7 things you unconsciously do if you were overly criticized as a child

Childhood is arguably the most crucial time of life. 

It’s when we form the core traits that will define us as adults–traits that sometimes persist for the rest of our lives. 

While we genetically inherit qualities from our family, most of our personality traits are rooted in our environments. 

If more parents took this into account, I have no doubt we’d be living in a far more harmonious world. 

Unfortunately, this is not the case.

Many parents and other adults tend to lack sensitivity towards children, brashly criticizing them rather than being gentle and supportive. 

Not good. 

In this article, I’ll walk you through the things you might unconsciously do if you were overly criticized as a child. 

If these items sound familiar, know that it’s time to make a few changes. Let’s get to it!

1) You apologize excessively 

When you grow up constantly condemned for being wrong, this messes up your self-worth. 

You’ll feel like you’re perpetual inadequate, always in the wrong. 

You’ve been conditioned for it and therefore you act and think accordingly. 

This means for even minor or irrelevant matters, you find yourself frequently apologizing. 

This is a habit that is rooted in a heightened sense of not wanting to upset people or be berated for being wrong. Again. 

You might constantly second-guess yourself and your decisions, not moving with divisiveness or confidence. And invariably, people notice. 

I come from a generally well-meaning but incredibly high-strung and loud family. 

They aren’t the most gentle people and don’t often act with much nuance or understanding. 

If you make a minor mistake, trust me, they’ll let you know rather than allow you to learn from it yourself. 

And as a child, when I occasionally did something positive, the praise was marginal at best. 

As a fairly sensitive kid being exposed to all their boisterous temperaments, I grew up with a distinct lack of confidence. 

I became accustomed to consistently being “wrong” and as a result, turned out a serial apologizer, which persisted until my adulthood.

I would habitually say ‘sorry’ for things that didn’t require it, for situations where I was not at fault–behaviors that only reinforced my low self-belief, both to me and others. 

2) You strive for perfectionism 

From my experience, unhappy childhoods can manifest in diverse ways. 

Everyone has their distinct reaction or traits they’ve developed because of it. 

For instance, overcompensating behaviors. 

People who were overly criticized as kids might display an almost obsessive attention to detail, striving for perfection in everything they do. 

They want to constantly prove their worth, and any trivial infraction is not taken lightly. They often hold themselves to impossibly lofty standards.

This could ultimately point to their ingrained fear of that dreaded internalized critical voice, which they unconsciously avoid at all costs. 

3) You avoid the spotlight 

The thing about being in the spotlight is that when you’re in it, the possibility of scrutiny towards you is exponentially higher than everyone else–and typically, on a larger scale. 

Hence, people who are overly criticized tend to shy away from attention or leadership roles, preferring to meekly remain in the background. 

The last thing they want is to be condemned by the public–something they instinctively know will open a can of worms and cause their self-worth to plummet even further.  

4) You overanalyze your words and actions 

Do you know how after a first or second date with someone you’re attracted to, you constantly reenact the evening in your head, perhaps ruminating about what you should have said or done better? 

I think we’ve all been there to some degree.  

This is what it’s like for a person with confidence issues that stem from childhood–except it extends past hot dates into day-to-day life. 

They’ll overanalyze mundane interactions of all shapes and sizes. 

They’ll constantly rethink and analyze what they said or did in these social situations, paranoid about how they may have been perceived; or if they might have said the wrong thing at the wrong time. 

Trust me, I’ve been there and it’s no way to live. 

5) You have difficulty accepting compliments 

When you’re used to criticism, compliments and good feedback essentially feel like foreign concepts. 

Or maybe you know what “praise” is–but in your mind, it’s something reserved for other people, not you. 

Therefore, rather than take it in stride and pat yourself on the back, you’ll often brush off the occasional compliment, feeling uneasy. 

In your head, perhaps you’ll even question the sincerity of the compliment-giver, as deep down, you may not believe you’re deserving–or you feel anxious that you may not meet those expectations again in the future.

6) You seek constant reassurance 

I know someone who grew up with overly critical parents and is now basically addicted to social media

You see, social media provides people who need frequent validation with an easy, quick, highly accessible fix. 

When they feel unconfident, which is often, they’ll post a provocative selfie or a photo of themselves “living their best life”; the inevitable likes and comments give them the much-needed ego boost they so desperately long for, however superficial. 

When you carry the scars of being judged as a child, you tend to want to pursue approval and assurance from others, constantly needing it to fill a gaping void. 

This doesn’t just go for selfies or the way you look. 

You’ll search for validation for your choices, abilities, opinions, and so on. 

What you lack from childhood, you’ll search for in adulthood. 

7) You’re extra sensitive to other people’s opinions 

People who ooze confidence have a swagger when they walk. They hold their heads up high. 

Why? Because they’re fully content in themselves and, in a sense, are practically indifferent to what others think about them. 

This is often not the case when you’ve been overly criticized as a child.

Instead, you’ll be preoccupied or upset about others’ opinions and perceptions of you–perhaps even reading too deeply into innocuous comments and feedback. 

Most confident people take feedback gracefully; they know that there’ll always be room for growth and improvement as long as they’re alive. 

You don’t share this sentiment. 

Any bit of criticism, however constructive and well-meaning, is often taken as a personal affront. 

Final words 

I know this article may seem a bit too “doom-and-gloom,” but I promise you: not all is lost. 

Just because you grew up a certain way doesn’t mean you can’t change. 

Change will always be within your reach.

But you have to want it badly enough. 

Your childhood doesn’t have to define you permanently. So don’t let it. 

Take baby steps. Celebrate your victories, big and small. 

Soon, those lingering issues from childhood will become more and more significant, and gradually fade away. 

Before you know it, you’ll be a different person; and when get there, there will be no stopping you. 

Ethan Sterling

Ethan Sterling

Ethan Sterling has a background in entrepreneurship, having started and managed several small businesses. His journey through the ups and downs of entrepreneurship provides him with practical insights into personal resilience, strategic thinking, and the value of persistence. Ethan’s articles offer real-world advice for those looking to grow personally and professionally.

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