10 signs you were overly criticized as a child

We all carry the echoes of our past, but sometimes those echoes carry a harsher tone than we’d like to admit.

You might look back on your formative years and recall a constant barrage of critique or feel uncertain if the level of criticism you received was normal or not.

How do you know if what you experienced was truly an overly critical upbringing, or simply the standard trials and tribulations most children go through?

After delving deep into my own upbringing and those of my friends, I’ve compiled a list of 10 signs that may help you unravel the complex web of your early years.

If these signs strike a chord, it could be time to address some hidden wounds.

1) You’re highly sensitive to criticism

If you find your skin prickling at the slightest hint of critique, it may be a sign of being overly criticized as a child.

While constructive criticism is a part of life that helps us grow and improve, excessive negative feedback can leave lasting impacts.

This sensitivity isn’t about being weak or unable to handle critique; it’s an ingrained defensive mechanism, developed as a response to the constant criticism in your early years.

You might notice an immediate emotional response – a quickened heartbeat, a flush of embarrassment or anger – even when the criticism is well-intended or minor.

This heightened sensitivity could be your subconscious still trying to protect you from the hurtful critiques of your past.

2) You struggle with perfectionism

The shadow of an overly critical upbringing can often manifest itself as a relentless pursuit of perfection.

If you were constantly criticized as a child, you may have developed an internal belief that nothing less than perfect is acceptable.

This drive may push you towards remarkable achievements, but it can also leave you feeling perpetually unsatisfied, always striving for an unattainable standard.

You might find it difficult to complete tasks due to a fear of them not being perfect, or feel an intense pressure that everything you do must be flawless.

This isn’t about a healthy desire for excellence; it’s an exhausting, never-ending chase after perfection, born out of the fear of criticism.

3) You tend to overthink and second-guess yourself

A constant wave of criticism during childhood can lead to a habit of overthinking and second-guessing every decision as an adult.

I can remember countless times where I’ve found myself paralyzed by indecision over the simplest of choices, like what to order at a restaurant or which shirt to wear for a casual outing.

It wasn’t that I couldn’t decide, it was the fear that whatever choice I made would be the wrong one, opening me up to criticism.

Even after making a decision, I would replay it in my head over and over again, questioning if I made the right call.

This self-doubt isn’t about being careful or thoughtful; it’s an internalized fear of criticism, leading you to question your own judgement constantly.

4) You have a hard time accepting compliments

An interesting byproduct of being overly criticized as a child is that it can make it difficult to accept compliments as an adult.

When positive feedback is rare or overshadowed by criticism, you may not develop a healthy ability to accept praise.

Compliments might make you uncomfortable or you might outright dismiss them, convinced that the person complimenting you is just being polite or doesn’t really mean it.

This is often due to an ingrained belief that you are not worthy of praise, a belief formed from the constant criticism in your early years. In fact, you may even have developed a strong inner critic, as the next section shows…

5) You’re highly self-critical

Growing up with constant criticism can lead to a critical inner voice that doesn’t switch off, even in adulthood.

I remember once spending hours preparing for a presentation, only to berate myself afterwards for stumbling over a couple of words.

No one else seemed to notice, but to me, those minor slip-ups felt like colossal failures.

This self-criticism wasn’t about wanting to improve; it was an echo of the critique I had received as a child.

I was my own harshest critic because I had internalized the criticism from my early years.

That’s how it is when you were overly criticized as a child — there’s an unkind inner dialogue that you might not even realize you’re perpetuating.

6) You have a fear of failure

pic1563 10 signs you were overly criticized as a child

I still remember the day I got my first “B” on a math test.

You’d have thought the world had ended!

Why? Because my parents made it clear that anything less than an “A” was unacceptable.

The fear of failure became ingrained in me, to the point where I was terrified of trying anything new, afraid of the possible criticism that would follow if I didn’t succeed.

Are you also afraid of taking risks?

Do you avoid stepping out of your comfort zone because the fear of failure and subsequent criticism is too intense?

Well, this might be another sign of being overly criticized as a child.

7) You’re constantly apologizing

The seventh sign is a tendency to apologize excessively, even when it’s not warranted.

Do you often find yourself saying “I’m sorry” when you haven’t done anything wrong?

This could be because, as a child, you were made to feel that you were always at fault.

An interesting fact is that humans are the only species with the capacity to apologize.

We use apologies as a social tool to mend and maintain relationships.

But when used excessively, it can hint towards a deeper issue – a possible reflection of feeling eternally culpable due to a childhood filled with excessive criticism.

Remember, while it’s important to apologize when you’ve made a mistake, it’s equally important to recognize when an apology isn’t necessary.

You deserve to take up space and express your thoughts and feelings without constantly feeling the need to say sorry.

8) You struggle with self-esteem

Children who are constantly criticized may struggle with low self-esteem, as they grow up believing they are never good enough.

This can persist into adulthood, making you question your worth and abilities.

This isn’t about humility or modesty; it’s a deep-rooted self-doubt that stems from the damaging criticism of your past.

9) You constantly seek approval

There’s a certain longing in your heart, isn’t there?

A desire for validation, for someone to just pat you on the back and say, “You did good.”

It’s like being in a perpetual state of waiting for that approval that never came when you were a child.

You find yourself working overtime, bending over backwards to please others, all in the hope that this time, they’ll appreciate you.

If this sounds like you, it’s a sign. It’s a sign you were a child who was criticized too much and is still trying to prove themselves worthy of praise.

10) You have difficulty expressing your emotions

Growing up, emotions were a tricky subject in my house.

If I cried, I was told to toughen up.

If I was angry, I was told to calm down.

It seemed like any show of emotion was met with criticism.

Now, as an adult, I find it hard to express my feelings.

It’s like there’s a barrier there, a fear that showing emotion will result in the same criticism I received as a child.

If you also find it hard to express your emotions or you keep them bottled up for fear of judgment or criticism, this could be a sign of being overly criticized during childhood.

Understanding the impact

Recognizing these signs is the first step in acknowledging that you may have been overly criticized as a child. But understanding why it matters and how it impacts you as an adult can be a little more complex.

When we’re children, the world around us shapes our understanding of ourselves.

The words we hear, especially from those we look up to, form the foundation of our self-esteem and self-worth.

If those words are primarily critical, it can lead to a skewed self-perception that we carry into adulthood.

Being overly criticized as a child doesn’t just influence our behaviour; it can also shape our emotional health.

It might lead to issues like anxiety, depression, or unhealthy coping mechanisms.

You might find yourself constantly seeking validation from others or battling feelings of inadequacy.

You might struggle with relationships, fearing criticism or rejection from those you care about.

But the good news is: recognizing these patterns gives you the power to change them.

Understanding the root of these behaviours and emotions can help you start the healing process.

It can guide you towards building healthier relationships with others and, most importantly, with yourself.

It’s never too late to seek help and support if you need it. Therapists and counselors are trained to help you navigate through these issues and find ways to cope and heal.

Reach out to supportive friends or family members, join a support group, or consider therapy.

And while this journey of understanding and healing might be challenging, it’s also an opportunity for growth and self-discovery.

It’s a chance to redefine your narrative – to understand that you are not defined by the criticism you faced as a child.

You have the power to validate your feelings, embrace your strengths, and cultivate self-love and acceptance.

It’s important to remember: The child within you deserved better, and the adult you are now deserves peace.

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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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