8 traits of people who grew up with overly critical parents

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Growing up with overly critical parents is a unique experience, and one that can shape your life in ways you may not even realize.

I know – I’ve been there. You’ve heard the constant nitpicking on everything from your appearance to your choices, the continuous stream of ‘you could do better’, and the persistent questioning of your decisions.

Often, it’s not even that dramatic.

You just slowly start to notice how much you second guess yourself, how you’re constantly striving for perfection, or how you feel a deep-seated fear of making a mistake.

Let’s dive into the traits that show you were raised by overly critical parents, even if you’re just starting to realize it yourself.

1) Constant self-doubt

Growing up under the constant scrutiny of overly critical parents, you may find that you’ve developed a habit of second-guessing your every decision.

It’s not always a big deal.

Perhaps it’s about choosing a meal at a restaurant, deciding what to wear for a social event, or picking a movie to watch. It’s these small, everyday choices that can be surprisingly hard.

Why? Because you were raised in an environment where every choice was questioned, every decision analyzed for faults.

As a result, you might find yourself struggling with self-doubt in even the most trivial matters. You’ve been conditioned to think there’s always a ‘right’ choice to make – and the fear of making the ‘wrong’ one can be paralyzing.

This constant self-doubt is a common trait among those who grew up with overly critical parents, and it’s something that can take time and conscious effort to overcome.

2) Perfectionism to the extreme

This constant self-doubt often manifests itself as an extreme form of perfectionism.

I’ve been there, trust me.

You find yourself obsessing over the tiniest details, trying to make everything absolutely ‘perfect’ – because anything less feels like a failure. A report for work, a dinner you cooked, even a casual email to a friend – you spend an inordinate amount of time on these tasks, trying to get them just right.

And it’s not just about a fear of criticism. It’s about the fear of not living up to the impossibly high standards you’ve internalized from your overly critical parents.

The sad part? You’re your own harshest critic, always seeing flaws that others don’t. You’re constantly pushing yourself to do better, be better, but it’s never enough. This relentless pursuit of perfection is exhausting and can often lead to feelings of inadequacy and burnout.

3) Difficulty accepting compliments

For a long time, I couldn’t understand why compliments made me feel so uncomfortable.

When someone praised me for my work or complimented my outfit, I’d instantly downplay it or brush it off. A simple, “You did great!” would send me into a spiral of self-doubt and anxiety. Was I really good, or were they just being nice?

See, when you grow up with overly critical parents, you’re often starved of praise. Instead, you’re fed a steady diet of criticism and admonishment. So when someone compliments you genuinely, it feels… strange. Unfamiliar, even.

It’s like your mind can’t process the positive feedback because it’s so used to the negative. You find yourself questioning the sincerity of the compliment, or worse, feeling like you don’t deserve it.

This difficulty in accepting compliments is a common trait among people who grew up with overly critical parents. It’s a telltale sign that you’re still carrying those childhood insecurities and fears into your adult life.

4) Craving external validation

Did you know that people who grow up with overly critical parents often develop a strong craving for external validation?

I didn’t, until I found myself constantly seeking approval from others. A nod of agreement from a colleague, a like on a social media post, a praising comment from a friend – these small validations became my lifeline, my proof that I was doing okay.

This is because as kids, we were rarely given the reassurance that we were good enough. Our worth was defined by our actions and achievements, not by who we were as individuals. As adults, this translates into an incessant need for affirmation from others.

We crave that validation because it reassures us that we’re doing something right, that we’re worthy. It’s a cycle that’s hard to break, but recognizing it is the first step towards overcoming it.

5) Hyper-awareness of others’ feelings

Navigating through life with overly critical parents often turns us into experts at reading people. I’ve found myself to be incredibly aware of other people’s feelings – sometimes even before they realize it themselves.

Growing up, you had to anticipate your parents’ moods, to avoid criticism or keep the peace. You learned to read their body language, their tone of voice, their expressions – all in an attempt to adapt your behavior accordingly.

As an adult, this hyper-awareness can feel like a blessing and a curse. On one hand, it makes you empathetic and understanding. You’re often the one your friends turn to when they’re upset because you just ‘get’ them.

But on the other hand, it can be exhausting. You’re constantly absorbing people’s emotions, constantly trying to please everyone. It’s a trait that’s deeply ingrained in you from your childhood, and it’s something that can take time to unlearn.

6) Fear of confrontation

Confrontation is uncomfortable for most people, but for those of us who grew up with overly critical parents, it can feel downright terrifying.

I remember how, as a child, any form of disagreement with my parents would lead to a barrage of criticism. So I learned to keep my mouth shut, to agree even when I didn’t, to avoid any form of conflict at all costs.

This fear of confrontation doesn’t just disappear as you grow older. It follows you into your adult relationships too. You might find yourself going out of your way to avoid arguments, even if it means suppressing your own feelings and needs.

But let me tell you, it’s okay to voice your opinions, to stand up for yourself. It’s okay to disagree. Confrontation is a part of life, and it doesn’t always have to be negative or destructive. It’s a lesson we have to learn, and unlearn, over time.

7) High levels of anxiety

Living under constant criticism can take a toll on your mental health. I’ve experienced it firsthand.

You might find yourself dealing with high levels of anxiety. This isn’t just about feeling nervous before a big presentation or a job interview – this is about feeling anxious over everyday situations.

It could be a fear of making mistakes, a fear of disappointing others, or even a fear of being yourself. This anxiety can be so ingrained that you might not even realize it’s there, it just becomes a part of who you are.

Growing up with overly critical parents means that you were constantly under pressure to perform, to meet expectations, and to live up to standards that were often unattainable. This pressure doesn’t just go away as you grow older, it manifests as anxiety that can infiltrate every aspect of your life.

8) Struggling with self-worth

At the crux of all these traits lies a common thread – a struggle with self-worth. I can tell you, it’s one of the hardest battles to fight.

When you grow up with overly critical parents, you’re often made to feel that your worth is conditional. It’s dependent on your accomplishments or your ability to meet their expectations. This can lead to an internalized belief that you are not inherently valuable or lovable.

This struggle with self-worth can seep into all areas of your life – relationships, career, personal growth. You might find yourself settling for less than you deserve, or pushing people away because deep down, you don’t believe you’re worthy of their love or respect.

But let me tell you, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Your worth is inherent. It’s not defined by what you do, or how well you do it. It’s about who you are as a person. 

And if you grew up with overly critical parents, recognizing this is probably the most important and challenging step in your journey towards healing.

Embracing your journey

If you’ve found yourself nodding along to these traits, understand that you’re not alone. Many of us who’ve grown up with overly critical parents carry these traits into adulthood. But recognizing them is the first step towards change.

The road to healing isn’t easy, but it’s worth every step. It starts with acknowledging your experiences and validating your feelings. It’s about learning to separate the voice of criticism from your own inner voice, and understanding that your worth is not defined by others’ expectations.

In this journey of self-discovery and healing, remember – progress might be slow, but it’s still progress. Be patient and kind to yourself. And most importantly, believe in your ability to grow and transform.

After all, you are not what happened to you. You are what you choose to become.

Lucas Graham

Lucas Graham, based in Auckland, writes about the psychology behind everyday decisions and life choices. His perspective is grounded in the belief that understanding oneself is the key to better decision-making. Lucas’s articles are a mix of personal anecdotes and observations, offering readers relatable and down-to-earth advice.

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