No one likes criticism. It reflects negatively on us, implying we are lacking in some way. It is a judgment. Criticism comes in a number of forms: As children it comes from parents and teachers; as adults we must deal with it in the workplace; and friends or lovers might have something to say about what we do or how we are. Reflecting on the validity of the criticism either helps us grow, or just makes us feel badly about ourselves.
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Job performance sets the stage for scrutiny from bosses and peers. Management requires giving feedback to employees to encourage professional growth and to ensure standards in the workplace. No one agrees with what we do all of the time, but when feedback comes from someone who is knowledgeable in their field, the ability to gain from the experience presents itself.
We learn from criticism when our best interests are the basis of the criticism. If our parents chide us for jaywalking, we know they guard our safety. Correcting our grammar helps develop us into well-spoken adults. When instructors correct our technique in writing, playing the piano or painting a scene, our proficiency improves. Utah State University sites in Handling Criticism that criticism is constructive when, "The person doing the criticising is motivated by a desire to help and provides solid suggestions for change." Constructive criticism helps us to grow.
Sometimes criticism takes the form of personal attack. Susie doesn't like the way you wear your hair. "You should wear red shoes with that dress, not those boring black ones. You need to work on your fashion sense." Personal preference takes the form of opinion which shouldn't be confused with fact. Sugar the words, but the message is the same, you are lacking, not the shoes.
Often we provide the harshest critic when we reflect on our own perceived shortcomings. Too fat, too thin, not enough this, or too much that; self-talk echoes negative commentary that rattles as our inner voice throughout the day. Margaret Moore, co-director of the McLean/Harvard Medical School Institute of Coaching states, "Our speech patterns can be so automatic that we don't even notice them. And though we may not even really mean what we say, it can have a negative impact on how we feel about ourselves."
Low Self Esteem
Criticism directed at others allows the critic to feel superior. Pointing out your shortcomings makes the critic feel better about herself. Similar to the bully who hides low self-esteem behind aggressive behaviour, the verbal aggressor disguises self-esteem issues.
Criticism camouflages verbal abuse in dysfunctional relationships. Inflicting verbal pain with repetitive, biting words damages a person as destructively as any knife. A form of belittling, the intent is destruction of the person's self-image. In the Emotionally Abused Woman, Beverly Engel notes, "With emotional abuse, the insults, the insinuations, the criticism, and the accusations slowly eat away the victim's self-esteem until she is incapable of judging the situation realistically."
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- Utah State University: Handling Criticism
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- Psychology Today: How Do You Spot Negative Self-Talk?
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- The Emotionally Abused Woman: Overcoming Destructive Patterns and Reclaiming Yourself