Being raised by a highly critical parent can come at the cost of unresolved issues in adulthood. We can go overboard in striving for perfection, for example. We can also suffer from mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression; we can become harsh critics of ourselves and of other people.
It is absolutely understandable how all of the above can become revolving after-effects and follow us well into adulthood.
Not that any of the childhood criticism is justified by any means, but there are ways to come out on the other side and thrive in life.
If you were overly criticized as a child, here are five positive things you can incorporate into your life even though your past was fraught with criticism.
1) They’ve learned—or are learning—to banish critical thoughts
Having critical parents in childhood can make you self-critical as adults.
Some days we’re able to banish those ugly thoughts, but other days it can be an up-hill battle because the inherited criticism is so deeply ingrained in us.
Still, we’re committed to not allowing criticism to take over our lives as it perhaps did in childhood.
“Some days, I wake up, and for whatever reason, ‘stinkin thinkin’—or negative self-talk seems to be the order of the day, says Kristen V.H. Middleton at Baby Chick.
“It’s not by choice and certainly not what I want for myself. When we speak to ourselves harshly, this often translates to how we talk to everyone around us. So what do we do? First, we need to be aware of it and improve the way we speak to ourselves,” she says.
The next time you hear a critical thought creep into your head, say to yourself, “Well, I know that’s not true.” Reinforce the thought with evidence.
If, for example, you hear yourself thinking how unattractive you are, say something like: “Well, I know that’s not true. I looked fabulous in my blue dress at the party last month.”
Or: “I love how I’m taking such good care of my skin and it’s looking radiant.”
This approach can work for pretty much anything. Telling yourself how smart you are, how capable you are, and how you’re getting better about your finances, for example.
2) They reverse the need to “prove” themselves
Let’s say that you grew up with a mother who believed that you couldn’t be “lazy” and lay on the sofa on a weekend watching television unless you weren’t feeling well.
So now, anytime you’re not feeling like doing much on a weekend because you’re so tired from a long week (not to mention the churning out of chores and endless errands). But a guilty thought pops into your mind: “I shouldn’t be so lazy. There’s still the laundry/dinner/mowing the lawn to do. What’s the matter with me?”
There is nothing the matter with you. You worked hard all week and you deserve a lazy day once in a while. The chores can wait. You are the leader of your life now and you get to be the one to decide what to do when in a way that works for you.
Seth J. Gillian, PhD, tells people who grew up with hyper-critical parents to consider the possibility that they’re not as defective in the ways they imagine.
“Maybe the negative view you have of yourself is just a lie that someone told you,” he says.
“Ask yourself if there’s one small thing you can do today to show yourself some kindness, as if you’re someone who deserves care, not criticism.”
This could be something like spending time with a friend who thinks the world of you and who builds you up.
Gillian says that even taking care of something on your to-do list can be an act of self-care and invoke a feeling of well-being.
3) They’re more patient with their children (or people in general) than their parents were with them
People who were born with critical parents can be more patient with their children and with people in general because they know what it felt like to be harped on all the time.
I have a friend who is a wonderful mother of three. She told me that her mother used to be critical of her anytime she asked her mom to play with her or listen to her practice her French.
The mother always said something to the effect of: “You know that your father is going to be home soon and I have a million things to do before then. You should know better than to bother me!”
My friend took these interactions to heart. Now, if any one of her children asks her to do something with them, more often than not, she drops everything and joins in.
In her words: “I don’t think on my deathbed I’ll be saying: ‘I wish I had cleaned the house more.’”
She tries to live her life from that perspective.
4) They’ve learned not to take their parent’s criticism personally
As a child and teenager, it was easy to believe that it was you, not your hyper-critical parents, who were the problem.
Maybe you thought that if you weren’t messing up all the time, then they wouldn’t have the need to be critical of you.
As children we didn’t have the analytical skills to understand that unless criticism is constructive (and sparing!), it has the opposite of the intended effect.
“Unless it’s useful feedback, criticism, especially from parents, does not always spur growth,” say the editors at Up Journey.
But somewhere along the lines of adulthood, maybe you saw that your parents were the types to snipe at strangers, and judge and shame other family members—so you realized it was them.
So you started setting boundaries and became more discerning about how little or how much of your life news you share with them.
5) They are determined to break their “family destiny”
Because you know all too well how constant criticism made you feel as a child, and how it affected your self-esteem, you’ve learned that it doesn’t work.
You also don’t want to continue the toxic cycle.
So you’re much more mindful of being needlessly critical yourself.
Family isn’t destiny, says Elizabeth Perry from BetterUp.
“Once we become aware of how our family influences us, we can have more control over whether those dynamics shape our perceptions and actions,” she says.
We know that the criticism most likely didn’t start with just our parents.
“The dynamics in our families aren’t limited to current, living generations,” says Perry. “They also include previous generations, as we still feel the effects of some of their traditions, structures, and habits.”
Personal transformation is possible
Mostly all of us had both positive and negative family dynamics growing up.
“Positive or negative, your family dynamics and the way you grew up can affect your life in various ways,” says Perry.
So if your childhood involved being overly criticized and undermined, your overall being suffered—something that probably followed you into adulthood.
“Understanding past and present family dynamics is an essential part of personal transformation,” says Perry.
This be through reflection, journaling, understanding the need to set certain boundaries, and of course therapy as a self-care tool.