People who were overly criticized as children often have these 9 personality traits

There’s a fine line between constructive criticism and harmful, incessant fault-finding.

Growing up, some of us experienced the latter more than the former. People often overlook the long-term detrimental impacts this can have on a child’s personality.

As an adult, those harsh criticisms from our formative years can shape our personality traits in surprising ways. By understanding these traits, we can begin to unpack and navigate our complicated emotions.

In this article, we’ll delve into the nine common personality traits often found in individuals who were overly criticized as children.

Let’s get started. 

1) Perfectionism

Perfectionism is more than just striving for excellence; it’s a relentless pursuit of flawlessness, often accompanied by self-criticism and fear of mistakes.

For those who were overly criticized in their younger years, perfectionism can become a coping mechanism. It’s an attempt to avoid further criticism by being perfect in every aspect of their life.

However, this pursuit can be exhausting and often leads to anxiety, stress, and even depression. It creates an impossible standard that one can never truly reach.

This trait is not about setting high standards, but about living under the constant fear of not meeting those standards.

Recognizing this trait in ourselves or others is the first step towards understanding and addressing the root cause of this behavior.

It’s about learning to be kinder to ourselves, understanding that mistakes are part of growth, and knowing that no one is perfect – and that’s okay.

Perfection is not attainable, but progress is.

2) Sensitivity to criticism

It’s natural to feel a little sting when someone critiques us. But for those who grew up with excessive criticism, this reaction can be much stronger.

I’ll give you a personal example. Growing up, my parents didn’t hold back their judgment. They were quick to point out every flaw, every mistake. This made me extremely sensitive to any form of criticism, even constructive ones.

Now, as an adult, I find it difficult to separate helpful feedback from negative criticism. A simple comment can feel like a personal attack and can send me into a spiral of self-doubt and anxiety.

I’ve come to realize that this sensitivity is a defense mechanism. It’s my way of protecting myself from the hurt I felt as a child.

This heightened sensitivity isn’t easy to manage, but acknowledging it is the first step. It’s important to remember that not all criticism is harmful and learning to accept feedback can be an essential part of personal growth.

3) Low self-esteem

Overly criticized children often grow into adults with low self-esteem. They internalize the constant criticism and it becomes a part of how they view themselves.

This is not surprising when you consider that our self-esteem is largely shaped during our childhood. The way we are treated by significant adults in our lives plays a massive role in our self-worth.

A study published in the Journal of Personality found that individuals who experienced more negative interactions in their early life had lower self-esteem later in life.

Low self-esteem can manifest as self-doubt, hesitation, and even self-sabotage. It’s a constant battle against one’s own negative self-perception.

Breaking free from this cycle involves challenging these internalized criticisms and rebuilding a healthier sense of self-worth. It’s about learning to appreciate ourselves, flaws and all.

4) Difficulty trusting others

When criticism is a prominent feature of your childhood, it can be challenging to form trusting relationships later in life. You might find yourself always waiting for the other shoe to drop, expecting criticism or rejection.

This lack of trust can create barriers in forming deep, meaningful relationships. It can lead to a constant fear of being vulnerable or opening up to others, hindering the ability to connect on a deeper level.

It’s important to understand that this trust issue stems from past experiences and not every interaction will result in criticism or rejection.

Building trust takes time and patience, but it’s not impossible. It’s about creating a safe space where vulnerability is welcomed and encouraged.

5) Fear of failure

For those who were excessively criticized as children, failure can seem like the worst possible outcome. They may have come to associate failure with criticism, disappointment, and rejection.

This fear can be paralyzing, holding one back from taking risks or trying new things. It can lead to a life lived in a comfort zone, where growth and exploration are limited.

But failure is an inevitable part of life and an essential part of growth. It’s through our failures that we learn, adapt, and evolve.

Overcoming this fear involves reframing our perception of failure. Instead of seeing it as a dead-end, it can be viewed as a stepping stone towards success. After all, every successful person has experienced failure at some point in their journey.

6) Need for validation

When you’re constantly criticized as a child, you may find yourself craving validation and approval as an adult. You yearn for someone to tell you that you’re good enough, to affirm your worth and your abilities.

This incessant need for validation can be a heavy burden. It can lead to a dependence on others for your self-worth and happiness, which is not only exhausting but also fragile.

But here’s the thing: You don’t need anyone else to validate your worth. You are enough, just as you are.

It’s about learning to self-validate, to recognize and appreciate your own achievements, big or small. It’s about understanding that your worth isn’t determined by others’ opinions but by your own self-belief.

You are deserving of love and acceptance, not because of what you do or achieve, but simply because you exist.

7) Overachiever

Growing up, I always felt the need to exceed expectations. Not just meet them, but surpass them. This wasn’t about ambition or a thirst for knowledge. It was about proving my worth.

As a child who faced constant criticism, I believed that doing more, achieving more, would make me immune to criticism. It became a shield I could hide behind.

But this drive to overachieve can be exhausting. It’s like running a race with no finish line. No matter how much you accomplish, it never feels enough.

It’s important to remember that your value doesn’t lie in your achievements alone. You are not defined by your success or failures. You are more than your accomplishments.

Take time to appreciate the journey, not just the destination. Celebrate small wins and don’t forget to take care of yourself along the way. Because you matter, with or without your achievements.

8) Avoidance behavior

Avoidance is a common coping mechanism for those who have been heavily criticized during their formative years. It’s a way of sidestepping potential criticism or conflict.

This can manifest in various ways, from procrastination to completely avoiding certain activities or situations. It’s like a protective shell, preventing any potential harm from criticism.

However, avoidance often creates more problems in the long run. It can limit opportunities, hinder growth, and create a life dictated by fear rather than choices.

Overcoming this behavior involves facing our fears head-on. It’s about understanding that criticism is not inherently harmful, and it can be a tool for growth when used constructively.

Don’t let fear of criticism hold you back. Remember, it’s better to face a moment of discomfort than to live in constant fear of it.

9) Emotional intelligence

Ironically, one positive outcome that can often emerge from a childhood filled with criticism is a heightened level of emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence is the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.

Those who have faced excessive criticism may develop a keen sense of empathy and understanding towards others’ feelings. They become adept at reading emotional cues, perhaps as a result of their own experiences.

This trait can be incredibly beneficial in forming deep, meaningful relationships and navigating social situations. It’s about turning a painful past into a powerful tool for understanding and connecting with others.

Emotional intelligence is not about ignoring your own feelings but rather understanding and managing them effectively. It’s about turning adversity into strength, and using your past experiences to create a more empathetic future.

Final thoughts

Understanding and acknowledging these personality traits is not about assigning blame or dwelling in the past. It’s about gaining insight into why we might behave or feel a certain way.

The experiences we go through in our formative years, especially constant criticism, can shape us in ways that linger well into our adult lives. But it’s crucial to remember that these experiences do not define us.

Overcoming these traits takes time, patience, and often professional help. But it’s indeed possible. It’s about learning to let go of the criticism that has been internalized and embracing the fact that we are enough just as we are.

It’s about realizing that the voice of criticism that we often hear is not our own, but a remnant of the past. It’s about learning to replace this voice with one of empathy, love, and acceptance.

Because at the end of the day, we all deserve to feel loved, valued, and accepted for who we are, not for what others expect us to be.

Healing is not a linear process. There will be ups and downs. But with each step forward, you reclaim a piece of yourself that was lost. And that in itself is a victory worth celebrating.

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Picture of Tina Fey

Tina Fey

I've ridden the rails, gone off track and lost my train of thought. I'm writing for Ideapod to try and find it again. Hope you enjoy the journey with me.

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