and backfire.
You probably love to criticize other people because you were criticized a lot as a young person.
You criticize people to feel better about yourself
The second most frequent reason why people criticize others is to feel better about themselves. If someone’s success or personality is too shiny, it’s easy to throw dirt at it, and the shininess instantly loses its brightness. At least a little bit; in our eyes. What a relief. Not.
It’s been statistically proven that we are very indulgent towards ourselves and much harsher and judging towards others. We have double standards to protect our egos.
If somebody is better in something important to us or owns something we want or outruns us in a competition, we must quickly find all the reasons why they aren’t as good as they appear; otherwise we feel humiliated.
You criticize other people because you envy them
Criticizing others to feel better about yourself and criticizing out of envy are closely connected motives. They are a slightly different tones of the same voice. Let me explain.
It’s in our genes to hate unfairness. And when somebody gets something we want in a very unfair way, or when we feel life was unfair to us and kind to others, brutally strong feelings of envy arise.
Examples of situations that usually make us envious, because life is unfair:
- A friend gets lucky and earns much more money, much more easily than we do
- A parent shows more attention to a sibling than to us
- A coworker gets promoted, but we obviously deserve the promotion more
- A colleague is talented and doesn’t have to work so hard to be good at a certain sport
- We offer much better support to our kids than we had, but it seems they don’t appreciate it
- We can find many similar situations
All these situations are very unfair. Well, life can be extremely unfair sometimes and that hurts. We protect ourselves with many different rationalization mechanisms. We protect ourselves with self‑delusion.
“Sour grapes” and “sweet lemons” are two very frequent rationalization mechanisms. With self-deception, you make things that you want but don’t have less desirable (sour grapes) and things that you do have but are not that important to you more desirable (sweet lemons).
Criticizing others is absolutely a way to make grapes less sweet – to make other people’s accomplishments less worthy, to make relationships less important, and what other people have irrelevant.
In a way, we could say that criticizing others is often an easy way to express frustrations and other negative emotions. But criticizing other people or complaining won’t help. Only a superior life strategy and going into action to improve your life will.
You don’t accept that people have different levels of capabilities
Very capable and highly organized people usually have zero tolerance towards less capable people. They very strictly judge and criticize others when they do something wrong or don’t meet their standards. I used to be one of them (and still am a little bit).
The reason behind that is that usually these people were severely judged in their upbringing. Consequently, they set extremely high demands for themselves and others. It’s an internalized judging voice of parents that haunts you (inner critic) and is also directed towards others (outer critic).
In such a mental model, we don’t realize that people have different capabilities. We don’t take into account that people have different levels of experience, competence and that maybe not all were raised to high perfectionist standards.
That doesn’t mean you must lower your standards, but criticizing others is rarely the way that leads to improved performance of other people. It sooner leads to hate than improvement.
Criticism is an indirect form of self-boasting. – Emmet Fox
A complete lose-lose situation
Nobody gains anything from criticizing. The other person feels devaluated. It creates distance and decreases capacity for love. With criticism, you easily spread the negative energy around and destroy other people’s days.
People rarely listen to criticism, even if it’s justified, and they don’t try to improve themselves. Instead they take it personally and then avoid you, cut you out of their lives or criticize you back.
With criticism, you might feel a little bit better about yourself and your ego might feel a bit safer, but at what price? You are doing damage to relationships, your mental health (negative thoughts) and you are trampling the other person’s potential and provoke their inner peace.
You are pushing people away from your life. You are depriving yourself and others of love. That is a huge price to pay for feeling a little better about yourself in the short term.
Sometimes you criticize people to help them, sometimes to hurt them. In both cases, you are doing damage to yourself and other people. There are better ways to help others or your ego and feeling of self-worth.
Transforming criticism into more constructive thoughts, words and actions
Now that you know the real problems and cause of criticism, let’s look at a few solutions for transforming criticism into more constructive thoughts, words and actions. There is the long-term, harder way to deal with the desire to criticize people, and a few short-term shortcuts and hacks.
The long-term way is all about developing better self-esteem and self-worth, and a greater capacity for love. When you love yourself more, you can truly start loving others; and consequently you can stop criticizing them at every step they make. If you don’t feel threatened, there is no need to criticize.
With higher self-esteem, there is no need to create so much distance in relationships or trample others. Because you know your high worth and you know you will survive and be fine (maybe even thrive), it doesn’t matter if somebody is better than you or that they might emotionally hurt you some day in the future.
The best short-term way to deal with criticism is to use the “switch” approach. You switch from a bad habit (criticism) to a good one (praise).
In practical terms, that means that every time you want to criticize a person, you bite your tongue (really hard) and do the following – mentor the person, find something to compliment, try to understand why the person is acting as they are, or make a conscious decision to mind your own business.
