As Mark Twain once remarked, “Nothing so needs reforming as other people’s habits.”
Pointing out everybody else’s flaws is a whole lot easier than working on yours, that’s for sure.
That’s the funny thing about those who constantly criticize, they love to point out everyone else’s failings but never their own.
Hyper-critical people are tough to be around. But what makes them behave the way they do?
Let’s take a look at some of the traits that make them so disapproving…
1) They’re perfectionists with impossible standards
Perfectionism goes way beyond having high standards. It falls into the category of impossible standards.
Whilst perfectionism is still often touted as a positive quality within society, the truth is that it can cause some debilitating mental health issues.
Ultimately, you set yourself up to fail, as perfect doesn’t really exist.
Critical people can have exceedingly high standards and expect everyone to meet these standards.
Yet they also often have unrealistic expectations that make them unreasonably demanding. So they are rarely satisfied with others’ performance.
That’s why they are so quick to point out others’ failures and mistakes.
Even though they may seemingly only criticize others and never themselves, on the inside they may be just as hard on themselves too.
2) They’re insecure and have low self-esteem
Research suggests that those who criticize suffer from low self-esteem.
Just like the bully in the playground, those who tear others down don’t feel strong. Deep inside they feel weak.
It becomes a mask they wear to try to present an image to the outside world. They’re also trying to inflate their own sense of self-worth by picking up on the flaws in others.
The thing they are trying to hide from others, and often even from themselves, is that they feel inadequate or inferior.
Faced with these crippling emotions, criticizing others can help them feel better about themselves.
It’s essentially a defense mechanism, a shield against their own insecurities.
That’s why it doesn’t matter whether the criticism is valid or not. They will always find something to hone in on, no matter how inconsequential.
Because the real point of it isn’t to improve standards, it’s to allow them to feel superior.
3) They’re control freaks that struggle to let go
To a certain extent, we all like to feel in control. That’s because it brings with it a level of security and certainty.
But those with control issues can’t handle the reality that some things will never be within our control.
It makes them feel deeply unsafe and at the mercy of life.
Criticism is often a consequence of not being able to let go and allow others to take the lead.
They cannot do this because they feel the need to manage everything around them, including the actions and behaviors of others.
So they use criticism as a way to exert control and maintain dominance.
That’s why you often find that critical people are simultaneously bossy, micromanaging, and like to always be in charge.
Of course, it would help if they could see themselves clearly, but as we’re about to see, that’s another problem.
4) They lack self-awareness
Self-awareness is the key that unlocks all personal growth.
That’s because until we can honestly evaluate who we are and why we do the things we do, we’re powerless to make a change.
Blindspots are by their very nature impossible to see if we don’t go looking for them.
People who criticize everyone but themselves often lack this self-awareness. So they fail to recognize their own flaws and shortcomings. Instead, they focus on the flaws of others.
They are forever looking outwards and not inwards. So they fail to reflect on why they feel the need to chastise, complain, and pick at people.
If they did, they’d probably discover the problem lies within and not outside, which brings us nicely to our next trait.
5) They’re hypocrites
We’ve all heard the saying that “people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones”.
Meaning, you shouldn’t criticize others when you probably have similar faults of your own.
And who of us is really without fault?
That’s why excessive complaining about everyone around us is bound to turn us into hypocrites.
We cast a saintly image of ourselves whilst getting to work ripping apart others.
But what’s going on below the surface is much more complex.
Those who criticize everyone else are trying to hide from their own failings, as pointed out by Steven Berglas in Harvard Business Review:
“Whether it’s a strong or a mild case, it’s a form of what psychologists call projection: A psychological defense mechanism that enables a person to deny their own issues by attributing those traits to others. Projection lets us condemn the traits or we find distasteful, repugnant, or worthy of punishment.”
Deep down, a critical person is highlighting in you what they see (and don’t like) in themselves.
6) They struggle to empathize
As explained by Psych Central, it’s empathy that allows us to “understand or sense another person’s perspective, feelings, needs, or intentions, even when you don’t share the same circumstances.”
That’s why a lack of empathy in someone can make them much more critical of others.
Rather than try to see your side of things, they only see the perceived flaw, no what lead to it.
This often makes them insensitive and lacking in compassion.
They struggle to relate to others’ experiences so they don’t give anyone any slack, instead, they jump into attack mode.
This makes them pretty inflexible and difficult to get along with when disagreements arise.
7) They’re stubborn and refuse to change their mind
We often find that certain traits clump together in someone. That’s because one supports and encourages the other.
Critical people are often very set in their ways due to their control issues, negativity, and lack of empathy.
So it’s common to find that once they make up their mind, there is no changing it.
Rather than stay open, they have a rigid approach and refuse to consider anyone else’s side of things other than their own.
This inflexibility shows up in a stubborn nature.
8) They have a negative mindset
As critical people seem to get a kick out of fault finding, you may notice something a bit perverse.
It’s almost as if they take pleasure from things going wrong.
It gives them an excuse to say “I told you so” or strip away at someone else’s bad behavior.
Rather than hope for the best, they often expect the worst. Yet this only further fuels the fire of their negative approach to life.
Our internal thoughts ultimately impact our emotions and actions.
Those who are quick to criticize have a lot of negative thoughts that eat away at them. And that attitude is what you see reflected on the outside.
The irony is that everything a critical person does is an attempt to make themselves feel stronger. Yet in reality, all it ever does is make them feel weaker.
As their sense of power continues to diminish, they increasingly play the victim.
9) They’ve fallen into victimhood
Whenever we feel out of control in life, we’re at risk of falling into victimhood.
Because an empowered approach is tied to a positive mindset and an acceptance that there will always be things we cannot control.
As we’ve seen, these are not qualities that critical people tend to have.
So rather than roll up their sleeves and take proactive action, they get lost in blame and recrimination.
A defining difference between constructive feedback and criticism comes down to intention, just as much as how you deliver whatever you have got to say.
When we offer feedback it is with the intention of improvement, and so it is solution-focused.
But criticism is only about faultfinding and reproach. It has already served its purpose by making them feel better than those they are nitpicking at.
So for all their whining, critical people get stuck in this pattern of blaming others rather than making positive changes.
10) They may even be narcissists
Although this may not be a common quality in everyone who is critical, for some narcissism could even be at play.
Excessive criticism then shifts from being an unconscious habit into an intentional weapon.
Narcissists have an inflated sense of self-importance and genuinely believe that they are better than others.
This superiority complex often leads them to criticize others excessively.
Not only do they believe they are always right and without flaws, but stripping away at other people’s self-esteem is a part of their manipulation tactics.
So you will often find that they continuously dismiss the opinions and feelings of others.
Ignore the haters
I’m under no illusion that this is easier said than done.
Research shows that thanks to our negativity bias, we tend to take criticism to heart and hold onto it much more than we do praise.
In fact, on a biological level, we can view criticism as a threat to our very survival.
So needless to say, it’s not so easy to brush it off.
But one of the best approaches can be to ignore the critics and focus on the problem solvers instead.
Critics may lack empathy themselves, but we can try to take an understanding approach so that we don’t take their negativity personally.
Instead, we can know that it is a reflection of them more than you.
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