If you display these 8 traits, you probably grew up with highly critical parents

When I was younger, I always strived to get straight As at school – not because I wanted to be the best but rather because I knew how disappointed my parents would be with Bs or Cs.

And Ds? Oh, don’t even get me started on those. Anything worse than a C was off the table.

While my parents always meant well – they wanted me to do well academically so that I could enjoy a better life later on – they could be very strict and critical.

And unfortunately, that stern voice with which they told me off became imprinted into my own mind, taking on the role of an inner critic.

It took me years to fully recognize the impact growing up with critical parents had on me and begin to work on myself.

The aim of this article is to try to make the journey a little bit easier for you. If you display these 8 traits, you probably grew up with critical parents as well.

1) You’re constantly scared of messing up

When you’re scolded every time you don’t measure up to someone’s expectations of you, what do you go on to think about yourself for years afterward?

Yep, that’s right. You begin to believe you always make mistakes. You always screw up. No matter how hard you try, you simply can’t be the perfect child your parents dreamed up.

There are usually two kinds of coping mechanisms people employ to deal with the fear of messing up – they either don’t try at all, or they try way too hard.

I know many people who fall into the first category, but perfectionism has always been my forte. I strived to get the best grades, win all the competitions, and become the pitch-perfect image of a good daughter and pupil.

And do you know what I came to realize after years of using academic validation to prove my self-worth?

None of it matters. You grow up. You leave school. Your teachers slowly forget you. Your parents focus on their own lives as you begin to build yours.

You mess up, and then you mess up again, and then some more. But now that there are no parents to scold you, it is up to you to choose whether you’ll continue the same pattern or if you’ll finally give yourself the compassion and love you always wanted.

I chose the latter.

2) You lack the motivation to go after your dreams

Not everyone who grows up with critical parents turns into a perfectionist. Some people gravitate towards the completely opposite side of the spectrum – they just give up from the get-go.

This makes sense when you think about it. If you’re always criticized no matter how hard you try, why should you put in the effort to begin with?

One of my friends used to be like that. She built her whole life around the narrative that she wasn’t smart and capable, and when she finally realized that this whole belief system was solely in her mind, she went through a huge breakthrough period.

She’s the happiest she’s ever been now, and I love to see her thrive.

One of the biggest changes she’s made is that she’s begun telling herself, “My parents are imperfect humans with their own faults, too. They mean well, but this is my life, and their opinions of me do not matter. What matters is that I’m happy.”

When you’re a child, your parents are your entire universe. But the older you get, the less authority your parents have over you – if you choose to break out of the childhood mindset, that is.

3) You’re an overthinker

Ah, good old overthinking. She and I used to be best friends once upon a time. Every night when I couldn’t fall asleep, we’d go down rabbit holes together, spiraling into negativity and misery.

Yeah, I’m pretty glad all that’s in the past.

When you overthink, you’re essentially trying to prepare yourself for danger. If you go through every single scenario that could potentially happen, surely that’ll mean you won’t mess up?

Unfortunately, things are rarely as simple as that. Life loves to throw unexpected challenges at us, and the more you worry and overthink, the more stressed out you’ll be, which will only impair your ability to think clearly and find effective solutions.

When I started to actively live in the present moment, a lot of my worries ended up passing away as time went by.

4) You often turn to friends for advice and help

If your main caretakers don’t believe in you, how can you build that trust within yourself?

It’s difficult, to say the least. Not impossible, though. I say that as someone who used to ask my best friend for advice every time I didn’t know something, only for her to sigh and say, “Just Google it, for Christ’s sake.”

Over the years, I learned to rely on myself and my own abilities more and more because I could tell my friends were getting tired of constantly helping me.

Plus, I knew I deserved to trust myself. I deserved to be self-sufficient and believe in the power of my own decisions.

So I challenged myself. I began solo traveling. I picked up new hobbies and skills and I realized I could actually be good at something new. I moved into my own flat and managed to run the whole household without it falling apart, which was a win in and of itself.

Look, your parents may have criticized you, but that doesn’t mean you have to follow in their footsteps. You are capable of more than you think.

5) You struggle to accept other people’s love

The issue with many critical parents is that they’re not always critical. Sometimes, they show affection. Sometimes, they offer a bit of praise.

The problem is that you never know which it’s going to be today. Will they be in a good mood? Or will they criticize you for burning the toast or getting a C?

Years later, you no longer live with your parents but you’re still approaching life with the same mindset. If someone gives you a compliment, you struggle to accept and believe it because you constantly expect the person to change their mind if only they see the “true you”.

But the thing is, they already have. It is you who lives within a false narrative.

You are not a failure. No one is.

And you deserve love.

6) You apologize way too much

A few months ago, I had a board game night with my close friends.

My friend Kylie kept apologizing for every little thing she did, and when we asked her why she said “sorry” so often, she replied, “My parents always used to tell me off during board game nights. I just always seemed to do something wrong, so I started apologizing in advance.”

This is completely understandable. When someone makes you feel like you always screw up, you expect you’ll make a mistake even before anything actually happens, and so you apologize as a preventive measure.

However, saying “sorry” too often is rarely a good thing.

First of all, it can get irritating for the people around you.

Secondly, “I’m sorry” carries weight. Throwing the word around all the time diminishes its significance.

Thirdly – and most importantly – you don’t always mess up. That is not who you are. That is an image that was instilled in you, not the real you. And when you stop saying sorry so often and begin to try to claim space with more confidence, you’ll slowly grow into yourself. 

Practice makes perfect.

7) You tie your self-worth to external accomplishments

Remember how I spoke about getting As and winning competitions?

That was my introduction to the nemesis that was external validation. I learned at a very early age that the more accomplishments I achieved, the more praise and love I got, which also meant that if my grades got worse or if I wasn’t exceptional in any socially accepted way, it meant I failed.

It was the lockdown that truly helped me leave that mindset behind. Shut in my flat with nothing to do, there was no one to impress, and for the first time in my life, I had to come to terms with the fact that being me – no amazing job title, no As, no people to suck up to, nothing – had to be enough.

And it was. It is.

8) You approach life from a place of shame, not self-compassion

The above-mentioned traits all boil down to one thing: growing up with critical parents means that you strive to achieve certain goals in life because you don’t want to be a failure rather than because you want to enjoy yourself.

Your aim is to prevent shame, not to be kind to yourself.

Take cleaning the kitchen as an example. If your friends are coming over later in the evening, are you cleaning the kitchen because you don’t want them to think you’re messy or because you want a clean and functional space so you can cook everyone a nice dinner?

The first comes from a place of shame. The latter is all about looking after yourself and the people you love.

Your parents may have been the central figures in your life once upon a time, but they are not anymore. 

The best thing you can do for yourself right now is to tell the inner critic to shut up from time to time and to open up the door for the compassionate observer – aka, the parent who loves you in all your beauty.

You are everything you need.

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Tina Fey

I'm Tina Fey, the founder of the blog Love Connection. I've extremely passionate about sharing relationship advice. I've studied psychology and have my Masters in marital, family, and relationship counseling. I hope with all my heart to help you improve your relationships, and I hope that even if one thing I write helps you, it means more to me than just about anything else in the world. Check out my blog Love Connection, and if you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter

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