Rather than criticize, show people how to do things
Every time you want to criticize somebody because they didn’t meet your standards, show them how to do things better – mentor them. Just say, you did an excellent job (or parts of it); I have several additional ideas, let me show you …
Or use the sandwich technique. Find something to compliment in their work, then show them what and how to do better, and end your talk by praising the person again. And if you roll your eyes while showing other people how to improve, you're doing it wrong.
Besides that, be careful when showing people how to do things. Make sure that your way really is more efficient, effective, profitable or better in a certain important standard. There are many ways how to achieve the same goal, and who says your way really is the best.
If you don’t have data or metrics as a proof that your way is the right one or if you aren’t sharing small tricks of industry masters, maybe you are the one who can learn something from the other person.
Rather than criticize, show respect or mind your own business
Every time you want to criticize others with the goal of dirtying their shiny success or luck, bite your tongue and instead find a way to even deepen the relationship with that person. Find a way to develop a new dimension.
If their success is based on hard work, just think of what you can learn from them. Ask them if they are prepared to mentor you or give you some tips to be more successful.
If you envy them their (unjust) luck, well, it won’t help you with your luck in life in any way. Rather than drowning in envy and criticism, brainstorm how you can get luckier in life. Do it based on the quote: the harder and smarter I work, the luckier I get. As an alternative, you can also think of all the things that you have and are grateful for.
Other people’s luck doesn’t mean your misfortune, if you have the abundance mindset. Life is not a zero sum game. Wealth and luck can always be created. With the abundance mindset, you know that sooner or later, you will also get lucky, as long as you stay proactive and positive enough.
Be happy when other people are struck by luck, and while you are happy, mind your own business and mind your own luck.
Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain but it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving. – Dale Carnegie
Praise or show empathy rather than criticize
Last but not least, every time you want to criticize someone’s personality, instead find something to praise. If you manage to achieve 7 compliments for every critique, you will dramatically improve your relationships with others and with yourself.
The same millisecond you think of a critique make sure you don’t say it and start searching for something to praise.
- If a person’s extroversion bothers you, find something they’re wearing that you can compliment
- If a person’s negativity bothers you, find something that they did well and tell them
- If a person’s pimple in the middle of their face bothers you, find a body part you like on them and focus on that
Physical traits, character, competences, there are so many different things you can compliment – if you just invest a little bit of effort. Remember, you are criticizing others to create distance, protect your ego, and because you are a hard judge towards yourself.
Once you stop being hard on others and focus on their positive traits, you will also focus on positive things on yourself. Consequently, you will develop greater self-confidence and capacity for love. You will become more tolerant towards yourself and towards others. What a blessing.
One more extremely powerful weapon against criticism is empathy. First, let’s define what empathy is. You mustn’t confuse it with sympathy or support. Sympathy means having the capacity to feel the same way as somebody else. Acting in a tender, understanding manner and standing by their side is a form of support. They are both useful, but not as powerful as empathy.
Empathy means being able to precisely understand other people’s thoughts and actions, and where their actions and behaviors are coming from. When you deeply understand the context, you know the motives and what is really going on in a certain life situation. Then there is no need to criticize, only to forgive, understand or find a way to fix things.
By developing empathy, you become more tolerant and respect the diversity that life has to offer. Maybe you would be or act the same if you had the exact same life circumstances. Understand, mentor, or develop new relationship dimensions and forget about criticizing.
When you judge others, you do not define them, you define yourself. – Earl Nightingale
Concluding thoughts on criticism
Openly criticizing anyone, or even doing it behind their back, is very destructive behavior that spreads misery in your life and the life of people who surround you. It’s impossible to live a happy and successful life with a negative mind and by spreading negative energies.
There are better ways to operate in relationships than criticizing. There are ways to transform the desire for criticism into subtler energies and more constructive actions.
You transform criticism into more positive energies, words and actions, by making sure that:
- You understand there are many ways to achieve the same thing, and maybe yours is not the best.
- If you know a better way, show people how to do it, don’t criticize them.
- If something bothers you on a person, it’s usually something you don’t like about yourself; or you need to understand their context and life circumstances better.
- With self-delusion of how you are better than others, you won’t get far in improving your life situation. Only with self-improvement, by minding your own business and working hard you can become luckier and happier.
- You have to be little to belittle others. Thus criticizing others only shows you have to work on your feeling of self-worth and self-esteem.
- Severely criticizing others means you are creating distance in relationships and that you have a low capacity for love. Ironically, you are forcing people into behavior that you’re afraid will happen to you. Stop it.
The moment you start excluding others, creating distance and spreading negative energies, switch your thinking and acting to a more positive one. The same millisecond you want to criticize, switch to and ignite thoughts of connecting, sharing, love, praise, tolerance, compassion and empathy.
That’s how you will deal with your inner and outer critics once and for all. Because when you develop tolerance towards others, you will develop tolerance towards yourself.